Sur­rounded by neigh­bours, down a long drive­way, a court­yard home by An­drew Sex­ton Ar­chi­tec­ture more than over­comes its in­fill site.


A court­yard house by An­drew Sex­ton on an in­fill site in Mi­ra­mar seems to be in a world of its own.

It took imag­i­na­tion to see it. Could you take an in­fill sec­tion en­cir­cled by neigh­bours, ly­ing at the bot­tom of a snaking, ver­tig­i­nous drive­way, and make it the setting for a home so pri­vate it al­most feels like a hide­away? With the ac­cel­er­a­tion of higher den­sity liv­ing in our ma­jor cities, any kind of pri­vacy can be hard won. And one might have thought that for this un­com­pro­mis­ing site on Welling­ton’s hip Mi­ra­mar penin­sula, such a fancy might have been in vain. So when one crosses the schist pavers and en­ters the com­pact court­yard house that ar­chi­tects An­drew Sex­ton and Han­nah Grif­fin de­signed for clients Kris and Jess Sow­ersby, one can only marvel at how an al­most-public space has been made so pri­vate. “A lot of peo­ple would have looked at this sec­tion and thought ‘woah, it has six neigh­bours!’,” says Sex­ton. “When we first saw it, it did seem like an over­looked fish­bowl. De­sign­ing for that was the key.” The home is shaped in a semi-cir­cle around a sur­pris­ingly generous, two-level out­door liv­ing area, with the home’s clam-shell white ex­te­rior push­ing out to the boundaries and serv­ing as both shield and shel­ter. The in­ner walls, al­ter­nat­ing cedar cladding with large, full-length win­dows, turn the home in on it­self to cre­ate pri­vacy and a sense of, well, an in­ner life. “I like the feel­ing of en­clo­sure that court­yard homes pro­vide,” says Sex­ton, who has de­signed and built a sim­i­lar house for his fam­ily. “It al­lows you to live around the court­yard. At our home, you can be do­ing some­thing here, while some­one else is do­ing some­thing across the way. It’s that sort of in­ter­ac­tion across the court­yard that is re­ally lovely. It starts to op­er­ate like a small city. It gen­er­ates a sense of life.” The court­yard’s land­scap­ing en­hances the sense of seclu­sion, fring­ing the space with na­tive grasses and shrubs, and an­chor­ing the whole with young spec­i­men trees, in­clud­ing kowhai and pōhutukawa, which, in time, will of­fer the home even more pri­vacy. The de­sign, by Mark Newdick of Land­scape Ar­chi­tec­ture Col­lec­tive, edges the home’s outer shell and gravel park­ing space with na­tives, in­clud­ing lance­woods and tus­socks, from a co­he­sive pal­ette of olive greens, soft greys and earth browns. “When we first saw it, it did seem like an over­looked fish­bowl. De­sign­ing for that was the key.”

On a fine, hot Welling­ton af­ter­noon in late sum­mer, with sun­light fill­ing the home with life and warmth, the at­trac­tion of this shel­tered 494-square-me­tre site now seems ob­vi­ous. “It was what we were looking for – flat and sunny,” says Kris. “There are a lot of south-fac­ing cliffs in Welling­ton – and the view doesn’t keep you warm.” In­deed, warmth and light were cen­tral to what Sex­ton jok­ingly de­scribes as the cou­ple’s “re­verse brief ”. Their first home – a new, but cold and sun­less apart­ment in Cuba St – was an ed­u­ca­tion in what’s im­por­tant and what’s not. “I re­mem­ber Han­nah and An­drew com­ing to our apart­ment and we said ‘th­ese are the things we dis­like – let’s do the op­po­site’,” says Jess. The new house had to func­tion as home and of­fice for the cou­ple’s de­sign busi­ness, Klim Type Foundry. Sex­ton and Grif­fin’s plan cre­ates a “pinch” at the main en­trance, which sep­a­rates the pri­vate spa­ces – a roomy, min­i­mal­ist main bed­room and en suite, their young daugh­ter’s bed­room and the bath­room – from the public spa­ces: the kitchen, din­ing area, snug and pri­vate liv­ing room. In be­tween are two com­pact of­fices, one for Kris and one for Jess. The home’s for­mal but glow­ing am­biance is cre­ated with hon­eyed ply­wood and cedar walls, and min­i­mal plas­ter­board. “Wood wears in, con­crete wears in, but Gib is not for­giv­ing,” says Kris. “We didn’t want a mod­ern-looking boxy home, and I think plas­ter­board gives that feel.”

“It didn’t re­ally mat­ter to them how some­one else might use the house in the future, it was all about how they would use it now.”

The sim­plic­ity of spa­ces, which flow seam­lessly around the U-shaped foot­print, be­lies the craft in­volved in cre­at­ing dis­creet, com­pact zones that seem larger than they are. The liv­ing room, set five steps be­low the din­ing area, has a large mod­u­lar cabi­net that cre­ates pri­vacy and houses the tele­vi­sion, as well as shelv­ing and stor­age. In the din­ing area, the cabi­net forms a hand­some back to a leather bench seat for the din­ing ta­ble, de­liv­er­ing more space for en­ter­tain­ing. The re­verse brief dic­tated the ar­range­ment of so­cial spa­ces, says Jess. “The lounge and din­ing area [in the apart­ment] were in one space and we never used the lounge in terms of so­cial stuff,” she says. “Ev­ery­one was around the ta­ble and kitchen. We thought why not have the lounge as a place that was cosy and sep­a­rate, and the din­ing and kitchen as the so­cial area. Kris and Jess’s phi­los­o­phy was to build a home that har­monises with their life now, and not have a beady eye on re­sale. “It was re­ally re­fresh­ing that Kris and Jess were fo­cused on a house for them,” says Sex­ton. “It didn’t re­ally mat­ter to them how some­one else might use the house in the future, it was all about how they would use it now.” It is also, one can’t help feel­ing, con­fir­ma­tion that Sex­ton takes se­ri­ously his stu­dio’s phi­los­o­phy of lis­ten­ing care­fully to clients and re­spond­ing to the specifics of a site to cre­ate be­spoke liv­ing that’s not just use­ful but po­etic, too.

Be­low ‘Com­poni­bili’ by Anna Castelli Fer­ri­eri for Kartell from Back­house serves as a bed­side ta­ble in the main bed­room. Right The liv­ing-room snug is lined in cedar and ply.

Left ‘What is a De­signer?’ by The In­ter­na­tional Of­fice for A Mo­bile Li­brary ex­hi­bi­tion hangs in Kris’ of­fice. The chair is from Skandi. The cus­tom-built cab­i­netry is Ga­boon ply. Be­low and bot­tom Jess and Kris’ of­fices are slot­ted in be­tween the home’s public and pri­vate ar­eas.

Be­low On its other side, the liv­ing room cab­i­netry houses a ban­quette for the din­ing ta­ble.

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