Nip and Tuck
Text — Simon Farrell-Green Photography — David Straight
Chris Beer stays within a villa’s footprint and cleverly overcomes familiar issues.
Anyone who’s ever lived in a villa will be familiar with their twin joys and dilemmas – not least the owners of this transitional villa in Sandringham, Auckland. The original house was built in the 1920s and despite airy rooms and a high stud, it became progressively less useful as you proceeded from front to back. Plus – thanks to an unsympathetic subdivision in the 80s – the view was directly onto the neighbours’ driveway. There were three large airy bedrooms, a generous bathroom and pleasantly wide hallway, which led to a cramped kitchenliving-dining space; the back bedroom led to a sunroom that was never used. There was no storage, and the living areas were in a lean-to with a sloping ceiling. “It was,” says architect Chris Beer, “a three-bedroom house with an apartment-sized living area.” After briefly considering selling, the family called on Beer. The brief asked for more living space and an en suite, but without losing any bedrooms. By reorganising the footprint and with a nip here and a tuck there, Beer could maintain the three bedrooms, add the en suite and expand the living areas. The sunroom went and the third bedroom was cut in two, creating a small single bedroom and freeing up room at the back of the house. But where the design really takes off is how the parts of the house, new and old, fit together with a subtle series of materials and forms: Beer refers to them as “objects in a field”, which loosely relate inside the skin of the original home. At the front of the house he reduced the largest bedroom, slipping an en suite lit by a skylight behind a wall of floor-to-ceiling cupboards. The door sits seamlessly in the line of cabinetry. “It’s a small room but the height really helps,” he says. In the new, expanded living area, he took out load-bearing walls and installed a steel beam that runs from one end to the other, then hid the whole thing behind a floating bulkhead skinned in cedar plywood. Its first function is to conceal the beam and the sloping ceiling; its second is to create drama and texture, uniting the three spaces across the back of the house. In the corner of the kitchen, there’s a new bay window and seat, featuring sliding cedar windows, shielded from the neighbouring driveway and summer sun with long, elegant cedar screens. A slim steel pole in the corner supports the beam. There’s a slightly Japanese, mid-century style that hangs happily off the home. Continuing with the idea of “objects”, the kitchen is less machine for living, more a series of plywood boxes containing different functions: from the living area, you can’t see a single appliance. “Making it square and abstract and taking the kitchen-ness away from it really helps when you’re on the other side in the living area,” says Beer. In short: there’s slippage and quirk. He shifted the square ‘island’ closer to the wall, so there’s just enough space to walk past it, creating plenty of room on the other side, and kicked out the pantry and fridge so that they obscure the room from the hallway. It creates a moment of intrigue as you come down the hallway, rather than revealing everything from the front door. Thanks to the cedar screens and a big tree, the effect is shadowy and complex. A field of objects indeed.
1. Entry 2. Hall 3. Bedroom 4. Bathroom 5. Living 6. Dining 7. Kitchen 8. Sunroom
—The en suite sits behind a wall of cabinetry in the bedroom. —Architect Chris Beer says he treated the kitchen’s components as “objects”, reducing the ‘kitchen-ness’ in relation to the living area. The painting ‘Carpentry’ by Grant Jack. —The pole in...