Welling­ton

Two young fam­i­lies build a house each on a site where most would strug­gle to fit one.

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Si­mon Far­rell-Green Pho­tog­ra­phy David Straight

Two cou­ples pitch in to buy a sec­tion, split it and build a home each

“This is 95 square me­tres and three sto­ries,” says Tim Git­tos, ges­tur­ing at the view out over Welling­ton. “That’s north, west is out there and east is there. And you get to look out at the hills and view. On a clear day, you can see the South Is­land.” Git­tos and part­ner Caro Robert­son – who run Space Craft Ar­chi­tects – re­turned to Welling­ton in Jan­uary 2013 af­ter time in Whangarei and Whanganui, where with friends they’d built a house known as ‘Dog­box’ (a fi­nal­ist in Home of the Year 2013) . Shocked at the cost of rent­ing a tiny two-bed­room flat to house them­selves and their son – and with an­other baby on the way (Robert­son has now been preg­nant through two builds) – they fig­ured there had to be an­other way. Around the same time, their old friends Mat Lee and part­ner Char­lotte Key had also be­gun to de­spair at the cost of old, rot­ting wooden houses in Welling­ton, and the pro­hib­i­tive cost of rent­ing. Even­tu­ally, the two cou­ples re­alised they could pool their re­sources and build two homes on one site. They found their op­por­tu­nity on a sec­tion in Mi­ra­mar near the air­port: a smaller than an av­er­age sub­ur­ban plot, and so steep as to be im­prac­ti­cal. In the early 2000s it had been sub­di­vided off the back of a house as part of a de­vel­op­ment that never came to any­thing. There was very lit­tle in­ter­est in the site and so it was also very cheap. In other words: it was per­fect. “The idea was al­ways to find mar­ginal land,” says Lee, an ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer at Melling Ar­chi­tects. “Land that no one else wanted and that we could in­vest some time and thought into, and squeeze some­thing out of.” They were helped in this re­gard by the plan­ning rules of the Welling­ton City Coun­cil. Rather than meet min­i­mum site re­quire­ments, they had to meet cer­tain per­for­mance stan­dards around sun­light and ac­cess to the out­doors and park­ing. So in July 2013, they bought the 406-square-me­tre scrubby hill­side and set about es­tab­lish­ing how to get not one but two houses on it. “We looked at heaps of dif­fer­ent mass­ings,” says Robert­son. “A party wall or a court­yard – ev­ery­thing was up for grabs. Tim was keen on a split up the hill, just to show it was pos­si­ble. But in the end we re­alised we’d have to go for a clear di­vi­sion, or fi­nanc­ing was just go­ing to be­come a com­plete headache.” Even­tu­ally, they split the site half­way down and ran a steep set of con­crete stairs up the side to ser­vice the front doors of both houses: one house at the top, one closer to the bot­tom but still above the road. “Now that it’s built, I’m look­ing at this and think­ing we could have got an­other house on here,” muses Robert­son. “But the thing is, we did strug­gle to get two through the coun­cil process.” The houses share a sim­i­lar palette – un­painted macro­carpa shiplap cladding, an­odised alu­minium join­ery, ex­posed con­crete block and grey steel cor­ru­gate, ma­te­ri­als in part de­rived from their time work­ing with Melling Morse Ar­chi­tects. Be­cause of the to­pog­ra­phy, the houses are tall, run­ning length­wise across the sec­tion with mono­pitch roofs: long and nar­row build­ings spread over three lev­els with the liv­ing area on the mid­dle level and kitchens on the north­west cor­ner run­ning out to court­yards and decks, ex­tend­ing the foot­prints of th­ese small houses to make the best use of the site. They also share a sim­ple, stripped-back aes­thetic that comes from tight bud­gets and do­ing as much

“We took the ap­proach that we’d keep the en­ve­lope quite sim­ple; have one roof plane and park ev­ery­thing un­der­neath.”

of the work them­selves as pos­si­ble – Git­tos built the foun­da­tions on his house, while Key – an in­dus­trial de­signer and jew­eller – built the cab­i­netry and much of the fur­ni­ture from in­ex­pen­sive sec­ond-grade ply­wood. In­ter­nally, the houses are quite dif­fer­ent. At the top of the slope, Git­tos and Robert­son built a house un­der one roof plane, which fol­lows the slope of the hill. “We took the ap­proach that we’d keep the en­ve­lope quite sim­ple; have one roof plane and park ev­ery­thing un­der­neath,” says Git­tos, who worked on the house when he could, lay­ing the foun­da­tions and do­ing a lot of fin­ish­ing work. There are two bed­rooms and a bath­room at ground level, an open-plan liv­ing area at mid­dle level and a mez­za­nine on the top level with a third bed­room and stu­dio for Git­tos and Robert­son. The en­trance leads straight into a long, open-plan liv­ing area. There’s a built-in daybed in front of huge win­dows, which take in spec­tac­u­lar Welling­ton views, and an el­e­gant steel screen that sup­ports the stairs. The key is that ev­ery­thing does dou­ble duty: the bench in the open kitchen is hung from the rafters by steel poles and dou­bles as a din­ing ta­ble. Big daybeds con­ceal stor­age, as well as act as spare beds for guests. A panel in the 3.6-me­tre high book­shelves folds down to be­come a bench for their two kids to play on. There’s a gutsy, wood-and-steel aes­thetic at play here that’s sim­ple, straight­for­ward and hard-work­ing. While the foot­print is small, the vol­ume is tall, with spa­ces bor­row­ing views from each other. “There’s so much space in houses that’s used only in­ter­mit­tently, and only when other space isn’t be­ing used,” says Git­tos. “It’s so rare that a house is com­pletely full or

Above right Robert­son and her sons en­joy the sunny deck. Mid­dle right Light floods into the liv­ing area, cre­at­ing the op­por­tu­nity for shadow play. Right, from left Mat Lee, Tim and Finn Git­tos, Char­lotte Key and Robert­son on the north­fac­ing court­yard at the top house. Far right Archie finds room to run in the 95-square-me­tre home.

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