A creative solution to an awkwardly sited drain results in a house with striking architectural form.
A problematic drain was the catalyst for the unusual form of this clever new build
Burgeoning Auckland traffic volumes have a lot to answer for: lost productivity, frayed nerves, the occasional outburst of road rage and, sometimes, the souring of a dream. Barry Bloomfield and Deborah Carlyon were committed commuters (and accustomed to long trips to work from years living in London), but the journey from their house in Puhoi to offices in Parnell became too much over the years.
“Even though we both had flexi hours, the traffic just got worse and worse,” explains Deborah. For a while, they invested in a 46sqm apartment bolt hole and lived between the two. “But we soon tired of having two of everything.” For much of the week they were squished into the tiny flat while there was a fantastic home in the country just sitting empty.
Long story short, they made the heart-wrenching decision to sell. “I still haven’t quite got over it,” says Barry. But swapping hours on a ride-on mower for leisurely cafe breakfasts had its appeal. The couple looked for an industrial space in the city to make their own. However, when they saw an awkward piece of land on the edge of a gully in a boutique subdivision in the suburb of Westmere, they knew it was theirs. They had built their house in Puhoi, so decided to take the plunge again.
The west of the property looked out over a neighbour’s beautifully
planted garden; beyond was an unexpected stand of native bush punctuated by towering gum trees. Those were the positives. The negative? Council required 24/7 access to a stormwater drain that sat right in the middle of the natural building platform.
Every project has its challenges, so they were unfazed. The developer had sold the section with a set of plans by design-andbuild company, Box. Barry, a director of Refresh Renovations, could see the value in this. “With my background, I know that there can be tension between architects and builders. Architects are great ideas people who want to create something different and special; builders want to do the job sensibly and economically.” >
Using a company with the architect and builder in the same stable was a big plus. Bringing their own vision to the table, they worked with Box architect Tim Dorrington who had already solved the problem of that awkward drain. This was in the form of a suspended elongated dwelling effectively slung between two plinths. It necessitated pre-cambered steel beams spanning in excess of 12 metres. The plan was simple: the main living zone on
the upper level, services and a studio space below and an entry courtyard with clever landscaping to disguise the ugly drain.
The couple made a few tweaks to the design, including adding some separation to the open-plan living room with a double-sided fireplace. Says Deborah: “You can still see around it, so there’s connection between the kitchen and lounge, but it makes it cosier and also gives us more space for art.”
Then working out the finer details began. “We showed the team mood boards with stacks of ideas – in fact, I think they were inundated,” says Barry.
“Barry’s ideal house is a minimalist white box,” says Deborah, “but we talked him round.” Concrete walls, timber weatherboards, black aluminium joinery and American oak flooring are a warm but restrained palette. >
Barry was apprehensive about the use of gaboon ply for some of the kitchen cabinetry: “I thought it was a look that might date.” But Deborah chose massive matt tiles with the look of raw steel for the splashback to offer some contrast. They opted for tiles rather than wooden decking for the many outdoor areas, requested extra alcoves for display spaces and Barry custom-designed storage units in the library and living room for his beloved collections of books and CDs and the music system. “He made a bit of an error and the amp wouldn’t fit. It was hilarious watching him and about five other blokes sort it out,” says Deborah.
Twelve months after the first digger arrived on site, it was movein day – just before Christmas last year. The long summer holidays were a chance for the pair to fill the home with personality. Barry, who worked in graphic design with designer Terence Conran in the UK, has a long-held appreciation for furniture. A Rietveld chair, Eileen Gray table and Le Corbusier chair are just some of the originals he owns. “I was collecting these in the early 80s but they’ve grown so popular they’ve almost become clichés,” he says.
He’s an avid shopper, keen to get things done straight away. Deborah, a financial adviser, has to sometimes pull on the reins. Luckily, there were already plenty of goodies to play with, smaller collections such as the Alessi assembly – including that famous lemon squeezer – in an alcove. >
THESE PAGES (clockwise from left) The Wet Kiss by German photographer Marius Sperlich hangs above the fireplace – it was found on The Cool Hunter and shipped from Sydney (“Barry is excellent at sourcing things,” says Deborah); in the foreground is a Bertoia chair next to a leather couch from BoConcept that was the couple’s most recent purchase; the steel rods on the right screen the stairwell: “The architect specified timber rods but we wanted a crisper feel than that,” says Deborah. A white engineered stone benchtop and black cabinetry in the kitchen are reversed in the background with a black granite top and white cabinets; the matt white tap is from Waterware, the stools are from Cult and the suspended LED is from Lightplan. The couple didn’t want too much wood in the dining room so the table was made by WRW & Co using a white laminated ply product from Plytech sourced by Barry: “There’s a lot of research put into this house,” says Deborah; the painting from Mobile Art is by Guiditta Spurlin.
THIS PAGE In the living room, the Eames Surfboard table is more than 2m long; on it is an Alessi Blow Up basket the couple calls “the bunch of sticks”; even with all the customised shelving Deborah says there’s still not enough room for all their books.