Lovell & O’Connell Architects introduce a luxe yet laidback bach beside a 1950s original in Waikanae.

Two Fold

Two Fold

Waikanae Beach still has that low-key, relaxed, summer-weekend vibe you expect of a bachy town. If you haven’t been, think: a cafe or two, a dairy for ice creams, and public pathways down to the long, open beach. But the development of Transmission Gully, and the march north of the motorway, means the beachside village is now just 30-odd minutes from the capital. The original baches here, loved for their modesty and openness, have come to seem a little too modest: too small in the first place. And, let’s face it, many of the mid-century examples weren’t designed for light or openness or family living.

The result is a kind of prisoner’s dilemma, one that is played out across many of the country’s beachside towns. You want to build a bigger house, but you hope the neighbours keep theirs as is, so as to retain the bachy spirit of the place. Here, the solution was two-fold. First, keep the original 1950s bach. No harm in having the extra space, and they do have their charms! Second, introduce something new that, while more spacious, embodies all those characteristics that come to mind when thinking about the bach tradition: humble, modest, casual, family-oriented, generous. “We felt we had a responsibility towards the site,” says Tim Lovell, of Lovell & O’Connell Architects, “and in making sure not to wreck the view for the beach users. Ana O’Connell speaks of wanting to “keep it quiet, not shouty”.

The weathered-timber, hip-roofed house was designed for a recently retired couple, Sarah and Brian Naylor, who plan to live here full-time. But it’s as much a house for their family – children and grandchildren – and for those who use the public walkway alongside the site to reach the beach. The house sits up on a sand dune looking out to a river mouth, historically used for whitebaiting, and to the beach with Kāpiti Island beyond. The walkway and public carpark meant privacy was a key concern, but they didn’t want to close the house off from the community. “Sitting the house up on the sand dune was necessary to capture the views, but then we wanted it to look modest and low-slung from the beach,” O’Connell says.

From the street, the original bach sits along the boundary at left, adjacent to the carpark. It creates some privacy and encloses the section, much of which is taken up by a lawn suitable for backyard cricket. The new house sits straight ahead and reads as double-height. A garage at right is cut into the dune with steps and planting at left. You get a sense of the beach and outlook beyond, but it’s not until you reach the top of the steps that all is revealed. There are views to the river mouth and beach through sliding doors on two sides, along with ample decking that allows the owners to choose where they sit depending on the wind and sun – both in abundance, here.

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Internally, the house is mostly one open-plan space. As you enter through the sliding door, there’s a fireplace and window seat at left, and kitchen and dining to the right. The main bedroom is hidden through a door in the macrocarpa wall adjacent to the dining space. Back towards the street and down a corridor are an extra bedroom and a multipurpose space (office, accommodation, TV room) through a sliding door. There’s an elevator from the garage and the rest of the layout is all on one level, meaning the house can be used by everyone.

The openness of the main living space is very relaxed, with changing ceiling heights and materials (painted plasterboard in some areas, macrocarpa in others) giving each zone its own feeling. The living and dining areas, for example, are compressed and enclosed, compared to the kitchen with its soaring ceiling and skylight which draws everyone into this space. “The ceiling in the kitchen is an inverted truss, which is a really economical way of packing the ceiling full of insulation while having the sculptural skylight,” says Lovell. Because the home has deep eaves on the beach side, the skylight also keeps the kitchen from feeling too dark.

“We wanted to create a really communal kitchen, a real heart to the home where everyone can congregate,” says O’Connell. “One of the clients [Brian] has an interest in timber and woodworking and so together we came up with the idea of the kitchen island as a giant table that everyone can work around on all four sides. It has Quaker-inspired timber work and legs – very pared back.”

Visiting houses in order to write about them for this magazine usually means – logically – that the architecture is front of mind. But here, in Waikanae, that wasn’t really the case, and in the very best way. The owners and I chatted about family, travel and art over coffee and muffins while watching the light change over the river and beach. I realised after a while that this is probably what’s meant when we talk about the bach tradition of Kiwi architecture: that the house is relaxed enough, and unfussy enough, to know when to just get out of the way. Of course, that takes great skill, and a natural humility on the architects’ part, to achieve. This place is so beguiling, it tricked an architecture writer into forgetting for a while about the architecture. Not bad.

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1. Deck
2. Living
3. Dining
4. Kitchen
5. Bedroom
6. Wardrobe
7. Ensuite
8. Bathroom
9. Multi-use

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