Calm and contemplative, this concrete villa extension by José Gutiérrez in Grey Lynn marks a distinct departure from tradition.

Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

The villas on the opposite side of this Grey Lynn, Tāmaki Makaurau street are showing every bit of their age in a suburb where the very moniker is a misnomer. There’s nothing grey about the life and times of the characters and character homes that have made this enclave so colourful over the years. And that’s exactly why these Victorian-era buildings cling on in the hearts of many Aucklanders. That said, as designer José Gutiérrez points out, in many cases, history is simply “falling away”. So, while he appreciates aspects of the villa style, it is permanence and weight that he is after. A new history is waiting in the wings.

In 2017, when Carla Tewkesbury crossed the bridge from the North Shore to move closer to work, she was not of a mind to slavishly restore and recreate either. She discovered a like-minded spirit in Gutiérrez whose work has a discreet quality and a contemporary elegance. This place, situated in a wide avenue near the motorway entrances, fell in a sweet spot – with a renovated kitchen and bathroom in the lean-to extension, it was liveable and within her budget.

Perhaps it is the age we live in that has magnetised so many towards minimalism: where once home was a vessel for vivid inspiration (with a material and tonal palette to match), now saturated social-media feeds provide overwhelming input. Here, it is quiet – visually and viscerally so. A comprehensive renovation and extension, which took shape over three years, provides a transition from the pace of the city fringe to the peace of an urban oasis.

The design celebrates proportion and symmetry. Working within the expansive bones of high ceilings and a wide hallway, Gutiérrez has made volume an architectural ally and original detail his muse. In the older part of the house, where once the front door took scant advantage of the 3.4-metre-high stud (and was positioned off centre), now there’s a graceful yet modern entryway with a bang-on door that stretches up in welcome and harks of heritage in its black-and-white leadlight. Where once the architraves and skirting boards, much altered, were a hodge-podge of profiles, now they are carefully coordinated and paired up with taller internal doors sporting black hardware to contrast.

In the renovation, Gutiérrez guided his client in the design ways of “staying silent”, ushering Tewkesbury towards clean, plain choices that would key into a cohesive vision. He replanned the ensuite to include a walk-in wardrobe where Tewkesbury has colour-blocked her clothes. He reconfigured a bathroom with pared-back fittings and a curved wall to hug the shower. And he suggested open shelving in the TV snug as the singular place to curate her keepsakes.

Yet it is the bigger design moves that speak volumes (albeit in hushed tones). A kidney-shaped pool, that leaked, was removed to allow expansion on the long, rectangular site. Now the footprint extends into a strong and sculptural concrete pavilion. Doors slide away to make it one with the garden. “The solid mass of it is like an anchor and creates a bit of tension between the heavy form and the light materiality of the original home,” says Gutiérrez.

There is precision in the geometry of the addition. From one side of the living room, a sight line travels the length of the shallow pond outside which aligns, through a floor-to-ceiling window, with the hallway and front door of the villa. A concrete cube defines the new snug, which also has access to the garden. “This is true pavilion living,” says Tewkesbury. “With all the doors peeled back, there is such interaction with the outdoors that the building all but disappears.”

Bold, confident gestures (rather than finicky filigree) make the difference. Chunky board-and-batten, painted white, clads the corner-turn of the pavilion to echo its heritage, while robust slabs of schist serve as stepping stones in a gravel courtyard with a hint of Japanese influence. The marble slab that waterfalls the kitchen island is another talking point. “I fell in love with its crystalline veins but was worried it would be too full-on,” explains Tewkesbury. But Gutiérrez was confident it was “not too blingy”. The material became the springboard for the tonal palette, which features biscuit-coloured cabinetry, white Dekton benchtops and a splashback in the same showstopping stone.

While substantial raw, natural materials contribute to the calmness of this open-plan living space – friends who visit always use the word Zen – ethereal qualities also enrich the experience. Shifting shadows scatter onto the walls through clerestory windows that let in a sky-high vista of the neighbourhood and transform the dwelling into a light catcher. “Architecture organises the way you live,” says Gutiérrez. But it can do so much more. When the silhouette of the paperbark maple or the numinous glow of a full moon reflects on the back wall of the living room, there is no need for more art. It is magical. And it is enough.

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