Obsessed with The Jetsons, a Wellington couple build a futuristic home high on the hills.
A Wellington couple built the house they’ve always wanted, indulging their fascination with retro-futurist architecture and justifying that view
From their lounge high above Wellington harbour, Mel Anderson and Pete Williams pretty much see what pilots see on approach. With Wellington International Airport’s runway in a direct line of sight from their Newlands home, the couple often wish they had a hang glider or zipline to skip the 20km journey in commuter traffic. “If I have to fly out in the morning I look across and think, ‘The airport’s just there – why do I have to catch a taxi so far?’’’ says Pete.
That proximity also puts them directly under the flight path, something Mel and Pete quickly realised when they first visited the then-undeveloped site in late 2014.
“We were worried when a big plane flew over and said to each other, ‘Are we ever going to get used to these planes flying over? What kind of sound insulation should we use?’” says Mel. “But now we love it. It’s part of where we live; it’s the story of the house. We’ve got a flight app on our phone and we can go, ‘Oh, here’s the 777 in from Canberra.’ Yes, it’s geeky, but we’re very geeky people.” >
“And if you’re outside having a conversation, you just shut up until it’s gone then you carry on. It’s no biggie,” says Pete.
They’re the first to admit living under a flight path isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, nor do they expect everyone to love their house. The new build – completed in August 2017 – is somewhat futuristic but with a firm nod backwards to the 1960s.
“I grew up obsessed with The Jetsons TV programme, and the whole Googie, mid-century, 1950s and 60s style,” says Mel. “That’s informed my idea of architecture and I’ve always thought it would be exciting to live in a house that stood out.”
When they moved here from Auckland in 2013, the couple – both IT professionals – fell into the classic Wellington trap of buying during bright summer sunshine only to repent in winter’s shade. Needing to move, they decided it was time to build exactly what they wanted. “We wanted a house that had sloped ceilings, triangles, angled walls, and lots of windows to catch the sun. We wanted a house with real architectural style and one that justified this amazing view,” says Mel.
Although Mel and Pete didn’t get the sunken lounge they really wanted, their three-bedroom, two-bathroom home projects a mid-century vibe. There’s nary a right angle in sight, and the use of steel, glass, rigged lighting, whitewashed plywood and bare concrete against vibrant pop art colours makes it feel curated and industrial. >
Rather than digging out their sloping site, the house is built in sympathy with the natural lie of the land. It sits on a concrete slab up on stilts – like the Jetsons’ – with levels stepping down the slope.
After a year in their new home, the couple – who live with their 16-year-old daughter Frankie – are delighted. They sing the praises of Vorstermans Architects, who they went with after walking away from a design-and-build company that they felt were coming up with a design that didn’t reflect their personalities. “We absolutely wanted a house we could enjoy living in. We weren’t designing to appeal to some faceless buyer in the future,” says Mel.
They were paired with graduate architect Gerard Dombroski, who’s since left Vorstermans. “He immediately caught the spirit of what we wanted,” says Pete. “We articulated our vision well – we weren’t wishy-washy – but Gerard was able to transform it into a plan and very little changed from the original plan.”
The couple say they also got lucky with their builders, Makers Fabrication. “They were youthful and energetic, and always came from an architectural perspective. They painstakingly measured the windows to fit between the steel and they got them bang on. Their architectural attention to detail made a huge difference to the look of the place,” says Pete. “At the end they said they’d never learned so much from a build.”
‘I’ve always thought it would be exciting to live in a house that stood out... we wanted a house with real architectural style’
It’s not a big house, 160sqm on a 401sqm site, so space was another challenge. The laundry is in the hall, the office is a perfectly formed nook, and any thoughts of an internal access garage were jettisoned early on – particularly as the couple’s budget was also on the small side.
“We really had no idea what to budget and so we pulled a figure out of thin air. We decided $300,000 was appropriate but it was total wishful thinking and we had to lift our budget to $550,000,” says Mel.
“Despite the unusual design and the bright colours, we’re not particularly extroverted people. We’re homebodies. We love curling up on the couch with Netflix on or just looking out at the view. But we do like to express ourselves through our home. You only have one shot at life so you might as well have fun.”
THIS PAGE The house is clad in black Eurostyle Spanlock; natives and succulents surround the entrance.OPPOSITE (from top) Storage is incorporated under the stairs in the master bedroom: “This space forms an important part of our wardrobe,” says Pete. The master bedroom is on the lower floor and gets morning and late afternoon sun; the feature wall is Resene ‘Bokara Grey’.