“You’re the bravest client I’ve ever had,” says architect Carolyn Smith to Simon Glynn. “In fact, I think you’re the bravest man I know.”
A few years ago, Simon approached Carolyn about reworking his postwar cottage in the suburb of Ōrakei, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. His house was cute – weatherboards, paned windows, established trees and solid bones. But it was too small for him and his two sons, with tiny bedrooms and one living room.
Carolyn set about redesigning the house with a simple addition to house kids’ bedrooms and an extra bathroom – until Simon was diagnosed with a degenerative condition that would ultimately constrict his movements. At that point, he called off the work, and reluctantly set about finding an easy-care apartment better suited to his needs.
A year later, the two bumped into each other. Simon was still looking, and more than emotional about leaving his beloved cottage. “I reckon we can do something about that,” said Carolyn.
She had a little inside knowledge, having spent a couple of years earlier bound either to a wheelchair, walking frame or stick. With some simple tweaks and clever thinking, she was able to turn a small cottage into a functional family home that also happens to be fully accessible. “To be honest, it’s not that hard,” she says. “You want flush thresholds and to keep things wide and open and generous to facilitate ease of movement and function.”
She reworked her original design, adding a long gabled extension to the end of the dwelling that now houses an internal-access garage with ramp, fullly accessible bathroom and a large, airy bedroom with wide sliding windows looking out to the garden. “It was a really little ‘L’ with little French doors that had really had it,” she says. “We used the floors and kind of used the openings and reconfigured everything so it worked better.”
A living room became one son’s bedroom; the whole back of the house was opened up through floor-to-ceiling sliding doors to a large deck connected to the garden via a ramp, which connects to a concrete path that surrounds the house. Simon can now circumnavigate the property unencumbered; on days when he’s confined inside, he can still feel the air and see the garden. Both bathrooms are accessible, with specialist fittings, painstakingly researched and sourced – neither architect nor client is fond of the hospital look.
To that, Simon added a soothing palette of greens and blues, offset by crisp white. The outside is painted black. “I used to do a lot of tramping,” he says. “I wanted to have those colours around me, so when I’m doing my circle I feel like I’m in nature.”
Remarkably, he also lived in the house through the renovation. Builder Dan Power finished the extension first and Simon moved in there. The rest of the house followed a year or so ago. “Some people weren’t keen on me tackling the project,” he says. “But I needed character and free space – and I found it took my mind off things.”
Ask him what the best thing about it is, and he talks about the connection to the garden, and the delights of well-designed space. “I think staying in a home you like is important,” he says. “It’s wonderful to be in a place that makes me feel good.”