Coastal mood

Simplicity, spatial articulation, and a nearly microscopic attention to detail ensure this coastal Mount Maunganui home by Brendon Gordon Architects and Weekday Studio works beautifully for its inhabitants.

A pared back material palette allows for an elegant simplicity that draws on the tones of the coastal setting.

For most architects, this Mount Maunganui project would have had all the hallmarks of a dream assignment: a beachfront development with intelligent master planning and landscaping; a pragmatic and design-savvy owner; and a generous budget to bring it to fruition.

So, when a 20-plus page brief went out to some of the country’s most reputable firms — Patterson Associates, Daniel Marshall, Julian Guthrie, etcetera — this project went from being a mere design trifecta to an architectural ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent’. 

“I had a list of about 20 architects, mostly from Auckland,” explains the homeowner, who conceived this house for himself and his young family, “and ended up narrowing it down to five.”

Initially, he modelled what he calls “various spaces in isolation” on SketchUp in a way he hoped would bring out the best in a site neatly wedged between a sand dune and the sea on the northern end, and a small road to the south.

“You really try to lock land value and get the highest and best use of the land by trying to maximise the scale of the building on the site,” says the owner, a property developer who specialises in commercial real estate.

To this end, his initial brief called for no decking/balcony at the ocean end, a separation between the child and adult zones, and a clever distribution of social and service areas in a way that responded appropriately to the unique, climatic conditions of the site. 

Horizontal boardform concrete meets timber to deliver a sense of simplicity that draws the dunescape and coastal views inside.

Out of the five final architects, it was convenience and knowledge of local conditions and industry networks that ended up giving Tauranga-based Brendon Gordon Architects (BGA) the advantage.

“If I go and design something in the Bay of Islands, for example, I have to spend a lot of time getting up to speed,” says Brendon, who has been working in and around the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel for more than 20 years. 

“Whereas local knowledge goes a long way, having an understanding of the vernacular. We just understand a lot about the local beaches, a lot about the sea breezes, and a lot about all the coastal conditions here.”

West and southwest winds prevail here, peppered with regular and strong gusts amid a pleasant, mean average temperature year round.

Architecturally, the house is deceptively simple: a long, rectangular, three-storeyed form that occupies most of the site, leaving a small patio — soon to be occupied by a swimming pool — between the ground floor and the dunescape. To the west is a neighbouring house and to the east a communal beach access, both of which necessitated clever privacy solutions and allowed for a variety of access points.

What we did was lift the waistline of the house,” says Brendon, describing how the ground floor — which houses a guest suite, garage, and laundry —  and second floor, containing the main suite, both have a 3.2 stud height while the ‘waistline’ first floor boasts a height of nearly 4 metres. That middle level protrudes from the main concrete and timber volume: a black box of steel and glazing cantilevered towards the sand dunes in a way that is both alien to its surroundings and entirely fitting for the inhabitants’ desire for shelter while being projected towards the ocean. 
 
Part of the beauty of this home’s architecture is in its spatial articulation, the eloquent division of the individual and the social spheres; of the beach-going activities and the more formal arrivals; of family time in cocooned, yet vista-focused environments and more relaxed, outdoorsy, yet wind-protected ones. 
Dark kitchen cabinetry recesses within the open space; custom timber flooring was chosen to echo the tones of the ceiling and dunes beyond.

The living quarters and social spaces are divided by a central core that distributes people discreetly — via stairs or lift —  into the inner sanctum. This core has two distinct entry points: a more formal one to the west and an eastern one for those coming from and going to the beach.  

The latter is where the design is at its most sculptural, and a material palette — present both inside and outside — reveals itself. In-situ concrete with horizontal board form finish contrasts with the vertical shiplap cedar weatherboards and battens. A dialogue of natural stain tones and directionality make the house look honest, elegant, imposing, and dynamic. A long and thin LED light runs along the perimeter of the soffit here, through to the cantilever box and garage, and creates a kind of demarcation between the horizontal and the vertical planes. 

The stairs lead onto a landing and covered outdoor sitting/dining space that provides shelter for its users from direct ocean wind but allows interaction with the outside world and, via glazing, to the rest of the lounge. From there, people can choose to go right into the kitchen/lounge area, left into the kids’ area — three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a family room — or up to the main suite.
 
“It is really important that these beach designs have that informal access, where people are actually flowing, and the lounge doesn’t become a traffic zone like it usually would,” says Brendon. “The pedestrian flow is considered and designed … and is very functional.”
 
“The link between the architecture and interiors is critical,” says the owner, who owns interior design company Weekday Studio.
 
“There was a feeling I wanted to create in this home,” he continues. “I wanted natural and raw materials, materials that reflect the dunes and materials that feel real; materials that can be used seamlessly on the exterior and the interiors.” 
A highly engineered window system was specified which runs on a single, recessed track, seeming to almost disappear when opened.

As such, Weekday Studio collaborated extensively on kitchen design, cabinetry decisions, furniture, curtain and paint colour selections, working with BGA and trades to achieve a holistic design approach.

They opted for a profile for the timber sarking to match on the walls and ceiling.

“We then talked with Brendon about updating the external cladding so we could have the builders run seamless soffits to ceiling profiles.” 

The conversation between the building’s architecture and its interior is indeed critical in this project. Building proportions and geometries are emulated and reflected by door profiles; negative detailing on the picture-perfect kitchen seems to be echoed in pendants, cabinetry, and the like. Meticulously put together materials flow in and out of the house seamlessly. 

“Custom timber flooring [was selected] to reflect the ceiling tone and dune colours,” says the owner. “The lighting recesses, where the Delta downlights sit, is another language carried into other rooms, and hide AC returns and other services so the ceilings are really ‘empty’. They also create the same negative as is used for the pendant lights above the dining room table. There’s a language that’s used throughout the house that you can kind of always tell, and it’s all about execution and detail.” 

Nowhere is that detailing more apparent than in the kitchen-lounge area, which is this home’s masterstroke, a coming together of materiality and form towards a simplicity that is beachy yet solid and with a touch of panache.

To retain a clear sightline to dune and ocean, Weekday Studio specified a large, four-metre-high, minimalist, and highly engineered window system by Vitrocsa that runs on a single, recessed track and seems almost to disappear when opened.

Black timber wall panelling adds contrast and depth, meeting boardform concrete and the lighter-toned timber of the ceiling.

To complement the natural light and the way it interacts with the textures of natural stone, concrete, and timber, the lighting design was a strong consideration, and the team specified, customised, and custom designed a number of streamlined pieces. 

“I don’t like just ‘aesthetic’ lighting,” says the owner. “There has to be a reason for that light to be there, even if it is just because the room needs more warmth, or it wants to be a cosy space.” 

The enormous Calacatta marble island was born from a “sketch on a piece of paper with the cabinet maker and stone fabricator”, according to the owner, who “used a few props to get the scale right, then tweaked the production drawings”. Although the stone wasn’t bookmatched, Weekday Studio “wanted to match stone grains on mitres … so it felt like it was a reduction of a solid block of marble”.

The long narrow site meant verticality and linearity was required to make the most of the available space; the 470m2 house extending between street and dunes.

Many more details contribute to the overall strength of this 470m² house: from photovoltaic panels through to a well-thought-out C-Bus home control system; from floating stairs through to custom-made diffusers to hide LED linear lights in the black timber panelling.

“I think good design is more than the sum of its parts,” says the owner, in closing. “It’s about different roles, pooling from different knowledge sets, working together to achieve something harmoniously.”  

This house certainly does that.

Words: Federico Monsalve
Images: Amanda Aitken

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