Slick and shiny aren’t part of this new home’s architectural patois. Instead, it speaks of a considered, almost hand-hewn quality. Nestled into an elevated site and surrounded by native planting in a birdsong-filled valley near central Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, its owners are keen cooks who like to get their hands dirty in the vegetable garden. Meals are served on earthy ceramic plates in a home that’s subtly detailed, warm and inviting.
When they contacted Hamish Cameron of Hamish Cameron Architecture, the empty-nesters weren’t looking to build a big house. Cameron is a relative-by-marriage of one of the owners and accompanied the couple on a site visit before they purchased the section. At the time, it was home to a not-fit-for-purpose 1960s dwelling, with awkward access and a bedroom dominating the sunniest aspect. It had been tenanted for some years and the garden was an overgrown tangle.
Cameron had worked on heritage buildings before – notably the original part of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki during its award-winning refurbishment and extension – but with this project he decided it was better to demolish the existing building and start fresh, thanks in part to the owners’ wish for a sustainable home.
Construction, undertaken by Resolution Projects, demanded hefty excavation, provision for water runoff from the properties above and geotechnic monitoring throughout. As a result, the site has evolved dramatically. The finished home sits largely where the upper storey of its predecessor stood, but with an extra level to maximise the view across the neighbourhood treetops to Hobson Bay. As per the brief, the elegantly crafted two-bedroom house is deliberately small in scale. Presented as a triple-stack of cubic forms, it sits comfortably in its setting. Rather than stretching out to reach maximum site coverage, the extra space is reserved for the garden.
The owners have a love of mid-century design and collect mid-century furniture and objects. “This interest of theirs was a significant inspiration for the design of the house,” Cameron says. “It was my intention that the architecture provide a warm and crafted background that paid homage to this era of design and in some way to the original house.”
At ground level, the cedar front door is punctuated inside and out with over-sized handles, organically shaped ebonised forms crafted from fallen pōhutukawa by a friend of the owners on Kawau Island. Inside, the circulation area features internal access to a double garage, as well as to a platform lift – a future-proofing measure – that connects all three levels of the house. (For now, the owners use the stairs.) The first flight, to the living space on the second floor, features solid treads; the next flight, from the living space to the main bedroom and ensuite, has floating treads, allowing natural light to filter through. Disguised LED lighting on the underside of the staircase handrail provides subtle illumination.
Warm timber provides rich texture throughout. Gaboon plywood shelving and cabinetry in the main living space and kitchen sweeps around to line the walls of the stairwell, spanning all three levels. It also appears in the scullery and laundry space, and lines the deep window recesses in the living area. “We had to be strategic about the positioning of windows to direct the view to glimpses of Hobson Bay and Ōrākei, without compromising privacy,” Cameron says.
The second living space is a cosy den with built-in seating and bookshelves. “We wanted a crafted feel here and adding textures and tactile materials enhances the sense of the handmade,” the architect says. The upholstery in the den is a soothing green, complemented by corner windows that look out to native planting behind the house and borrowed views of neighbours’ mature trees. Next to the den is a moody, dark green bathroom and the home’s second bedroom.
Flooring in the den is ceramic tile over a concrete base, providing passive heat retention. The den and adjacent glazed circulation space, with its wide eave overhang, flow to an afternoon terrace. A morning terrace is located to the east. Balustrades on both are in vertical Abodo. “I like the way it relates to the vertical weatherboards,” says the architect. “There’s an open feeling to the balustrades, but the curved way they’re configured gives varying degrees of transparency.”
The owners say they are thrilled with Cameron’s design. For one thing, it fulfills their wish for seamless flow between inside and out. “It was really important to us to be directly connected to the native planting from our indoor living spaces. We have a home perfect for two people, but equally perfect to entertain a large group in,” one of them says.
On the top level is the main bedroom and ensuite, which is light and airy in contrast to the bathroom downstairs. An adjoining balcony looks over Hobson Bay and up to the top tier of the section, where a potager garden produces abundant vegetables. The patch is accessed via a boardwalk off the morning terrace and steps on the hillside. “We did toy with putting a bridge from this bedroom to the garden,” says Cameron, “but decided against it.” Irrigation to the garden comes courtesy of a storm-water collection tank tucked under the afternoon terrace. Solar panels on the roof of the main bedroom provide all the energy the house needs, with extra going back into the grid. Provision has been made for surplus energy to be stored in a battery in the future – indicative of the thought, care and consideration the owners and architect have invested in this home.