More than an el­e­gant shed

A new home by David Mitchell in Christchurch’s Mon­cks Bay is both play­ful and func­tional

HOME Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — Matt Philp PHO­TOG­RA­PHY — Lu­cas K Doolan

The wel­come mat at Olle and Clare En­berg’s sea­side Christchurch home hints at a cou­ple of things to ex­pect be­yond the front door. Woven, im­prob­a­bly, from 46 me­tres of rope into an end­less Turk’s Head knot, it’s a nod to the sub­tle mar­itime theme of this 18-month-old house, the last de­signed by the late David Mitchell, of Auck­land-based Mitchell Stout Dodd Ar­chi­tects. It’s also not a bad metaphor for the master­ful way the ar­chi­tect has con­densed so much liv­ing into such a tricky space – a pinched 312 square me­tre sec­tion be­tween the road and Mon­cks Bay, with close neigh­bours and tight height-to-bound­ary re­stric­tions. Step in­side, jag right, and there – through a large awning win­dow that you open us­ing a rope re­sem­bling a sail­boat’s main­sheet – is the fast-flow­ing es­tu­ary. Peo­ple like to say of a house built close to the wa­ter: ‘You could catch a fish from the deck’. In the En­bergs’ case, that’s a state­ment of fact – they rou­tinely ob­serve peo­ple cast­ing a line from the nar­row grass strip that sep­a­rates their bound­ary from the wa­ter’s edge. Be­fore the Can­ter­bury earth­quakes, Olle, a master mariner and marine sur­veyor, and Clare, a Montes­sori teacher, owned a house on the heights be­tween Mon­cks Bay and Sum­ner. When that was red-stick­ered, they bought a ram­shackle fish­er­man’s cottage on this sec­tion and drew up plans to ren­o­vate. Three days be­fore they were due to sign a build­ing con­tract, wa­ter from bro­ken in­fra­struc­ture across the road flooded the place. They de­cided to bull­doze and build anew. They’d seen David Mitchell’s work in mag­a­zines, en­joyed his in­ven­tive­ness, in­trigu­ing an­gles and the mix of ma­te­ri­als, and spied im­me­di­ately the nau­ti­cal mo­tif in sev­eral of his houses. Later, they learned that the ar­chi­tect had done plenty of ocean ad­ven­tur­ing, a point he had in com­mon with Swedish ex­pat Olle. The En­bergs vis­ited some of David’s Auck­land houses, in­clud­ing two cel­e­brated build­ings that he and part­ner Julie Stout had de­signed for them­selves: an early small, Pa­cific- and Asian-in­flu­enced tim­ber house on a tight site in Heke Street, Free­mans Bay, and later, a bound­ary-push­ing con­crete and cor­ru­gated fi­bre­glass house near Nar­row Neck Beach. The Eng­bergs took away not only a sense of re­as­sur­ance that they had the right man for the job, but also in­spi­ra­tion: a sig­na­ture David Mitchell fish pond they saw at Nar­row Neck was im­me­di­ately added to plans for the en­trance. “David also came down and spent a day with us,” says Clare. “The whole process took about a year, and there was a lot of di­a­logue. We’ve built be­fore, but this was the most plea­sur­able.” Ac­cord­ing to David’s son and ar­chi­tec­tural part­ner Ju­lian Mitchell, the En­bergs’ re­sponse to David’s ini­tial de­sign was to ask for some­thing even bolder. “They were un­usual in that they wanted a build­ing with a very def­i­nite, dis­tinc­tive style,” says Ju­lian. The Mon­cks Bay house and a con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous build at neigh­bour­ing Mt Pleas­ant are the prac­tice’s only work in the city. “There’s a very Christchurchian qual­ity to this house: it’s David Mitchell be­ing flam­boy­ant in Christchurch.” The in­ven­tive­ness here is achieved as a con­se­quence of, rather than de­spite, the de­mand­ing site. To ac­com­mo­date the strin­gent re­ces­sion planes with­out com­pro­mis­ing a sense of height and light, David split the pitched roofline at the ocean end, scoop­ing out a long, hull-like void to give the up­stairs bed­room an unim­peded view of the es­tu­ary. When you’re in the kitchen and liv­ing area, this floats above your head like the bot­tom of a ship, painted a cheer­ful yel­low.

Along­side all that ob­vi­ous ar­chi­tec­tural charisma, the house evinces an al­most Ja­panese deft­ness with lim­ited space.

“It’s not just a case of two lev­els that blast right through the house,” says Ju­lian. “In­stead, the upper floor is al­most slung into the lower one, drop­ping into the space be­low in a way that’s slightly rem­i­nis­cent of Heke Street, al­though they’re com­pletely dif­fer­ent build­ings.” At the road­side, mean­while, the ini­tial im­pres­sion is of a much nar­rower struc­ture, just one room wide, sheathed in an origami ex­er­cise of pitched, ver­ti­cal and hor­i­zon­tal rooflines, the deep sof­fits all painted that same yel­low. “David would al­ways try to get some­thing par­tic­u­lar go­ing, to animate a build­ing with things that push out, like the up­turned hull in this house. There’s that DNA of David in this build­ing, a quirky en­ergy. It also has that fairly clas­sic Mitchell ma­noeu­vre, a tim­ber per­gola struc­ture out front where the sun is, and a win­dow that flips up to the view.” Along­side all that ob­vi­ous ar­chi­tec­tural charisma, the house evinces an al­most Ja­panese deft­ness with lim­ited space. “We had to give David mea­sure­ments for al­most every­thing,” says Clare. “Chairs, ta­ble, our stove, our cof­fee ma­chine.” From the stepped book­shelf un­der the stair­way, to a ‘walk through’ wardrobe oc­cu­py­ing the space be­tween the bed­room and up­stairs sit­ting room, the de­sign squeezes the last pips. “I think it was fairly test­ing for him to fit in as much as we wanted,” says Clare, “but he did a won­der­ful job of it.” It’s also a house of con­sid­ered de­tails – or, as Ju­lian says: “It’s quite re­strained in do­ing a lot of things in small, sim­ple ways.” The slid­ing wall be­tween the bed­room and the top of the stairs, for in­stance, which the En­bergs can close for pri­vacy when they have house guests; or the pivot door used for the up­stairs liv­ing room to main­tain an un­in­ter­rupted line; or the un­ex­pected low-set win­dow in the kitchen wall; or the pal­ette, which sets reds, sea greens and yel­lows against oiled cedar cladding and a lichen-coloured alu­minium roof. That bal­ance of bold ges­ture and metic­u­lous­ness sug­gests an ar­chi­tect at the top of his game. The En­bergs say they were par­tic­u­larly taken by David’s prac­tice of hand-draw­ing plans. “He’d do a sketch: ‘This is how it will look from the stairs’,” says Olle.

“Builders loved his draw­ings be­cause they were in­cred­i­bly clear to read,” says Ju­lian, who says it wasn’t par­tic­u­larly un­usual for prac­ti­tion­ers of David’s vin­tage. “But, then, he was one of the last ar­chi­tects of that gen­er­a­tion still work­ing.” This project is a fit­ting fi­nal act – a clever house, an­i­mated by that trade­mark “quirky en­ergy”, and built about as close as you can get to the sea. Olle, who tends to rise early, has de­vel­oped a habit of tak­ing his cof­fee by the es­tu­ary-fac­ing win­dow to watch the sun rise. “We moved in and we’ve lived hap­pily ever since,” he says.

The ‘Katat­sumuri’ pen­dant (fore­ground) and ‘Hakofugu’ pen­dant by Issey Miyake for Artemide are from ECC, through KS Light­ing. A ‘Tolomeo’ wall light by Michele De Luc­chi and Gian­carlo Fassina for Artemide from ECC, through KS Light­ing, hangs be­neath...

Above A gen­er­ous awning shel­ters the en­trance, its tiered deck­ing fringed by a pond. Left The yel­low struc­ture floats over­head like the hull of a ship. A bronze sculp­ture by Llew Sum­mers sits on an early 20th-cen­tury Chi­nese ta­ble.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.