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When a young couple based in Pōneke/Wellington decided they’d had enough of their busy schedule juggling a bungalow renovation with burnout, they made like the reality-TV show and escaped to the country. The first step of their lifestyle change was to buy a section in the Wairarapa. Happily landing on a site in Kahutara, they felt as if it was all coming together, although finding someone to design their new home proved to be less easily achieved — until…
“Years before, we’d seen an article in the local paper about two young architects who’d designed and built a house for themselves in Whanganui,” says one of the homeowners. “Time went by, then up popped another inspiring project by the same pair in Pōneke. On both occasions, we’d admired how they’d lived and breathed these builds — and that was how we decided to approach Sally Ogle and Ben Mitchell-Anyon of Patchwork Architecture to design a house for us.”
Being of similar ages, the couple found Sally and Ben to be more approachable than some of the other architecture practices they’d contacted. “It can be quite an intimidating process — at times it felt like we were interviewing to be the client, rather than the other way around!” says the homeowner. “Once we’d spoken with Sally and Ben, though, we were assured that their approach responded to what we were after.”
The vision? A striking silhouette that would suit the surrounding rural landscape. Presented in a concise brief that outlined the practicalities (a bedroom, a bunkroom, a home office) but was aesthetically open-ended, it was an architect’s dream. Thinking big on a small budget is what Patchwork has become known for, through their portfolio of clever homes that seek to shrink environmental footprints while creatively using common, cost-effective materials.
“This had to be a reasonably straightforward structure and shape because of the budget,” says Ben. “After visiting the site, a paddock, our first response was, ‘There aren’t any constraints — what do we actually do here?!’”
“That sounds as if it should be freeing, but it’s actually super difficult,” says Sally. “It’s not how we’re used to working.”
Compared to tackling urban sites on which limitations inform the starting point, this home saw Sally and Ben taking their approach back to basics with the kind of site analysis they teach you in architecture school —reviewing the wind, the sun and the view.
“The most obvious thing was the beautiful scene of the hills to the southeast in the mornings and strong sun to the northwest in the evenings,” says Ben. “To embrace that, we’ve explored the idea of deep farm verandahs with diagonally opposite outlooks.”
An S-shaped, 128m2 footprint adjoins two outdoor rooms that link to the home’s interior through joinery from First Windows & Doors. From each end, the building feels similar to a symmetrically pitched barn. As a twist on that vernacular, the gabled roof is clipped back in line with the triangular verandahs, making the simple form more dynamic and providing a gradient of protection. The majority of the glazing is contained in the verandahs, where doors are utilised for both access and ventilation that’s protected from wind and rain.
Key to the layout was the owners’ intention for their home to flex between functioning for the two of them and hosting whānau and friends — thus the well-considered living spaces do double duty for a range of activities and occasions. The office is especially hard- working. “It’s a massive space that acts as our studio, my sewing and upholstery room, a video-game room, a playroom, a karaoke room, a function room, a dancefloor and, if needed, a marae,” says the homeowner. “We’ve filled it with photos of our tūpuna [ancestors], our whānau, and my marae in Kohukohu.”
A 4 x 4m sliding wall/door accesses this zone from the wider open-plan area. Finished in a tukutuku pattern, “it pays homage to my whakapapa and Māoritanga. It’s our heart, right in the middle of our home,” says the homeowner. “We had an opportunity to make this large wall/door something really special, and chose the poutama pattern because of its meaning. The stepped pattern symbolises levels of attainment and the growth of man striving ever upwards, but for us personally, when we look at this pattern, we see it being the stairs to heaven and think about our loved ones we’ve lost who now reside there. Sometimes in the morning, the sun hits the door just right and the stairs light up, reminding us that with each step we take in life, we’re closer to seeing them again.”
Now that the build is complete, the couple’s settling into the rhythms of country life. Thanks to a newfound passion for taking their ride-on mower for a spin, they’ve been loving getting out to cut tracks through the wavy, golden rye grass. Life here is about keeping it real in a relatively humble abode so thoughtfully and efficiently designed that the greatest luxury of all can be enjoyed to its fullest — time to just be.