Getting to know your clients — their values and their quirks — is a vital part of the design process. It usually takes time, perception and several dinners involving wine, but in this instance, architect Henri Sayes of Sayes Studio was one step ahead. Designing a house for his mother Maurine next door to his own meant he already knew both the property and its owner — how she lived and what she loved — making that triangulation between site, client and architect almost intuitive.

TOP & ABOVE Forming the entrance is a white wedge cut out of black cladding that’s reminiscent of the trademark colour palette of late architect Vernon Brown (one of the architects credited with introducing a modern vernacular to domestic New Zealand architecture) and was whimsically thought of as “a coconut with a bite taken out of it”. The cedar is stained with Resene Woodsman Hackett Black and the plywood of the porch is in Dulux Haast Half. The Winckelmans tiles that pave the stairs have been made for generations in France.

This rear section is arguably the pick of the crop on this block. It’s tucked away from the street and blessed with the type of established trees you can still find in Onehunga, one of Tāmaki Makaurau/ Auckland’s oldest suburbs. A statuesque pūriri, two towering pōhutukawa and a many-headed cabbage tree define the perimeters.
For Henri, the key to the design was making it a great fit for Maurine. “This is a house about belonging, in two senses: how it feels natural within the neighbourhood and also in occupation,” he says. “This isn’t a house that’s concerned with outwards presentation. It’s a space for someone who’s entirely comfortable with herself and that’s entirely comfortable to be in.”

TOP The 150mm cedar boards lend a tight vertical rhythm to the exterior, but the crispness of the architecture is softened here by a garden bed filled with plants including hydrangeas and Japanese anemones. ABOVE Only partially tamed, the garden is paradise for pottering. “I wanted it cottagey with a few fruit trees and herbs,” says Maurine. Henri has pitched in to help (as you do when you live next door), building a rock retaining wall to give it some structure. “We’ve had a few working bees,” says Maurine.

Making the house feel good was far more important than making a grandiose architectural statement, but that didn’t mean a bog-standard approach. Keeping within the context of the historic locale, Henri used the language of the bungalow gable and manipulated it. “There are two key moves,” he says. “The first is taking the low gable and cranking it around the ridgeline so the entry envelops you as you come up to the house. The second is, to the rear, flicking the gable up, opening the dining space to a picture window that looks into the trees.”

TOP On the eastern elevation near the dining room, the courtyard is crazy-paved with Oceanic schist from Paradise Quarry in Whangārei, and furnished with a Palissade table by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Hay. Inside, the solid oak table is well proportioned to hold the space, and the chairs are classic Series 7s by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen. ABOVE In this contemporary take on a farmhouse kitchen, the island and its Soft Edge 32 stools by Hay becomes a gathering place. It was custom designed with a steel structure made by Saintleo and an oak top by Leslie AJ & Co, who also crafted the rest of the kitchen, including the cabinetry featuring Barcco handles from Katalog.

Clad in dark-stained cedar, with a porch cut-out painted white and terracotta-tiled entry steps, there’s something ’70s and Vernon Brown- esque about the exterior. Rosemary creeps over a garden wall and a paving-stone path picks its way around to the back. Beyond the front door, the ceiling sweeps up to 3.6m, an expansion of volume that feels right. Oversized, wraparound glazing ushers in the suburban treescape; these huge panes of glass are the key focal point in the house, drawing visitors from the front door into the conservatory-like space.

TOP The kitchen is a no-fuss composition in black, white, wood and stainless steel, but there’s some subtle splashback colour provided by Country Mist Green tiles from Tile Trends that offer a wavy, handmade effect. ABOVE Maurine loves to spread out on the window seat and read to her grandson Walt, and when the light begins to fade, a Tolomeo Faretto wall lamp by Artemide is positioned to take up the cause.

For balance, Henri was careful to channel a little nostalgia amid the contemporary. “We grew up in the country and Mum has lived semi-rurally for most of her life, so I wanted to riff on the familiar and make this a modern interpretation of the farmhouse.” The dining space is a nod to the window-lined dining room at the family farm.
Henri also designed this 130m2 dwelling to be all on one level and planned it to operate as  two separate parts internally. One side, which contains the main living zone, Maurine’s bedroom and a bathroom, is akin to a self-contained apartment; another, a wing that stretches over the garage, has two more bedrooms — placeholders for her adult children.

ABOVE Focal points in the living space include the Studio fireplace by Peter Haythornthwaite for Warmington; a painting on the wall to the left of it by Maurine’s daughter-in-law Caroline Larsen, an artist based in New York; a photograph by Deborah Smith displayed on the terracotta-tiled hearth; and an etching by Maurine’s late sister Anne Tunnicliffe on the wall to the right of all this. The Karimoku Case Study N-CTO1 coffee table and N-S01 sofa (with more cushions from Città) are both by Norm Architects from Good Form. A Jute Bamboo Loop rug by Nodi dials up the cosiness on the timber floors, which have been protected with Woca oil.

In the kitchen, the island bench feels like a farmhouse table. “It’s great for socialising because, being square, it’s very democratic — people gather on all four sides of it,” says Henri. The American oak floors are honest and grounding, while the black joinery makes a crisp frame for the leafy outlook. Twisting and cranking the ceiling planes in the living zones has made what could have been an ordinary space a bit special. “There’s both openness and somewhere to retreat to,” says Henri.

TOP Maurine keeps Walt’s artwork within view in her bedroom, which she’s serenely furnished with a vase by Jude Keogh Ceramics, bed linen from Città and a throw from A&C Homestore. The Tolomeo Mini lamp by Artemide can be angled just so for bedtime reading. ABOVE Although the bathroom uses only white Vitra tiles from Tile Space (in a grid pattern repeated in the hand towel by Baina), the size varies, starting at 50mm x 50mm around the bath, progressing to 100mm x 100mm on the shower floor and finishing with larger-format 150mm x 150mm on the shower walls. The Frost Denmark mirror from Katalog reflects the leafy outlook and the Scola basin by Duravit is suitably compact for this spot.

Maurine, a first-time builder, had just three definitives for her architect: a bath, a proper fire and good outdoor areas. She got these and so much more — a home that keys into, and drives, her lifestyle. The generous window seat in the dining room is a peaceful spot in which to watch the light fall in dappled shadows across the floor or to cuddle up with her four-year-old grandson, Walt, and listen to one of his jokes (“Where do sharks go for a holiday? Finland!”). She’s converted one ‘spare’ bedroom into a sewing room, there’s a piano beside the open fire, and her friends now nominate her place for long lunches beneath the trees. Come evening, she can run a bath and relax while looking up through the skylight into the depths of the inky blue. 

Words Claire McCall
Photography David Straight

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