Tiny tri­umph

A pair of ar­chi­tects achieve their goal of liv­ing in ar­chi­tec­ture in its most well-crafted form.

Homestyle New Zealand - - LIVING —— SMALL SPACE - WORDS Claire McCall PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Jackie Meir­ing

Tiny but mighty, this 74m2 home in Auck­land’s Re­muera punches well above its weight. It was con­ceived in the late ’60s, when artist Mi­lan Mrku­sich sub­di­vided his land in this quiet cul-de-sac and asked ar­chi­tect Claude Meg­son to craft him a trio of rental units.

When El­speth and Jimmy Gray, them­selves both ar­chi­tects, spot­ted one up for auc­tion on Trade Me in 2016, they’d al­most given up on find­ing some­where that cap­tured their imag­i­na­tion. “We’d been look­ing for two years and had be­gun to think that any­thing that was ‘ar­chi­tec­ture’ was out of our price bracket,” says Jimmy.

Ide­ally, the cou­ple wanted a home with two bed­rooms, but it took no time at all be­fore they were con­vinced to down­grade on size to up­grade on ex­pe­ri­ence. Here, the ex­pe­ri­ence in­cluded the light that flows into the home, the many lit­tle jour­neys wo­ven into the spa­ces, the peace­ful street… It was a no-brainer.

Hav­ing missed out on pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions, the pair put in a pre-auc­tion of­fer, and af­ter an anx­ious wait, the Meg­son was theirs. They or­dered the orig­i­nal draw­ings from the coun­cil (“It’s amaz­ing how few of them there were, in com­par­i­son to what we have to sub­mit nowa­days”) and stud­ied the cor­ners and cran­nies of their new home in phys­i­cal and il­lus­trated form.

Meg­son’s ge­nius was his won­der­ful un­der­stand­ing of vol­ume and labyrinthine plan­ning that pushed spa­tial in­ter­est into the spot­light. This home is a mi­cro­cosm of those ideals. Cen­tral to the lay­out is a din­ing area that sits podium-like be­neath a dou­ble-height atrium. The morn­ing sun floods through this ‘lantern’ into

the kitchen and grad­u­ally moves around to the evening spa­ces.

“Meg­son be­lieved in the light fol­low­ing you as you went about your daily rou­tine,” says Jimmy. At night, with the white blinds pulled down, shad­ows from the cou­ple’s David Trubridge pen­dant pat­tern the void.

Ac­cess to the one-bed­room home is via a ver­tig­i­nous nar­row stair­case that leads from the car­port be­tween con­crete-block walls be­fore the space fun­nels out, or up from the street across the deck to the front door. Whereas to­day’s open-plan liv­ing usu­ally in­volves an ex­panse of un­bro­ken floor­ing, here the rimu tongue-and­groove is cel­e­brated but seg­mented. “Meg­son cre­ated ‘rooms’ by us­ing a change in level,” ex­plains El­speth.

The din­ing and liv­ing ar­eas are split, and the bed­room is an­other step down. The in­te­ri­ors are sand­wiched be­tween a rooftop deck and gar­den court­yard. “There are so many dif­fer­ent spa­ces in which to gather,” says El­speth. “We can have a big crowd here no prob­lem.”

Un­ex­pected de­sign moves in­clude a con­crete-block fire­place that doesn’t quite meet the ex­ter­nal wall, leav­ing a small gap. “The fire­place was capped off, so we don’t use it, but it’s a good mass in the mid­dle of the space and par­ti­tions off the liv­ing room,” says Jimmy. An­other wall cleaves a nar­row cor­ri­dor lead­ing from bed­room to kitchen.

The Grays en­joy these foibles — and the ex­tra wall space be­cause they both love art. Much of theirs is sourced from fam­ily, in­clud­ing a sil­ver bro­mide of a but­ter­fly, an aerial pho­to­graph of the Wanaka head­land where they mar­ried, and a trip­tych col­lage of el­e­ments of this, their first home.

Once an over­grown slope, the back gar­den was tack­led one week­end when El­speth’s mum and sis­ter came round for a work­ing bee. Now it sports trop­i­cal clivia, nikau palms and ligu­laria. In­side, a mon­stera plant and other mid-cen­tury fo­liage favourites pro­vide splashes of green.

When they moved in, El­speth and Jimmy dis­cov­ered that a cir­cu­lar ta­ble they’d re­ceived as a wed­ding gift fit per­fectly be­neath the ‘lantern’; sadly, the same could not be said for their leather sofa, which turned out to be a tad longer than the liv­ing room wall. No mat­ter, they hap­pily made con­ces­sions, like choos­ing a Bos­ton ter­rier named Brooks to be­come part of the fam­ily (he’s the ideal size for a small space) and com­mit­ting to keeping on top of the tidy­ing up.

“The minute you leave pa­pers on the ta­ble, it looks messy,” says Jimmy. “On the plus side, I don’t re­ally want any more than I need. And it doesn’t even take an hour to clean the place.”

El­speth agrees. “The more space you have, the more you fill it up. I’d far rather a smaller house of high quality.”

The trou­ble is, with a baby on the way, the cou­ple couldn’t jus­tify adding a sec­ond bed­room. “We couldn’t bring our­selves to change Meg­son’s vi­sion,” says Jimmy. A friend’s ‘help­ful’ sug­ges­tion of in­stalling a pul­ley to lever the young ’un to a sleep­ing ledge in the bath­room was out of the ques­tion — they de­cided to sell.

They’ll be ter­ri­bly sad to leave but are philo­soph­i­cal. “It’s the next pro­gres­sion,” says Jimmy. “And I know one day we’ll live in ar­chi­tec­ture again.”

TOP It’s easy to draw par­al­lels be­tween the ab­stract ge­ome­tries of pre­vi­ous owner Mi­lan Mrku­sich’s paint­ings and the cu­bist forms that make up this three-unit block. ABOVE Light beams through the ‘lantern’ into the el­e­vated din­ing area where El­speth and Jimmy pre­pare lunch. Max Gim­blett’s Remembrance qua­tre­foil glows on the wall be­side Brooks the dog. OP­PO­SITE The deck over­look­ing the street ex­tends the liv­ing space and can be ac­cessed through the front door and bed­room.

TOP A Line lamp by Dou­glas & Bec, wordy work by Martin Pop­pel­well and tall white vase by Al­var Aalto are part of the dis­play on the shelf in the din­ing area. ABOVE LEFT The All Cir­cle din­ing ta­ble by Dou­glas & Bec is teamed with Model #75 chairs by Niels Moller. ABOVE RIGHT A Li­ai­son sofa by Nonn sits in front of the de­com­mis­sioned fire­place dec­o­rated with a col­lage by Jimmy’s sis­ter Ge­orgina Gray. OP­PO­SITE Jimmy’s cousin, fine-art pho­tog­ra­pher Casey Moore, cre­ated the but­ter­fly art­work that hangs on the home’s spine.

ABOVE RIGHT House­plants thrive in the light, hu­mid orig­i­nal bath­room. ABOVE LEFT The cou­ple move their cy­cad in its Case Study planter around sea­son­ally to catch the best sun. OP­PO­SITE Ex­posed rimu rafters bring tex­tu­ral depth to the bed­room, where a work by Christchurch pho­tog­ra­phy teacher Juliet Collins (left) and pho­to­graphs by Jimmy’s brother-in-law Will Vink adorn the walls.

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