Seeking to bring in the light, Lloyd Hartley Architects strip an apartment in Tāmaki Makaurau back to its very beautiful bones.

Raw Material

Raw Material

Lloyd Hartley Architects are known for naming their projects with a little something more than a client name or location. And the Ponsonby-based practice has called this renovation A Diaphanous Design – a whimsical moniker that means light, delicate and transparent. It’s an appropriate name for the apartment near Britomart in Tāmaki Makaurau – sun floods into the space, with fluted-glass sliding doors that allow the light to get right in.

There’s also a lightness in how adaptable the space is – the stacking sliders allow a degree of flexibility in how the 100-square-metre footprint can be configured. The purposes of the rooms are not set in stone, so to speak – fluted glass screens run the length of the main bedroom and are also employed to close off or open a secondary bedroom-office and the bathroom. “The clients wanted as few walls as possible and to bring light in as far back as possible, allowing privacy and openness as required,” says principal architect Ben Lloyd, who worked on the project with architectural graduate Emily Wood.

Ironically, the starting point for A Diaphanous Design was a material that’s the complete opposite of lightness and delicacy – steel. The clients, a couple with adult children living independently, had already chosen a powdercoated steel KXN kitchen, wardrobe system and other furniture from IMO, and it was IMO owner Sam Haughton’s suggestion that the clients contact Lloyd Hartley to redesign their apartment.

The owners mostly live away from Tāmaki Makaurau and use the apartment as their Auckland base. Drawn to its north-western aspect, and city, park and harbour views, they had previously owned another apartment in the same building, which was originally known as the Max Paykel Building. Daniel Boys Patterson, also the architect for the Central Fire Station on Pitt Street, designed it in 1926.

At the outset of the renovation, original steel windows were still in place, but less-than-sympathetic circa-1990s additions, including plasterboard walls, lowered ceilings, and a partially raised floor, masked what character features remained. “As it was, there were very few redeeming features to try to hold on to, so it was nice having more of a blank canvas,” Lloyd says. The architect credits “really good builders”, Absolute Construct. “We have worked with them previously on a similar project – they are experienced with old buildings, inner-city sites and body corporate rules.” 

Lloyd says the first phase on A Diaphanous Design was a “discovery stage” that established all the fixed services. It was an opportunity to peel back layers of previous renovations to reveal some of the original character underneath, such as double-brick walls that were still in good condition. From there, Lloyd’s focus was on “embracing some of the quirkiness of the existing space”. “This project was about stripping back the apartment, exposing the existing structure and rebuilding it while exploring privacy, transparency, texture and modularity,” he says. 

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Working in the 1920s building did present some challenges as the builders manoeuvred large steel beams and the kitchen in a small service lift or carried them up several flights of stairs. But before any of that happened, the architects worked closely with manufacturer Steelguard to craft the bespoke steel-framed, fluted-glass sliders. “It can be challenging to introduce elements of an industrial nature into a residential build because you have to be rigorous with measurements – there’s nowhere for anything to hide,” Lloyd says. “This project was an exercise in understanding and pushing the inherent tolerances in certain building materials to achieve a high level of finish and thoughtful detailing.” The owners had selected wide-plank oak flooring, and this was laid throughout, replacing a previously raised carpeted section in the living room and bedrooms and ceramic tiles in the kitchen, hall and bathroom.

Although the owners wished for minimal wall space, it was also important for them to have some room to display their art, including a collection of framed Burmese bible pages and several oil paintings by Piera McArthur. The architects catalogued the artwork, curated the pieces within their CAD model, and included them in the architectural drawings.

Evident in their art, rugs and furnishings is the owners love for colour, and they chose olive green for a wall near the dining table and mustard yellow for their bedroom. The colour of the powdercoating in the kitchen was matched and used to paint the existing steel window frames. The kitchen’s suspended high open shelving provides extra display space and storage while still allowing the apartment entrance to feel open and light. Strip lighting under the shelves adds ambient lighting, enriching the colour of a leathered Damastas marble splashback with beautiful spiderweb veins and texture, supplied by Italian Stone.

Lloyd says he wanted to expose the lighting to pick up on the industrial nature of the building, “but not in a rigorous cable tray way”. He specified tracks from Inlite, with dimmable spotlights and pendants that are able to move freely along their tracks. Light switches and wall sockets made in an Auckland foundry from Thom Electrical Accessories complement the aesthetic. 

The craftsmanship harks back to earlier times, appropriate for this near-century-old building. A Diaphanous Design shows how character features can come into the light once more.

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