Cool Lighting effects and contemporary architecture collide to create a house that has become its own view.
Words Brenda Ward Photography Lisa Gane
If your section doesn’t have a view of the sea or of green foliage, which way should your house face? Paul Newton decided his new Christchurch house could look at itself.
He asked architect Billie-Jean Bruhns of BJ Design to draw him up a striking contemporary home with parallel wings, with the living wing and the bedroom wing designed to look at each other.
“It’s actually a two-storeyed house, if you think about it; it’s just been put on the flat,” says Paul. “After all, why does a house have to be together? Why not separate it?”
He found some land that would work with his concept and approached Billie-Jean.
Paul and partner Amy McGowan had originally intended to build a spec house. “But it ended up being a little bit more than that,” admits Paul.
“The neighbourhood was a major factor, because when we started building we realised that lots of friends, even one of my business partners, lived there. We liked the street, which was what decided that we would go a little bit further.”
After building a couple of new homes and renovating others, Paul knew that this time he and Amy wanted a house that was more than a home, but a statement as well.
“The brief that I put on the footprint was, I wanted the house to be different, but I wanted it to be real.
“I wanted the indoor and the outdoor to connect, so that if you opened all the doors, it would feel like the courtyard was all usable space.”
Because of this feature, the house feels much bigger than it really is. The floorplan is about 320 square metres, but if you include the paved patio areas, the space adds up to nearly 660 square metres of liveable space.
Right from its entrance the house is striking, lurking on the site like a low-slung monolithic black box.
Even its garage doors are flush-mounted into the facade, cantilevering open so they don’t interrupt its minimal lines. And then, behind the black-stained cedar facade, there’s the glass. Most of the walls are glazing.
“The concept is that when you look at the front of the house, I want you to look straight through it,” says Paul.
At first sight, people either love it or hate it, he says. “There’s not many people who don’t have a reaction to it. They say, ‘Oh, wow!’ Then ‘But do I like it or not?’.”
As home for the couple and their children, Portia-Rose (7), Ava Grace (5) and Knox (2), it had to be usable and family-friendly, but it was also made for entertaining friends and business associates – Paul is a partner in finance company NZ Home Loans.
“The house was designed to take a lot of people in the space. If you open the doors, you have this massive amount of scale. I wanted every room to be ‘not normal’ and really, you don’t have to design things differently by much to get that beautiful sense of architecture and those spaces.”
Custom design is a key point of difference in this house. Paul and Amy had most of the fixtures and fittings created especially for it, but Paul says he was surprised that having items made was often cheaper than finding a similar item.
“There’s nothing in that house that isn’t hand-made, down to the tapware in the powder room and the towel rail in the master suite. Everything is supposed to be its own little piece of sculpture.”
The raw materials used, a combination of glass, concrete block and red Canadian cedar, make it a stark house until the lights come on. Then LED strip lights, fluorescent and incandescent lighting create different moods at night.
“You can totally change the feeling of this house by just turning a couple of lights on. It can be totally soft and romantic, or hard and disco-like, or bright and stark.”
Paul says the financial downturn forced the couple to scale back some of their plans, for reflecting pools and copper detailing.
“When you start doing these things, the costs just keep going up,” he says. “And there was a lot of business carnage over that time so we retrenched on a lot.”
Paul praises builder Clive Barrington Construction for the level of detail in the house: metres of dead-straight rosehead nails, perfectly laid strip lighting, pre-painted shiplap cedar boards and precise negative detailing.
The house is sparsely furnished, by choice. “I wanted it simple; I didn’t want clutter,” says Paul. He says he tried using rugs and adding more furniture, but each time he took them out again. There is no art, but he sees the house as a contemporary artwork in its own right.
The kids’ rooms had to be different to the living zones. “They had to be warm and inviting,” he says.
The kids love the freedom of running in and out of their rooms onto the patios as they play, while their parents relax.
“Our house is concrete and stainless steel; kids can’t break it,” says Paul, with laugh.
It’s not a traditional family house, but it’s a house that suits this contemporary family.
“People talk about contemporary architecture, but this is as contemporary as it gets. I don’t have enough money to buy art, but we have this house, the walls and the joinery.”
To see more photographs of this house, pick up a copy of the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of homestyle. For more great homes and ideas homestyle's latest issue is available supermarkets and book stores nationwide.