With two minimalist tiled boxes, Kerr Ritchie transforms a rustic earth-brick barn in the Tāhuna Queenstown landscape.

Slow Mo

Slow Mo

In 2018, Martina and Daren Blanchard moved from Muriwai to Tāhuna Queenstown with their young twin daughters. They were there to create a retail space for Martina’s furniture and design business, Slow Store. First, though, they needed a home. Finding an idyllic hillside section in a quiet spot just off the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road, they had plans to build. This is not that home. Because, as they fast discovered, there’s quiet, and then there’s too quiet – especially when kids are involved. Re-evaluating, they packed up and shifted to a more convenient, sunny spot on the other side of town.

But there was a catch. What they’d bought was essentially a garage. An earth-brick barn with a three-bay carpark on the bottom and a flat up top. “It had been tinkered with a little over the years, but it wasn’t suited to a family,” explains Pete Ritchie of Kerr Ritchie, who took on the project with architect partner Bronwen Kerr. The pair had worked with the family before, so they understood the collaborative way Martina liked to operate. “She knows what she likes and is very specific in her briefs,” explains Kerr. “Martina challenges you, but she listens to you too – great attributes in a client.”

The dichotomy of old and new was important to Blanchard, so the earth-brick garage was to stay. Kerr Ritchie devised a plan that gutted and reorganised the existing structure, then tacked on two sharp pavilions. The larger “glass Japanese box” (as Blanchard refers to it), containing kitchen and dining, sits at the front of the house, while a smaller, vertical form hangs off the side as a sun-drenched conservatory. When it came time to choose materials for the add-ons, Blanchard knew what she wanted – and where to get it. Triple-glazed windows were shipped in from Germany, while slender Japanese tiles were imported for the cladding. “Their slim profile means less obstruction and gives you that feeling of being outside while inside,” Blanchard says. The matte finish was a drawcard too. The design also incorporated the German windows into the original garage, marrying the existing form and the extension together. “It was challenging to use materials we’ve never seen before,” admits Kerr. “There was a lot of detail involved. But it was a good opportunity to learn.”

The house sits high above the Shotover River with its back to the hillside, taking in views that arc from Coronet Peak to the Crown Range. As you enter, a long skylight straddles the border between old and new, projecting a bright shaft of daylight down the centre. The kitchen and dining space are afforded the best outlook with a full-height glass façade. To preserve these unobstructed views, the pavilion spills out to a generous wraparound deck and pool through sliding doors on either side. “Heating was interesting as we have so many glass panels and a lot of existing floors,” says Ritchie. Unable to go underfloor, Kerr Ritchie ran the system through the ceiling – an innovative solution that relies on an air-to-water heat pump. Upstairs, fan coil radiators do the trick.

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jjiMind you; the pavilions were never going to be the most difficult piece of this project. “Building the new part, you’re starting fresh, so it’s easy to make something good,” says Ritchie. “But when you’ve got something existing that needs to be reconfigured, there’s definitely some spatial challenges.” Case in point: the living room. Sitting on the ground floor of the original garage, it was a carpark when the architects first turned up. A cold, cavernous space with a deep footprint and low ceilings. “We actually made it even lower because we had to lift the floor and insulate on top of it,” remembers Kerr. Now, though, the compressed dimensions seem entirely intentional – a low-lit snug befitting of an alpine home. Sitting alongside the double-height conservatory and bright kitchen-dining area, it also adds variety to the public spaces. “When you do these renovations, I think sometimes there are things that you wouldn’t necessarily do, but once you work through the process, you can get a little bit surprised by how well they work out,” says Ritchie. 

Upstairs, things were a bit easier. “Essentially, we changed the entire flat into a master suite and a bedroom for the girls,” Ritchie explains. The open-plan main bedroom exhibits the owners’ affection for neutral, minimalist design, with a freestanding fireplace and spacious ensuite tucked behind an open corner of reeded glass. Next door, the twins’ bedroom was initially drawn as two spaces, but the girls decided to share part way through the build. “It’s designed so it can easily be changed back into two bedrooms,” Kerr points out. Many design decisions were made on the fly like this, giving the whole project a sense of fluidity. “That’s why it always pays to have a good relationship with your builder,” adds Ritchie. 

The landscaping ties it all together. Blanchard collaborated with Patch Landscapes on the concept, swapping an existing English-style garden for an “organised mess” that creeps right up to the home. “I wanted to create a Japanese zen/alpine garden,” Blanchard explains. “The idea was to make it look like there used to be a forest, and the house came later.” Natives and tussock cluster around a manicured lawn where a 45-year-old plum tree still stands. Even the roof of the kitchen pavilion was scattered with rocks and shrubs for an alpine feel.

In the end, the home and garden were finished simultaneously – just in time for the owners to sell. It wasn’t always their plan to list, but things change, and opportunities arise. So, it’s onto the next project – with Kerr Ritchie of course. And though details are scant, the words “mountain cabins”, “treehouses” and “oasis in a forest” did come up. Watch this space.

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1. Entry
2. Bedroom
3. Ensuite
4. Living
5. Laundry
6. Kitchen
7. Scullery
8. Dining
9. Deck
10. Pool
11. Bathroom

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