Houzz Tour: Sailor’s Ship Shape Home Is Well Above Sea Level
by Simon Farrell-Green
On trips back to New Zealand from the Mediterranean or the Caribbean, Tom Aveling – a young sailor who works as a skipper on super yachts for much of the year – found himself drawn again and again to Queenstown and Central Otago. Despite (or maybe because of) spending months at a time at sea, the dramatic mountain landscapes and wild extremes of heat and cold – snow in winter, baking heat in summer – appealed to him in a visceral sort of way. So when it came to establishing a base back home, there was only place he wanted to be.
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Tom Aveling, professional sailor (plus his many and varied guests)
Location: Jack’s Point, Queenstown, New Zealand
Size: 120 square metres; 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms
Architect: Anna-Marie Chin Architects
After a long, fruitless search in the region’s booming real estate market – Queenstown is one of the most expensive areas in New Zealand – Aveling realised it would be better to buy land in the area and build. While staying with a friend nearby he found this site at Jack’s Point, a residential subdivision with tight design controls just outside Queenstown.
He loved the view, which takes in the lake and distant mountains of the Southern Alps in one direction with the sheer overwhelming mass of the Remarkables mountain range behind. “I found the site and jumped at it,” he says. “I didn’t have a huge budget, so I thought I’d just design something small.”
Design guidelines at Jack’s Point are famously tough, calling for a simple gable form and the use of specific materials including Colorsteel roofing, timber and schist. As a result, there is a distinct vernacular to the development – traditional pitched-roof houses with lots of stone and wood that recede into the environment in a demure sort of way.
Aveling had no intention of building a house like that. He wanted a contemporary house that challenged ideas of space and form. He also wanted a house that was capable of being rented out while he wasn’t using it. And he had a very small budget.
None of those factors put architect Anna-Marie Chin off. “The challenge of the design was to create a house of spatial quality and variation,” she says, noting that the house had to be small and tough, hard-wearing and warm. “The thing about Jack’s Point is that it’s a big environment. The Remarkables, against them you just feel little. So that whole scale is really important.” The form of the house draws its inspiration from the traditional New Zealand rural shed, draped with a skin of black Colorsteel roofing that flows across the roof and down the sides of the house.
Chin’s design does everything Aveling asked for – and more. The design was even more challenging because of the likelihood of neighbours building on either side. The house doesn’t exactly thumb its nose at its neighbours – but it doesn’t thoughtlessly conform, either.
Chin skated neatly around the design controls by taking the classic gable form and abstracting it: the ridgeline of the roof runs diagonally from corner to corner, rather than down the middle, and it also tilts to follow the fall of the land away from the street – all of which makes for a form that morphs and changes from different angles, almost like a trapezoid. which Chin muses relates pleasingly to the fractured form of the mountains that surround it.
At the end of the house, Chin placed a striking, tall steel chimney, which almost acts like a prow – it gives a little house majesty and strength in a big landscape.
In contrast to the tough exterior of the house, Chin specified honey coloured plywood on the inside of the house instead of white plaster board – it creates a warm, welcoming glow and visual interest, as seen here in the living room with the neighbours’ children wrestling on the sofa.
“His brief was that he didn’t want a traditional house,” says Chin. “So it wasn’t about the size of space, it was about the quality of space. And because of the budget that was a good brief. But he wanted spaces that were kind of quirky as well.”
The house manages to squeeze an awful lot into its 120 square metres – but it never feels mean. The living area is small, but feels generous thanks to the double-height ceiling – the fall of the section allowed Chin to squeeze two storeys into the house, with bedrooms and a garage at the other end. The living area makes the house feel much bigger than it is – you constantly look through it to the landscape outside.
“We challenged the scale of space,” says Chin. “The traditional thing is to do kitchen, living and dining, and we felt the dining didn’t need to be a space so much as an alcove because he’s used to small spaces.”
Chin and her team painstakingly worked every dimension out – drawing on the walls of their studio and pacing out the size to make sure it was liveable. They modelled the eight-seater dining table, which fits into a window seat to one side of the kitchen, on the crew’s mess on the yachts that Aveling works on – above, they slipped a sleeping platform reached by a long ladder, which adds yet more accommodation to the place. Throughout the house, there is clever storage slipped into spaces, in the same way as it would be on a boat.
From the street, you can’t see much other than a black garage door clad in the same Colorsteel roofing as the rest of the house – the front entry is halfway along the house and down a flight of stairs. The builder, Tony Stratford of Multiline Construction, and Chin spent hours making sure the lines on the walls lined up with those on the roof.
The house is long and skinny, and skates down one side of the site, leaving room for a second self-contained two-bedroom house.
The original design called for a second, smaller house to be built alongside the first for Aveling to rent out to guests. The second building is on hold for now thanks to budgetary restrictions, but will one day create a sheltered courtyard between the two houses, providing privacy from neighbours and shelter from Central Otago’s temperature extremes.
Throughout the house, you’re conscious of the ebb and flow of the roof above – here in the master bedroom, the roof drops low in one corner. Aveling, who trained as an industrial designer before taking to the high seas, selected all the light fittings and furnishings in the house himself.
The bedhead is Mandal by Ikea (bought from Zoomly) and the bedside table is a Sidekick low stool by Timothy John. The light is from Tudo & Co.
Chin kept things simple in the bathrooms, with plywood vanities and dark tiles. The shower here is a Metro shower diverter mixer with a Tube Square shower column, both from Plumbline.
“I liked the idea of having a shell and a softer interior and I just thought it looked welcoming and warm as well,” says Aveling.
To save on budget, Aveling oversaw construction himself – an unusual arrangement for Chin, who normally oversees construction. She felt confident in the arrangement, though.
It’s an approach Aveling would rather not repeat – trying to manage the project from the other side of the world and from the middle of the ocean was hard work.
Aveling is being hard on himself when he says this – the overall effect of the house is delightful, an interplay between dark and light, warm and dense and textural. The plywood lining wraps around the entire interior, flowing across ceilings and down walls, including over doors and in the kitchen, which is built from simple – but dramatic – black-stained plywood. You stand in the place and it is at once comforting and airy. Materials used here are hard working and robust; concrete, plywood, steel. “The concrete can get scraped and the ply can get knocked and it wears well,” says Aveling.
All the cabinetry in the house – including the kitchen, daybeds, sliding panels and ladder to the sleeping loft – was built by Steve Walak of Steve’s Joinery. The kitchen mixer is La Torre Java Kitchen Mixer with pullout.
The extremes of climate are one of the hardest things about building in Central Otago. The house is super-insulated, with double-glazed windows and a polished concrete floor that acts as a heat sink in winter. Chin managed the house’s relationship with the outdoors with two carefully detailed cutaways in the shell of the building, lined with the same ply as the inside. “Even though it’s a small house you need a couple of courtyard spaces,” says Chin. “You can sit in that north courtyard with your legs dangling over, but you’re also sheltered there.”
Because of its size, the house’s chimney needed some serious engineering and supports its own weight on a separate foundation. It was brought in by crane and erected well before the rest of the house – alarming the neighbours, who were used to much more demure stone chimneys.
The house has exceeded Aveling’s expectations – in every way. When he’s not using it, the place is in constant use by friends and family, while it’s also for rent on Airbnb, bringing in income which takes a decent bite out of the mortgage.
Eighteen months after moving in, the house still delights Aveling. “If you look back at it from down the lake, it fits in with everything else. From different angles it looks like a big house, it looks huge. That’s the illusion of the house with all the twists. It’s neat.”