Stevens Lawson create a meditative seaside space
Full of tactile pale timber and light, lofty spaces, an Auckland home by Stevens Lawson creates a new blueprint for urban serenity.
How do you create a sanctuary? Architects Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson were recently asked to do so on a site beside Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour. Normally a client writing an architectural brief might start with a descriptive term like this before going on to write a long list of other, less evocative requirements. But here on this quiet piece of land in a suburb not far from the city centre, the owner kept things simple by making just one request: to encapsulate the feeling of a sanctuary in built form. So Stevens and Lawson got to work, aiming to create “a soulful house and a spiritual house,” Stevens says. “The client was very open about how we developed that.” The home they have designed looks like what should be the first hit if you type ‘sanctuary’ into a Google image search (I tried – there are hundreds of images of a now-cancelled Canadian web and TV series of that name before you reach a picture of a lovely thatchedroof lodge in Botswana). There are quiet, delicately planted courtyards, floors of oiled oak, tactile walls and lofty ceilings of beautifully pale, sustainably harvested totara. The tide washes in and out at the bottom of the property. The overall effect is restful, monastic, deeply calm. “Everything is a bit earthy and textured – it’s not slick,” Stevens says. The sense of serenity in the home seems to affect almost everyone: when members of his extended family made their first visit there one recent afternoon, the owner soon found most of them curled up in various parts of the living room taking a nap. This feeling, of course, is not an accident, but the result of thoughtful planning. From the street, the home has a deliberate modesty that gives little away, with a simple gable form of concrete and cedar. Inside the front door, there is a spine of concrete running all the way through the home and culminating in a terrace overlooking the harbour. The heft of this thick, anchoring wall sets up a lovely interplay of solidity and transparency. The 420-square-metre home is not a monolithic block stretching for the water, but is broken into fragments with courtyards inserted between them. This brings light into all the rooms and allows linear views through the house. The main bedroom looks across a courtyard and through the living area to the water, for example, while the yoga and meditation room on the northeastern side of the house has views through the kitchen to the harbour’s edge. “It’s very much a house you see through,” Lawson says. (This arrangement handily avoids staring at the neighbouring homes, which are both rather close to the boundaries.) This planning had a loose precedent in a house Stevens and Lawson designed nearby that won this magazine’s Home of the Year award in 2007. That home is also located on a long, thin site and features courtyards between some of the rooms, but the similarities end there. While that home was all dark timber and highly crafted curves, this one has a less complex geometry. And the decision here to locate the main bedroom on the ground floor (instead of upstairs at the front of the home facing the water) allows the ceiling heights in the living spaces to soar to a peak of seven metres, giving the rooms a sense of luxurious spaciousness and ease. The interiors have been left blissfully uncluttered, thanks to the work of interior designer Katie Lockhart. She designed most of the Shaker-style furniture herself and had it made in walnut by local craftsman Grant Bailey. A large grey rug of New Zealand wool covers the living room floor, while white paper lampshades by Isamu Noguchi and BarberOsgerby hang from the ceilings. In the kitchen, Stevens and Lawson designed a central island and cabinetry in totara (with recessed drawer pulls in a triangular motif) and topped the benches with granite, integrating the pantry and appliances so they look less like workspaces and more like pieces of furniture. Lofty skylights bring light deep into the space, creating a play of sun on the walls that changes continually throughout the day. The sense of calm is more than skin-deep. The home was built (by Bruce Ogilvy of Moir Point Park Developments) according to the principles of Baubiologie, a branch of building research that aims to minimise the presence of irritants in the home such as toxic substances and electromagnetic radiation. To achieve this, natural materials and finishes were specified throughout the home, and electrical wiring was designed so it is mostly contained in a central recessed floor cavity. The home also has a large photovoltaic array for solar power, high levels of insulation, and a grey water recycling system. “It’s high performing environmentally, but it’s still very architecturally driven,” Lawson says. Of course Stevens and Lawson sweated the details, but there is something relaxed in their execution that makes this home feel easy, not uptight. It also marks a period of intense architectural development for the duo who, as well as creating intricately crafted homes like this one, have recently designed a great variety of other buildings, including over 40 lower-priced terrace homes at Auckland’s Hobsonville Point, and several more affordable homes for a Nga¯ti Wha¯tua development in Orakei. Late last year they won the New Zealand Architecture Medal from the NZ Institute of Architects for the design of the Blyth Performing Arts Centre at Hawke’s Bay’s Iona College. The diversity of work doesn’t mean Stevens and Lawson have any desire to stop creating beautiful homes like this: if anything, this building’s self-assured sense of calm suggests they are enjoying the process of making them more than ever. The home’s owner, too, is continually delighted by how the architects interpreted his evocative open brief. The sanctuary he asked for has been happily realised. “I have so much respect for Nicholas and Gary that I felt it was important to give them the freedom to be truly expressive,” he says. “I think [the brief] gave them the chance to create more with their hearts than their minds. I feel like I was really heard.”
The home presents a modest face to the street, with concrete and cedar forming a simple gable roof. The home was constructed by Bruce Ogilvy.
The sitting room’s ceiling rises to a peak of seven metres, and its walls and ceiling are lined with bandsawn, sustainably harvested totara. The furniture was designed by Katie Lockhart (except for the vintage rocking chair by Hans Wegner) and made from walnut timber by craftsman Grant Bailey. The lightshade at left is by Isamu Noguchi, while the ‘Double Bubble’ shade at right is from the ‘Hotaru’ collection by BarberOsgerby for Akari. The grey rug is from The Ivy House and is made from New Zealand wool. The floorboards are oiled oak.
There are quiet, delicately planted courtyards, floors of oiled oak, tactile walls and lofty ceilings of beautifully pale, sustainably harvested totara.
The client requested a room for yoga and meditation, which opens off the hallway but is normally concealed behind a hidden door. The room looks across a courtyard and through the kitchen and dining area to the harbour. The walls are lined in bandsawn sustainably harvested totara. The vase is by Estelle Martin. The shoe cabinet was designed by Katie Lockhart and is made from walnut.
The owner kept things simple by making just one request: to encapsulate the feeling of a sanctuary in built form. So they set about creating “a soulful house and a spiritual house”.
The home’s long, slender form is broken up with courtyards that invite light and air through the building. The landscaping is by Philip Smith of O2 Landscapes. The walnut sofa was designed by Katie Lockhart and made by Grant Bailey.
Left Stevens and Lawson designed the kitchen, with its totara cabinetry and granite benchtops, to look like pieces of furniture rather than a workspace. The pendants are by Monmouth Glass.
Right The dining area faces the harbour on one side, but in this view looks back through the kitchen to one of the home’s courtyards. The dining table and benches are by Sawkille Furniture, a firm based in Rhinebeck, New York.
Below right The main bedroom opens onto one of the home’s courtyards. The bed was designed by Lockhart and made from walnut by Jason Lowe.
Top left Light from a skylight spills down a bathroom wall. Top right The home’s narrow site meant side windows would have looked straight at the neighbours, so the architects deployed skylights by Vantage to bring light deep into the home. The roof and side walls are clad in cedar shingles, a reference to shingled details on the bungalows in the area. Above left The yoga and meditation room looks onto one of the courtyards. Above right The main bathroom features hexagonal tiles and a long granite sink atop a custom totara cabinet. Right The home opens onto a lawn that faces the Waitemata Harbour.