A family encampment by Bossley Architects becomes one with the scenery above Huruhi Bay on Waiheke Island.

The Long View

The Long View

As you approach Huruhi on Waiheke Island, just a sliver of the architecture is visible below; a rust-red roof nudging the hillside. A living landscape of mottled moss is spread across the top, camouflaging the building within its craggy surroundings. Further down, along a path that zigzags the steep site, a second structure, smaller but identical in tone, comes into view. Further down still, the tide sifts out from the anthracite sand of the bay the home is named for. The home and boatshed are just two of four buildings designed by Bossley Architects for this land. Sweeping across 17,000 square metres on the island’s south-western side, fringed by a scrub of protected native bush, the site is mercifully sheltered from southerly winds. On a clear day, the north-facing villa catches a glimpse of Aotea Great Barrier Island on the distant horizon.

The brief was for a part-time retreat for a London-based family of five with roots in Tāmaki Makaurau; a base for their yearly summer returns and for hosting family and friends. In response, the project team drew on the concept of encampment. It’s a recurring theme for the practice that director Pete Bossley describes as “taking a European courtyard house and opening it up in a way where the building suggests a garden, without putting a wall around it”. The expansive sites and dramatic environments that tend to frame the firm’s projects lend themselves well to this typology. “We use the openness of the New Zealand setting to let the landscape in,” he says.

While a larger residence will eventually extend this encampment, for now, its first two elements feel complete. Framed by a wall of Waiheke stone, the space between them is occupied by a path, which snakes down the hillside between tufts of native tussock grasses. “We like to occupy the land in a poetic way, rather than dumping the building in the middle of it,” says Bossley, “so that the land between becomes just as important as the buildings themselves.”

Stretched across a grassy knoll, the 141-square-metre villa has a “gently kinked” form, which Bossley describes as “a little boomerang following the contours of the land”. Clad in Nu-Wall profiled aluminium with a Corten powdercoat finish, it features an extruded roofline that reinforces its pavilion-like character. Bossley describes it as an “asymmetrical vault that kicks up, taking your eye up the back towards the planting up the hill”. On the underside, yellow cedar battens line the curved ceiling, which spans the entire length of the house. The cedar flows out to cover the western terrace with its speckled terrazzo paving and seashell-studded bench, both custom-made to reflect the colours of the land. While the cedar reinforces the curves of the asymmetrical vault, and embraces the home’s interior, it also leads the eye “out to the long view”, notes Finn Scott, director at Bossley Architects.

Function pairs with form in the design of the ceiling, which is optimised for cross-ventilation. During their first summer here, the owners barely switched on the ducted air-conditioning concealed in the slab, roof and walls. Only a custom timber grill set into the oak floor attests to its presence. Together with a sophisticated audio system, an ECC-designed lighting scenography, and home automation integrated throughout, there’s “a whole lot of stuff out of sight that’s making this building work”, says Scott. “It’s probably the most technically developed small building we’ve done.”

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The clients wanted a “warm, sunny, enthusiastic sort of space”, says Bossley, but one neutral enough to provide a background to their lives. Comfort and simplicity guided the material palette throughout the open-plan space. American white oak forms the floors, doors, and kitchen cabinetry, rendered in a brushed finish by cabinet maker Johannes Erren. Floor-skimming linen curtains soften the space while diffusing the all-day sunshine, which even on the cusp of winter carries the intensity of mid-summer. “If you let the light animate the spaces, you don’t need a lot of other stuff,” notes Bossley. Subtle tones, smooth finishes and an absence of decoration keep the focus on the landscape. In the living area, a cream-coloured couch and scooped armchair fulfil the furniture brief: “Nothing too jarringly modern; just comfortable, relaxed and robust.”

From the living area, a gently curved passageway, subtly patinated in rendered plaster, leads off to the service areas and bedrooms. Each has floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a distinct crop of the landscape. At the corridor’s end, a heavy pivot door gives way to the primary bedroom. Fitted with a handle of reclaimed black maire and aged brass, it prompts a moment of pause. Inside, dual-aspect sliding doors lead out to a corner deck that overlooks the shifting moods of the bay.

As you head down the winding path towards the sea, the boxy, two-storey boatshed comes into full view. When the late-afternoon sun pulls back from the villa, it’s captured here in the single room of the upper floor. A large table and well-equipped kitchenette declare the room’s convivial intent. Macrocarpa walls host ledges for pool cues and an assortment of games, and give the room a golden glow. The whole space evokes the nostalgia of a camp clubhouse. Below the battened ceiling – flat, this time – the villa appears half hidden behind its grassy knoll. In the shed level below, there’s a moment of childlike delight: three doors in red, blue and yellow, each opening to reveal washrooms clad floor-to-ceiling tiles of the same colour. They contrast with the steady grey of the polished concrete floors, block walls and clear-finished plywood. The ceiling is formed by the exposed precast floor above.

It’s all just a quick drag of a kayak away from a small gate that opens onto the beach. The bay is scattered with what Scott describes as a “neat collection of decaying boats” – an old mullet, a scow, a long-gone wreck. Above, clouds puff across the sky. Light continually dials the land into new colour palettes. Come early summer, the family and their guests will descend, unpack and eventually depart. The hillside hums with the promise of seasons and spaces yet to be scripted. Scott muses: “A good project never ends.”

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1. Outdoor Living
2. Living
3. Dining
4. Kitchen
5. Laundry
6. Bedroom
7. Bathroom
8. Ensuite
9. Wardrobe
10. Boatshed
11. WC
12. Shower
13. Deck

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