Andrea Bell and Andrew Kissell’s city-fringe home
A new home by Andrea Bell and Andrew Kissell in a tough semiindustrial neighbourhood brings family living to Auckland’s centre.
Architects Andrew Kissell and Andrea Bell, with their children Oscar and Lulu, in the home they designed in a light-industrial area on Auckland’s city fringe. The artwork at the foot of the stairs is ‘Liquido Russo’ by Ekarasa Doblanovic.
The home is a magnificent challenge to the conventional notion that the city is no place for children.
Left The home’s entry leads from the street into the kitchen and living areas. The apparent transparency of the stairs is because of the perforations in the 3mm-thick steel plate. Ceramic works by Len Castle hang just inside the door. ‘Play’ chairs by Alain Berteau for Wildspirit from ECC sit at an oak ‘Hugo’ dining table from Katalog. The cloche industrial shades are from Loft Motif and the lights above the kitchen island are brass with LED bulbs. Above At the top of the stairs, the upstairs living room looks across to the stairwell, where ‘Remembrance’ quatrefoils by Max Gimblett hang.
Walk past Andrea Bell and Andrew Kissell’s house in its unlikely spot next to a car dealership in a light-industrial neighbourhood on Auckland’s city fringe, and through the glass front door. You will be greeted with a loud smack of bright green grass. It’s like a gift to the street. Years ago, when Bell and Kissell, both architects, walked through the alleys of Seville as they travelled through Spain, every so often someone would open a door to a house and passersby would get a glimpse of life behind it. Those visions of domesticity in the middle of gritty environments inspired Bell and Kissell as they plotted the design of their own Auckland home. Their home is a magnificent challenge to the conventional notion that the city is no place for children. Bell and Kissell have created an enviable home for themselves and their kids Oscar, four, and one-year-old Lulu, on an almost-hostile site without resorting to suburban design tropes. Their design shows how we can better use our cities by re-occupying areas once considered undesirable, rather than spreading stand-alone homes further and further from the centre. Those visiting the home for the first time may raise an eyebrow when they can’t find a car park, when they aren’t greeted with a row of picket fences, or when they can’t see the large backyard. They might think, ‘kids can’t live here’. They will be challenged by the concept of family living in the city, but they will see that not only does it work, but it works really well. Bell, who has her own architecture practice, Bell & Co Architecture, and Kissell, an associate director at the architecture firm Peddle Thorp, purchased the site in a rush in late 2010 and then took their time deciding what to do with it. The site was originally occupied by an old cottage that had been burnt to the ground in a fire. They decided to honour the neighbourhood’s industrial flavour with an economical material palette of raw concrete walls, exposed ceilings and a strikingly beautiful metal staircase with a mesh screen. Traces of construction, such as builder’s notes and measurements, have been deliberately left exposed, and Kissell says he enjoys that aspect of the house. “I really love buildings when they are at that three-quarters-finished stage,” he says, “before you add all the stuff you have to have – the bones and structure and space, and this house partly reflects that.” The 375-square-metre home’s living areas are situated on the entry floor: a large combined kitchen, dining and sitting space that opens onto a deck with steps leading down to the lawn. Downstairs is Andrew’s workshop; Andrea’s office is upstairs along with three bedrooms and a place to watch TV. Bell’s favourite space is the main bedroom, which is utterly simple in design, its key feature being expansive views that lend the feel of sitting on a mountain looking out. “We lived without curtains for a couple of months,” says Bell, laughing. “The sunsets are amazing. I love lying in bed in the dark with the curtains open at night, watching the changing cityscape with the cranes and what’s going on, all of the lights. If there’s a concert on at Western Springs we can hear that. It does feel like we are pretty lucky.” From the outset, the home was designed for maximum flexibility. When the couple began the project, children weren’t even part of their plans. But the home has also been carefully configured for possible future uses. Initially, the couple planned to build as much as they could reasonably afford. The structure has been engineered to take another storey for a separate apartment or, perhaps, a rooftop garden. The front courtyard could be reconfigured for, say, a café. The staircase has been designed at the foot of the entrance and the edge of the house so that it could be walled off and each floor could work as a separate tenancy. Bell says “there are all sorts of ways you could cut this house up” for future combinations of residential or commercial use. The family has no plans to change the current setup. The children’s bedrooms face the street with sliding doors opening onto a small balcony where they like to blow bubbles. Visibility from the street is subtly managed on both levels with layers of timber screens and frosted glass. The family enjoys the backyard, says Kissell, and the “whole idea of living in the city but having green space and a veggie garden”. He plans to set up a projector to screen films on the neighbouring white wall. He likes how the front terrace where the car is parked also works as the perfect morning coffee spot because of how it catches the sun. He likes the large living space that opens to outdoor living. He looks around the house and says there’s not really anything he would change, even with a more generous budget. The real proof of the home’s success is evident when Oscar’s friends visit, their eyes wide with surprise. This concept of home is unfamiliar, and they are delighted by it. To them, the house is an adventure. Kissell says he sometimes misses that they don’t live in a residential street that houses plenty of other children for his kids to hang out with. But with more people moving into the area, the feeling of community is growing. Hopefully Bell and Kissell’s home is a harbinger of change.
Above The main bedroom is lined in pine plywood. The ‘Tolomeo Mini Tavolo’ bedside lights are by Michele de Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina for Artemide from ECC. The industrial lightshade is from Loft Motif. The flue from the Bosca wood fire in the living room below is left exposed for warmth during winter. Below The family gathers in the kitchen. The living area features a ‘Miller’ sofa from Forma. Far left The library upstairs, in the space that Andrea also uses as the office for her architecture firm, Bell & Co.
Bell and Kissell stand on the home’s street-facing balcony. Timber screens and frosted glass manage privacy between the street and the home.
Left In its light-industrial setting, the verdant lawn at the back of the home is a surprise. Kissell’s workshop occupies the ground floor. Above The couple had long envisaged living in a converted warehouse, and their material palette of concrete, Modulit, plywood and steel in their new home reflects this. ‘A2’ stools from IMO sit at the outdoor table, which was designed and built by Kissell from recycled decking timber. In the foreground, the ‘Heaven’ chair by Jean-Marie Massaud for Emu is from ECC. Right The ensuite features exposed copper water pipes. The natural-stone freestanding bath is from VCBC. The Alape wall-hanging basins, ‘Pixel’ basin mixers and shower head by Paini are all from Metrix. The brass pendant lights are the same as those in the kitchen.
Left The rosewood dresser and bedside table in the guest bedroom were designed in 1973 by Rudi Schwarz for Whitmore Arti Domo. A ‘Bimbo’ stool by Peter Brandt from Katalog sits at the dresser. The ‘Tolomeo Micro Pinza’ light by Michele De Lucchi and Giancarlo Fassina for Artemide is from ECC. Above A glimpse of the rear of the home, with the main bedroom up top, from the neighbouring street.