Small space

Mak­ing the most of it.

Homestyle New Zealand - - CONTENTS - WORDS Claire McCall PHOTOGRAPHY Bonny Beat­tie

Thirty-four square me­tres. Let that num­ber sink in. Then imag­ine liv­ing in this diminu­tive di­men­sion as a fam­ily of four. Suni and Maz Her­mon and their two boys, Otto (5) and An­gelo (2), make it work. Some­times it’s hard, but many other times, the cou­ple is grate­ful for this jour­ney that con­nects them to fam­ily, to land and to their fu­ture.

Their prop­erty in the Welling­ton sub­urb of Ber­ham­pore once be­longed to Maz’s grand­par­ents, ‘Chubby’ and Yvette, who em­i­grated from Sri Lanka. As a young child, Maz would ex­plore the lush, jungly gar­dens of trees and shrubs grown from cut­tings, and some­times even got to hang out in the sin­gle-level weath­er­board cot­tage – fondly known as ‘the bach’ – that was his grand­fa­ther’s hide­away.

Fast for­ward 30 years to when Chubby passed away and the cou­ple, who flat­ted close by, would visit Yvette on a daily ba­sis. The lit­tle guest cot­tage still stood

in the gar­den. “It was beau­ti­fully set up with cosy fur­ni­ture and old mag­a­zines, nap­kins in the kitchen and sam­ples of soap in the bath­room,” says Suni. The pair, who at that stage had one child, thought mov­ing in might be a win-win situation, pro­vid­ing both some­where to live and prox­im­ity to Yvette, who was by then in her late 90s.

They asked their friends Tim Git­tos and Caro­line Robert­son of Space­craft Ar­chi­tects for their thoughts. “Over time, a plan evolved where we would sub­di­vide off the rear of the sec­tion, buy it from Yvette and do a few lit­tle im­prove­ments to the bach,” says Suni.

Nerves started to build. Would it be too much of a squeeze? They pressed ahead be­cause the idea sat well with their fam­ily values, and put their faith in their ar­chi­tect mates.

“Maz and Suni hadn’t imag­ined the pos­si­bil­ity of go­ing up,” says Tim. “They as­sumed they’d all be stuck to­gether on one level.” When Space­craft sug­gested they drop the ceil­ing to pinch enough space for a loft bed­room (with­out hav­ing to build more walls – just a band of win­dows and a small roof), it was the per­fect so­lu­tion. “It helped keep con­struc­tion time and costs to a min­i­mum, and the psy­cho­log­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of go­ing up a level makes a big dif­fer­ence to the sense of space,” says Tim.

To stick to their tiny bud­get for their tiny house, Suni and Maz also got stuck into some non-struc­tural work. Down­stairs, they in­stalled a wall to par­ti­tion off the shower room from the kitchen, where they tore out the ex­ist­ing cup­boards and put very nar­row shelves in their place, and built a bench unit with a sink, elec­tric oven and two-burner gas hob found in a boat-sup­ply store. They sanded the floors, painted and added a deck.

And just like that, they had their first home. Set­tled on a rise on its 164m2 site, the re­formed abode looks over the es­tab­lished gar­den to­wards the city. It’s north-fac­ing, sunny, and theirs. “If this was some­where in a dark val­ley, it’d be a dif­fer­ent story,” says Suni. “Its lo­ca­tion is one of the el­e­ments that make it work.”

Dis­ci­plined de­sign is another. All the stor­age is in one place: a ply­wood unit at­tached to the liv­ing room wall, with doors that open out, fold down, then clip back. Suni made it her­self. “It’s prob­a­bly not the best crafts­man­ship, but it has all of our clothes in it,” she says.

Down­stairs, the spa­ces are dy­namic. •

“The uses for them change hourly,” says Suni. One af­ter­noon, Otto might be busy at the din­ing ta­ble with pa­per and glue, while An­gelo has a paint­ing project on the go; the next, Suni might be us­ing it as a work sur­face for photography. (“My sis­ter-in-law Ali John­son and I run a busi­ness called Sphaera. She makes cold-pro­cessed soap us­ing fine clays and plant but­ters, and I sup­port her as the de­signer and brand man­ager.”) At night, when Maz ar­rives home from his job as a web de­signer and de­vel­oper, it’s all packed up so the fam­ily can en­joy meals to­gether.

Maz, who com­mutes to the city, reg­u­larly re­treats to a shed in the gar­den that’s set up as a laun­dry and mu­sic room. In it there’s a big amp, gui­tar, key­boards and a com­puter to bring it all to­gether. The sound of his cre­ativ­ity of­ten drifts over into the cot­tage.

While the other spa­ces must be flex­i­ble, the loft, ac­cessed through a trap­door, is re­served for the sole pur­pose of sleep­ing. It might sound fun for two young boys to head to their room via a lad­der, but how do the adults fare? “It’s an in­ti­mate space,” ad­mits Suni. An­gelo was born af­ter they moved in, so they’ve had to adapt to a new­born and a tod­dler’s sleep­ing pat­terns. “There are pros and cons to all be­ing in one space, but it’s such a calm en­vi­ron­ment and the chil­dren feel very close and com­fort­able,” says Suni.

The Her­mons are aware that their life­style has been shaped by their home. Some­times, when they re­turn af­ter vis­it­ing friends, the pro­por­tions seem small, but that feel­ing quickly fades. Liv­ing here has changed them in nu­mer­ous pos­i­tive ways. An ac­ci­den­tal out­come is that they’ve learned the joys of min­i­mal­ism and own­ing only a few pieces that are well-made, beau­ti­ful or mean­ing­ful.

“When you think about what we’ve done in the con­text of where we’re at in New Zealand with hous­ing, it’s in­ter­est­ing,” says Suni. “Were it not for our ar­chi­tect friends en­cour­ag­ing us and push­ing the project through var­i­ous stages, we prob­a­bly wouldn’t have been brave enough. But we’ve man­aged to carve out a lovely home in a beau­ti­ful spot that we’re re­ally con­nected to.”

One day, when funds al­low, they’re go­ing to build a ‘big­ger’ 80m2 house. Mean­while, it’s un­doubt­edly their philo­soph­i­cal ap­proach that has made this one larger than life.

TOP Maz and Suni’s din­ing ta­ble was a wed­ding gift from their friend, de­signer Holly Beals, and dou­bles as a workspace when Suni’s work­ing for Sphaera. MID­DLE, LEFT The ad­di­tion of a band of win­dows to the ex­ist­ing dwelling cre­ated just enough ex­tra space for the fam­ily’s new bed­room. ABOVE Otto at the en­try to the kitchen, where new cab­i­nets have re­placed the 1960s orig­i­nals. OP­PO­SITE The cou­ple’s small home hasn’t cur­tailed their love of en­ter­tain­ing – they still host din­ner par­ties around the ta­ble and spark up their lit­tle char­coal bar­be­cue in sum­mer.

TOP Down­stairs, the orig­i­nal floor­ing is matai, while up­stairs the fam­ily pads about on ply­wood. ABOVE LEFT Otto’s zone. Small-space liv­ing isn’t al­ways easy – like when ev­ery­one’s clothes have to be ruth­lessly culled to fit into just one cup­board – but this house has enough charm to make up for any sac­ri­fices. Suni says the an­gle and height of the ceil­ing up­stairs, plus the win­dows that of­fer a wide view north across the city, make the loft feel si­mul­ta­ne­ously snug and spa­cious. ABOVE RIGHT An­gelo’s Sniglar cot is by Ikea, and his cool swing (seen on page 122) is by Solvej.

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