Christchurch

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - Text Si­mon Far­rell-Green Pho­tog­ra­phy Pa­trick Reynolds

CoLab Ar­chi­tec­ture rein­vents the in­ner-city cot­tage

So many open homes, so many sketches. The idea of de­sign­ing a house be­fore you buy the land is some­thing of anath­ema in New Zealand: every house is site spe­cific, right? But in Christchurch, Tobin Smith had been noodling around for years with the idea of a mod­ern cot­tage, based on the small, charm­ing 19th-cen­tury de­signs in the side streets be­side Bealey Av­enue, just east of the city’s CBD. “They were quite charm­ing and were close to peo­ple’s work,” he says. “And I kept won­der­ing why we weren’t build­ing houses like this for pro­fes­sional cou­ples now. So we thought we’d make a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion.” Smith be­gan to de­sign a hy­po­thet­i­cal cot­tage on sites dot­ted around the area, grad­u­ally evolv­ing the idea from the clas­sic pitched-roof cot­tage – a square with a hall up the mid­dle and bed­rooms off the spine – into some­thing more re­fracted and off­set, with liv­ing ar­eas in one pitched-roof gable and bed­rooms and bath­rooms in an­other. The shapes were sim­ple: rec­tan­gles with gable roofs, slid­ing past each other. “We just wanted a lit­tle house,” says the de­signer. “We didn’t want a big foot­print.” But none of those sites came off and Smith’s schemes never quite came to­gether. He and his wife Hay­ley missed out on auc­tions or were re­buffed by own­ers not in­ter­ested in selling – un­til a tiny back sec­tion down a long dog-leg drive­way across the road from where they were rent­ing came on the mar­ket. At 297 square me­tres, with clas­sic sub­ur­ban height-to­bound­ary rules, it was never go­ing to hold a big house. It had pre­vi­ously been home to a 1990s town­house, the only one of four to be sig­nif­i­cantly dam­aged dur­ing the 2011 earth­quakes, and de­mol­ished. Smith – who, with part­ner Blair Pater­son at CoLab Ar­chi­tec­ture, has built a num­ber of projects on earth­quake-dam­aged land around cen­tral Christchurch – im­me­di­ately saw how he could adapt his doo­dlings into a work­able de­sign. “It ticked the boxes in terms of size and it was quite cheap,” he says. “And although it

wasn’t the pro­por­tions we had been play­ing with, we could start evolv­ing this idea into some­thing else.” In essence, Smith’s de­sign splits the clas­sic cot­tage in two, then slides one gable al­most all the way past the other: liv­ing ar­eas on the north­west cor­ner, bed­rooms to the south­east, an en­try in the mid­dle. The re­sult is stripped back, sim­ple and highly ra­tio­nal, but the de­tails make it: black-stained cedar shiplap cladding with no eaves, so the lit­tle gable is al­most ab­stracted, the gut­ters ex­tend­ing out past the end of the walls. In­side, the floors are re­cy­cled rimu, painted white and loosely fit­ted, the walls are white, and birch-ply cab­i­netry with el­e­gant mitred edges runs to the ceil­ing. In the liv­ing area, Tobin de­signed the ceil­ing plane so it meets the top of the cab­i­netry – a clever de­ceit on a dif­fer­ent an­gle to the true gable, and one that fur­ther ab­stracts the shape of the house. “We wanted to re­ally strip back the de­tail,” he says. “Bring­ing the scale back from a square plan made those shapes far more el­e­gant.” A low-ceilinged hall­way leads past two bed­rooms and a bath­room, and then hooks around a wall of cab­i­netry and into the liv­ing area: it’s not large, but it has a high stud and gable roof through to a small court­yard. The kitchen wraps around one cor­ner, then turns into a stor­age unit down one side. A wall of full-length, birch-ply wardrobes is re­peated in the bed­rooms. “We put a lot of fo­cus into the liv­ing space,” says Smith. “One thing the old cot­tages had was a three-me­tre stud, so we wanted to put our en­ergy and bud­get into that.” The house was ini­tially built just for Hay­ley and Tobin, who now have Oliver; born in June. Tobin’s stu­dio isn’t far away, which means he can pop home for lunch... just as a worker might have done a cen­tury ago.

This page Tobin Smith has rethought the clas­sic cot­tage by split­ting it in two and cladding the build­ings in black-stained cedar shiplap. Right Smith in his liv­ing room. Be­low right An ‘Or­ganic’ chair by Charles and Eero Saari­nen in the birch-ply lined bed­room.

Right The birch-ply cab­i­netry visu­ally di­vides the white walls, floors and v-groove ceil­ings. Far right In an ab­stract ges­ture, gut­ters ex­tend be­yond the walls. Fac­ing page The ‘Fly’ pen­dant and ‘Four’ din­ing ta­ble are by Fer­ruc­cio La­viani for Kartell. The chairs are ‘Se­ries 7’ by Arne Ja­cob­sen for Fritz Hansen. A ‘Moulded Ply­wood’ chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Her­man Miller sits next to the ‘Mon­key’ ta­ble by Jaime Hayon for BD Barcelona. The stor­age loft in the ceil­ing cav­ity is lined with black cedar.

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