Sacred Space

A belief in simplicity and order underpins the design of this self-contained unit.

Sacred Space

A belief in simplicity and order underpins the design of this self-contained unit.

I once read in a Tibetan philosophy book that the first step towards helping others and implementing a vision for a better world is to work on your own domestic situation. By organising and creating harmony in your household environment – by creating tidiness – it becomes sacred.

It’s such a beautiful way to describe the importance of tidiness in your own household. So often, the problem with small spaces is that clutter can accumulate very quickly. And as everyone in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland starts to grapple with living closer together, in spaces smaller than maybe we might have become used to – as the city densifies – tidiness and organised space has become ever more important. 

A year or so back, I was asked to design a small self-contained unit next to an existing boarding house in the suburb of Ōtāhuhu, owned by a small residential property developer who wanted to make better use of the property with new, good-quality accommodation.

When I started researching the design, I was drawn to the Shakers (also known as Quakers). The Shakers believed in the importance of preserving tidiness in their spaces by using furniture as organisational frameworks, which they built with precise intention and purpose. 

It seemed fitting. The design strategy, in essence, was that each area in the small unit would define the shape, scale and the specific functionality of its furniture. The analogy I like to use to describe the furniture in this instance is a form of “mini-infrastructure”, built to assist the human condition and one which would save its occupants from spending additional money on decorating.

An L-shaped cabinet is the main organisational element, partitioning and demarcating the corridor from the sleeping area. It wraps around a queen-sized bed that sits on a metal frame elevated from the ground. 


Similarly, a continuous wooden peg rail placed just below the lintel runs around the perimeter of the lounge and the bedroom area. A design directly borrowed from the Shakers, it provides a framework for the occupants to hang their own things, without requiring fixings. 

Throughout the unit, I designed the storage volumes balancing closed cupboards and drawers with open shelves and platforms. I used perforated closet doors to create a sense of continuity and expand the space in the corridor and kitchen area. They conceal an ample amount of wardrobe and additional kitchen cupboards.

Colour was important too. The Tāmaki River nearby has a unique mudflat environment that houses a species of native mangroves (called mānawa in te reo Māori). Dark and muted green colours are reminiscent of the mudflats and the native mangroves, and a soft pearl blue mimics the serene quality of the tidal sea. Accents of black, deep reds and light orange add nuance to the overall colour composition (and acknowledge some of the surrounding native flora and fauna).

Throughout, we used recycled rimu from demolished houses. It adds a warm and tactile quality to the spaces and contributes towards environmental sustainability, while adding a touch of New Zealand vernacular. 

It’s a small project, but full of meaning. By providing built-in furniture, designed and made with honesty and simplicity, as the Shakers did, we can create a sense of pride in their space. I believe this will contribute to a healthy and sustainable densification of our city.

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