HOUZZ: A boat shed home glows from the inside out
by Simon Farrell-Green
Photography by Patrick Reynolds.
An environmentally high-performing beach house on Auckland’s North Shore is responsive to light and wind.
In many ways, the genesis of this house on Auckland’s North Shore was a little unusual. The clients – Rachael Rush and husband Greg with their two children Jack and George – had lived on the site in a run-down, old bungalow for many years before deciding to build on the site. A block back from Takapuna Beach – a beautiful stretch of sheltered white sand 20 minutes from downtown Auckland – it’s an idyllic spot, which suits this family of water-mad sailors down to a tee.
Rush – a commercial architect who specialises in large-scale public buildings – had conceived of the general shape of the house, and received resource consent for the project before deciding that they would be better off commissioning another architect to design it. She called on Strachan Group Architects, mainly because of their reputation for building beautifully crafted houses that are also environmentally high-performing.
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Rachael and Greg Rush, along with sons Jack (12) and George (10).
Location: Takapuna Beach, Auckland
Size: 380 square metres, 3-4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms
Year completed: 2013
Design: Strachan Group Architects (SGA) in association with Rachael Rush
The basic idea was a good one – a series of three pitched-roof pavilions, inspired by traditional boat sheds, cluster around a generous courtyard a couple of blocks back from the beach – but the site was challenging, to say the least.
The previous owners had subdivided the original section, and then built a very large house right on the northern boundary. The clients also needed a very large house – 380 square metres in all, including massive amounts of underground storage for cars, boats and toys on a 480-square-metre corner section that was exposed to the street on two sides. “It was a very big brief for a very small site,” says project architect Pat de Pont.
For SGA, the question was how to create something that could be responsive to light and air – so important for passive heating and cooling – when every outlook is compromised and the view is almost to the south. The answer – surprisingly – wasn’t in closing the house down, but in opening it up. Carefully. “The key to the house is transparency,” says de Pont. “We had poor solar access and didn’t want it to be too in your face – so a little of it was trying to play that down.”
De Pont and Dave Strachan, along with the team at SGA, refined the plan down a little: they pulled each shed 400 millimetres apart and then worked to make the house both beautiful and environmentally friendly. The three gabled forms are built from steel portal frames with timber inserts, pulled back to the street boundary on one side and the northern boundary on the other, to maximise the size of the courtyard.
It’s a big house but it feels lightweight thanks to big windows that open up on almost every side bringing in light, views and the all-important sun, while a variety of screening methods give the family privacy and the ability to direct wind and sun.
In winter, the floors are heated up by the sun during the day and release their heat at night. In summer, the house opens up completely: huge openings allow the breeze to waft through the house. Here, the master bedroom’s window drops down to become a balustrade, allowing gentle summer ocean breezes in. The steel screens provide privacy and can be turned around to block sun or wind. In the heat of summer, the windows stay open all day to allow cool air in.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the living room, huge doors open over a shallow pool, cooling the air on its way into the house. “Because they are sailors, they understand the breeze and the sun,” says de Pont. “And Greg’s home a lot, so the idea is the house can be tuned like a boat.
On the southern boundary, a facade of glass-reinforced panels offers a solidity to the street and the south side of the house (there are narrow windows built into either side to let in light). The panels were custom made: all four were cast from the same mould, which is an interpretation of ripples in the sand of nearby Takapuna Beach.
Below this is the entry to the garage, which burrows down under two of the boat sheds and provides space for a three-car garage along with a workshop and room for boats – not to mention the many and varied bits of watersport gear this water-obsessed family have lying around. Underground, there’s also a utility room and a gym: the basement was key to getting all of the family’s brief onto the site without building a house that felt too big.
The house is centred around the east-facing courtyard, with one pavilion sticking out a little more than the others to provide privacy from the neighbouring house.
Visitors arrive at the house through the courtyard, up a generous set of stairs and across a deck to the front door – though with all the doors open, the idea of the house having a proper ‘front door’ is a little redundant. It’s porous, allowing both air and people to drift in and out across decks and through courtyards and lawns, rather than down hallways. There’s no real front, and no real back.
The entry opens simply into the living areas, anchored by the kitchen to the right and the dining area to the left with the main living area behind.
In contrast to the black steel and timber exterior, the inside of the house is almost completely timber. “We often try to find alternatives to plasterboard,” says de Pont. Instead, the house was built from a number of different timbers, which were chosen because of their luminescent golden tones. The effect is a house that has been beautifully crafted in the way of a boat.
The kitchen and dining area sits in the middle of the house, between the east and west courtyards with a view out over the lawn through pohutukawa trees to a peep of a view of Takapuna Beach.
The dining area is both inside and outside, thanks to a very large window that slides up completely on hydraulics, exposing the whole room to the open air.
The house was built by Gary Bonham of Bonham Builders & Management. Design and planning took two years, and construction took 15 months.
The house is open at both ends, and closed along the sides – on the southern boundary, for reasons of privacy and cold; on the north, because there is a house so close. A variety of courtyard spaces cut into the building and give the feeling that there’s always somewhere to go – and always air and light.
The kitchen was custom built from stainless steel by Arclinea. Walls throughout the house are clad in birch plywood; the floors are blackbutt or basalt tiles. On the ceiling, the Lawson cypress floor joists and the 30-millimetre poplar subfloor of the level above are left exposed, so you can see the detailing. The different timbers give the house a warm, friendly glow.
The ‘Baker’ stools here are from local Auckland furniture designer IMO.
Rush was very keen that the stove face out into the courtyard, despite the risk of wind affecting her gas burners. Practicality aside, there is something particularly lovely about standing cooking beside a window while your guests sit about in the courtyard drinking wine.
Another view of the kitchen, which is open on all three sides to different living areas. The boating analogies are found throughout the house – the kitchen feels a bit like the galley on a boat. (A very nice boat, admittedly.)
As anyone who’s ever eaten fish and chips on Takapuna beach can tell you, the prevailing wind in the evening comes off the ocean to the east. To counter this, SGA designed a snug west-facing courtyard beside the kitchen and opening out from the living area.
While the clients were initially worried about privacy – from certain angles you can look down into the courtyard over the concrete wall as you approach the house – they’ve been delighted by the neighbourly interactions. The area is very quiet, and most of the foot traffic comes from neighbours walking to the beach. “Dealing with privacy was one thing,” says de Pont, “but the nice thing is you get to see them and say hello.”
“During the day,” says de Pont, “it’s quite recessive and transparent.” From the street, the house is open, offering views down through it to the beach. The door in the foreground here is a service entry into that west-facing courtyard – though because of the afore-mentioned neighbourhood relations, it’s also become an entry to drop by for a glass of wine.
Despite the transparency, the house is still warm – particularly in the main living area, which is a couple of steps up from the kitchen-dining area, sitting in behind the solid GRC facade at your back. The Masport fireplace, with custom steel surround, and television help create a den-like living area, which feels slightly – and pleasantly – removed from the rest of the house.
SGA played with light wherever they could. The long window behind the couch sits in behind the GRC screen, giving yet another surprising shaft of light. The room is ideal for music practice – drums and a piano are permanently set up.
On the opposite side of the kitchen, a second living area and study is also the access point to the upstairs bedrooms, wrapping around a solid concrete-block wall which helps moderate the temperature of the house.
The ‘Kina’ light fittings here – and throughout the house – are by New Zealand designer David Trubridge.
The space here is in direct contrast to the family room across the other side of the house – a double-height space, it has large windows open to the street.
The ceilings in the upstairs spaces are built from birch ply sheets laid in a board-and-batten pattern. To make sure it would work, SGA built 1:1 models in their studio.
The family’s storage requirements were massive – here, custom birch-ply cabinetry built by Wackrows Joinery hides away books, papers and ephemera.
High windows in this room let in light from the north, without compromising privacy. “The trick was to get as much light from the north as possible,” says de Pont.
The downstairs bathroom. The only bathroom downstairs, it serves as the guest toilet as well as ensuite for one of the boys’ bedrooms. Materials here echo those found throughout the house.
On the north side, a small internal courtyard helps bring in light without exposing the living areas of the house to the neighbours – without it, parts of the living areas could have been quite dark. The warm timber throughout the house helps to bounce light around without creating a glare.
The handrail here looks down to the kitchen-dining area; down the stairs, a glass bridge leads to one of the boys’ bedrooms. Behind it, a north-facing window drags in as much light and sun as possible to provide passive heating in winter, while a polycarbonate screen on the outside of the window helps with privacy.
Unusually, the children’s bedrooms are on top of – rather than beside – each other, joined by a fireman’s pole: surely every small boy’s dream. Both rooms area generously sized, with plenty of room for seating, toys and books in the built-in bookshelves.
The master bedroom and bathroom take up the whole top floor and look down over the courtyard and out to see a glorious view through pohutukawa and out to the Hauraki Gulf. The external metal screens can pivot for privacy, which means the owners never need to close their windows at night – let alone close the curtains.
The master bathroom sits behind the bedroom. The simple material palette is continued here with birch ply cabinetry.
The house has multiple spaces where family members can retreat to, away from the main living areas without feeling cut off. Upstairs, a small library/media room can be closed off with sliding doors to create a fourth bedroom – or just as a quiet, secluded spot away from the rest of the house.
The established nikau on the street boundary have been there for decades.
As night falls, it changes completely as the light starts to bounce around all that timber. “The building is intended to be lantern,” says de Pont. “When you open the box, it kind of glows.”