Living in a glass house
An ultra-modern home which operates completely off the grid would be turning heads but for the fact is hidden in the hills of South Head.
To the south, through the sea spray haze, you can just make out the headland of Muriwai Beach. To the north, however, Rangitiri Beach stretches to a point, somewhere in the direction of the Kaipara Harbour’s South Head.
This is the view from the new home of Sarah Sutherland and Dougall Watt, high on the hill on Wilson Road, South Head.
The arrow-straight beach seems to pull all the features inland from it into parallel alignment; the endless strip of Woodhill Forest, the long, skinny Lake Kerata, the inland main road.
It has also inspired the architects Fearon Hay who designed this home; it is a rectangular box, with its two long sides aligned perfectly to the beach – and everything else. The symmetry doesn’t end there, either. Inside the two ‘pods’ mirror each other at each end of the building, with identical fireplaces set into each one.
The orientation of the building means that it breaks the rules in terms of facing north, yet the measures put into the house for passive solar heating, energy efficiency and insulation means it doesn’t matter – it is warm year-round with minimal heating input.
The building is also ahead of its time in that it is off-thegrid, yet effortlessly runs all of the modern conveniences with power to spare.
It’s an obvious source of pride for Sutherland and Watt, who before they built this home spent two years painstakingly restoring a re-located Remuera house boasting 13 rooms and four bathrooms. That house sits at the foot of the hill from their new home, and can be seen from their lawn – a constant reminder of the contrast to the simplicity of their current dwelling.
The Fearon Hay house, most strikingly, is a glass house. Exterior cladding just doesn’t exist; the walls are 93% glass. Both sides (the long bits of the rectangle) are made of several sliding panes of about five square metres in size and weighing over 250kg each. It essentially means that two of the building’s ‘walls’ can be removed, with all panes able to be stacked to the ends of the building, or arranged in any format to suit conditions. With the prevailing westerly breezes off the Tasman Sea, the effect on a warm day is stunning – like camping in an incredibly luxurious and grand gazebo.
The glass of these giant sliding doors is a single pane with a low emissivity coating, which means heat can pass through it from outside, but heat from inside is reflected back into the room.
The hard edges of the glass acreage is tempered by the ‘pods’ at either end of the building, being as they are made from recycled Rimu salvaged from a demolished Invercargill nursing home. The bedrooms and bathrooms are cleverly arranged around these pods, and are noticeably compact, with the emphasis clearly put on the large central living and kitchen space.
The house took out the prize of Sustainable Home $500,000 - $1million category at last year’s Registered Master Builders PlaceMakers 2012 House of the Year.