“I grew up admiring the architects of the 70s,” says Adam Mercer of Mercer & Mercer Architects. “Ian Athfield, Roger Walker – they seemed to be having a blast, doing some crazy stuff. But that all seems to have disappeared a little bit from the New Zealand vernacular. We’ve got pretty serious. So this house – this house was like a breath of fresh air.”
The client had owned an old bach on the corner site, a few streets back from Mount Maunganui beach, for a few years. She loved the home – painted bright yellow with splashes of teal – but after deciding to relocate to the coast permanently, wanted to bowl and build new. When she met with Mercer and fellow architect Alastair Mckenzie, her brief focused not on the usual checklist of bedrooms and spaces, but the intangible quality of feeling. “She wanted a colourful, lively, creative and fun house,” says Mercer. “A place to enjoy life at the beach with friends and extended family.” It was an open and enticing project, made even better when she offhandedly added, “Oh, and I’d really like a slide.”
She hadn’t considered where she would put said slide, so the architects suggested that it hung outside the house as an unmistakable expression of fun. Riders would get in at the top of the stairs before being spat into the living room. The only person they needed to convince was the council planner. As he struggled to categorise the stainless-steel structure and decipher which regulations to apply to it, Mercer finally asked him, “Do you really want to be the guy who says no to a slide?” He did not. Feilding-based EPS Fabrication was engaged to bring the displaced playground piece to life, and Mercer gives the engineers unreserved credit for its success. “There are a lot of pretty ugly slides around,” he says. “But this is just a thing of beauty. Without the slide, the house would be way more serious.”
He’s right; the slide is pure joy, but so is the rest of the home – subtly. The proportions of the rooms follow no formal order: some taper off, others wrap around corners and all open to a shallow U-shaped central courtyard through floor-to-ceiling Altherm Metro Series doors and sliders. On the home’s south-eastern face, a mural hides beneath the ply and batten cladding, so passersby catch glimpses of it as they walk past. The same external wall is playfully dotted with bright red, green and yellow Altherm windows. “We’ve tried stained glass in the past, and the colours have been really insipid,” says Mercer. But here, he reckons, the local Altherm manufacturer has “blown them out of the water”.
It’s important to note that this kind of fun doesn’t come at the expense of function. The house was propped up on a timber-piled subfloor to account for floodplains (one significant storm saw water reach 1.5 metres up the walls of the old bach), and upstairs, Mercer was careful to incorporate a private retreat for the owner’s bedroom, ensuite and snug. “All of this fun was going on, so I suggested a bit of a sanctuary,” the architect explains. From up here, Altherm windows give a crowning view of the town’s celebrated mountain. “So often, people are desperate for those water views, and we had a few squints out to sea,” says Mercer. “But the mountain was just far more powerful.” It’s a calm and personal space that balances out the vigour of the home. Then, when the owner is ready to rejoin the fun, she simply slides right in.