On a nondescript street in suburban Onehunga, there once sat an old brick and-tile house. Plonked in the middle of an 1100-square-metre section, it left a lot to be desired. The land, on the other hand, was precisely what architect Henri Sayes had been looking for. Bowling the old building, the Sayes Studio founder subdivided the section into three sites and designed an architectural home for each. The front one to (possibly) sell, the middle for his family and the rear site for his mum, Maurine. “The back section was probably the best,” thinks Sayes. “It had some great old trees, was removed from the road, had a bit of elevation and just felt good.”
His mum didn’t ask for much. “Just a big dining table, a fire and a bath,” the architect remembers. Living alone, she wanted the place to feel intimate but with enough space to host friends and family. Should any of the kids boomerang back, there also needed to be a couple of extra bedrooms. “I like to think of it as a one-bedroom apartment with two extra bedrooms,” explains Sayes, describing how he tucked these additional sleeping quarters down a separate hallway.
The house lies across two levels; a black gabled home atop a white plastered garage. Sayes turned to the surrounding suburban vernacular for inspiration in his design. “We wanted it to feel quite familiar and referential to the area,” he explains. “There’s a lot of old bungalows around here, so we kind of riffed off that form.” It’s a contemporary and crisp interpretation that settles comfortably on its modest 375-square-metre site.
From the front door, your first impression is a straight shot down the hallway to the back garden, a restrained hint of what’s to come. The house’s geometry is cleverly arranged, so when you walk down the lofty hallway into the living area, the whole picture unfolds. A garden surrounds you. Old pōhutukawa, cabbage trees and a grand pūriri encircle the property, while a stone path weaves past overflowing flower beds to the all-important outdoor table. “We designed the central area almost like a conservatory, so you feel like you’re in the garden rather than just looking at it,” says Sayes. Oversized Altherm glazing forms three sides of the room, capturing every aspect. Playing with volume to subtly demarcate the open-plan space, the ceiling slants down in the living area, then hitches way up to 3.6 metres alongside the dining table. A pop-out window seat delivers another change in scale and a peaceful reading nook that connects with the outdoors through Altherm sliding windows.
Enveloped by garden, there’s not much space or need for interior decoration, but Sayes’ light design touches infuse the place with a relaxed naturalness, a depth that contrasts the crisp architectural form. Heavy sills and skirting boards reference old Arts and Crafts houses, French terracotta tiles adorn the fireplace and entrance steps, while pale oak timber adds to the light, easy atmosphere. “I like that it feels a bit old-fashioned,” says Sayes. “It feels very familiar, personable – it feels like enough.”