Driven by a couple’s desire for versatility, Gerard Dombroski designs a studio home atop a garage in Brooklyn, Te Whanganui-a-Tara.

Side Project

Side Project

If you saw architect and artist Gerard Dombroski’s whimsical building on the cover of Here 07, this one might come as something of a surprise. For that project, dubbed Piccolo, Dombroski worked with found and recycled materials at Driving Creek to build a little folly with a soaring roofline that narrowed to a kind of chimney at the very top. There was inspiration equally from skate ramps and firing kilns. It was romantic, humorous, and spoke perfectly to the local history.

But here, we’re in the suburbs – Te Whanganui-a-Tara’s Brooklyn – on a narrow, winding street (inevitably the description of most Wellington roads). Here, Dombroski has turned his hand to a different kind of building: the minor dwelling, the granny flat, the studio-above-a-garage. This is a modest little place led by a few key ideas that makes for a lovely home. And if you look closely, much of what made “Piccolo” so unique is also present here, yet in a sleeker, more urbane form.

Owners Nigel Welch and wife Helen had been living in their brick-and-tile house perched above the city for five years before deciding they should do something with the garage. It’s a hefty concrete thing, which lent itself well to a second-storey addition. A courtyard between the garage and the house meant there would still be privacy if they chose to rent out the new dwelling, or if, in due course, they decided to use the new flat as a pied-à-terre in Wellington while living out of town. “We wanted it to be good enough to live in ourselves someday,” says Welch. “That kind of drove what we wanted to achieve.” He and friend Rob Clarkson, of Clarkson Builders, built the house over 18 months, with the usual Covid interruptions and plasterboard shortages.

A mate suggested Welch chat to Dombroski to “see if he could have a crack at it”. Dombroski came up with the simple design we see today, where the new dwelling sits directly atop the garage with a hip roof and carefully placed windows. A small balcony juts out over the footpath. The challenge, of course, was making a liveable home within a very small footprint. Care was also taken to ensure the design fit into the streetscape and didn’t ruffle any local feathers, given it was to increase the visual density of this little corner of Tanera Crescent.

No items found.

Dombroski has nestled the studio into a kind of cut-out made from the floorplan of the existing house, while the roofline also responds to the main dwelling. The two houses read as related but still separate. The size and spacing of the windows also echoes the main house, where the corner living area has more generous glazing on two sides, while a bedroom has a smaller rectangular window. These are subtle cues, but serve to anchor the studio to the streetscape.

From the street there’s a small path next to the garage, which leads up to the main house at left and the new dwelling at right with a small landscaped area in front. Entering the studio, you’re compressed between the kitchen cabinetry at right and storage at left, then released a step later into the main living area of the home. The pyramidal ceiling follows the roofline, making the home feel surprisingly spacious. Directly ahead of the entrance is a sliding door to the balcony, with a leafy valley view and houses dotting the hillside beyond. To the right is a window seat looking out to the harbour. To the left, past the cabinetry, is the bedroom. Left again is the bathroom. There are skylights above both the kitchen and the bathroom. That’s the grand tour.

Spatially, the studio is defined by the central spine of cabinetry, which runs from the front door two-thirds of the way across the room. This and the pyramidal ceiling are the masterstrokes, making it feel like a small but perfectly formed home, rather than a tiny dwelling above a garage. The cabinetry defines the different zones within what is really just one space, while solving one of the key challenges of living in a small home: where to store things. So there’s plenty of storage along this spine, and the panels not accessible from the living-kitchen side offer wardrobe space in the bedroom. (There’s further storage in the bedroom and under the window seat.) Most importantly, the cabinetry is kept low enough to retain the openness of the high ceiling from all parts of the studio. At night, strip lighting above the cabinets fills the room with a lovely glow, illuminating the pyramid.

Dombroski has worked on a range of different projects, from furniture design, to a pool cafe, to art installations and the Piccolo build. It might not be immediately clear what unites them all, but perhaps it comes down to simply trying new things, and avoiding getting stuck in any one kind of work. As debate over how we densify our cities continues, it’s exciting to see projects like this that simply get on and do it – and most importantly, do it well, with interest in both the streetscape and the quality of life within.

No items found.

1. Entrance

2. Kitchen/Dining

3. Laundry

4. Living

5. Balcony

6. Bedroom

7. Bathroom

Related Stories: