HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — Jeremy Hansen PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — Mark Smith PRO­DUC­TION — Katie Lock­hart

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.

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