A tramping hut-style home by Make Architects in the Karangahake Gorge

The passive house by embraces the outlook and its owners’ love of their land.

Being asked to design a house reminiscent of a tramping hut filled Martin Varney with joy. The director of Make Architects says it was an especially exciting assignment because the brief perfectly suited the landowners’ site.

ABOVE The bulk of the home built by Carl O’Neill and the late Mike Bainbridge (which functions as a passive house assisted by a Lunos ventilation system) was prefabricated off site, then the cross-laminated floor panels, walls and roof were basically constructed within four days of their arrival here, says Martin. This involved more than simply framing — the components were wrapped and insulated, then the house was ready for its windows and inside and outside linings.

Sarah Cavill and James Maguire own just over 10ha near the Karangahake Gorge, where their new house is hugged by the Kaimai Range and sits sentinel at the edge of a plateau overlooking Waitawheta Valley. The expansive view from their land, near Waihi, takes in farmland, bush-clad hills and mountains.

ABOVE The home is clad in Douglas fir Tundra cladding by Abodo with a Sioo:x finish. The joinery (in Agate Grey Sand to match the ZinaCore True Oak Corrugate roof in Gull Grey by Roofing Industries) was made by NK Windows using Aluplast uPVC technology; airtight and condensation-free, it’s part and parcel of the passive house system.

The pair wanted a home that would embrace that outlook, be made of predominantly sustainable New Zealand materials and enable simple living. Sarah speaks of their love of the outdoors and hiking in the bush, and of the many DOC huts they’ve hunkered down in. “We like the form of tramping huts with their clean, simple lines, full verandas and feeling that there’s no need to be precious.”

TOP The long axis of the deck runs the length of the house, with the same timber continuing into the breezeway, “so it looks as if the deck wanders”, says Martin. Sarah appreciates how the breezeway sets the office apart. “We wanted a sense of going to and coming home from work.”


What they didn’t want was excess space, so Martin wrapped up all their requirements in a 100m2 footprint. He talks about taking materials such as plywood for the interior and shiplap Douglas fir cladding for the exterior and combining them with a utilitarian and functional design. “And then we saw what we could add in the way of beauty.”

ABOVE The kitchen’s open shelves make life easy, says Sarah. Frequently used crockery is kept on them,
so there’s no chance for dust to settle. Like the bench, the powdercoated black cabinetry by IMO is also stainless steel; both are hardy enough to last a lifetime.

Pared-back beauty in its purest form lives at this address, at a home in harmony with its surroundings. “We wanted the architecture to engage people with the environment and lift their level of enjoyment of the setting by connecting them to it, so we incorporated ways in which the stunning aspect could be enjoyed,” says Martin.

ABOVE Life here is as relaxed as it might be in an actual tramping hut. “If someone drags in some dirt, no problem, we just sweep it back out,” says Sarah. “If there’s a need to hang wet clothing by the Wagener Leon fire, then that’s fine too.” Sarah says the loft up the top is a boon that “will evolve over time and change as our needs do”. As well as being Sarah’s workspace and Daisy’s playroom, it currently functions as a sewing and music room.

The home’s breezeway does an excellent job of enabling the view to be celebrated. With the barn door to the west slid back and the roller door at the opposite end opened up, it frames the impressive vista in both directions. This interconnecting space features timber battens beneath transparent polycarbonate roofing that takes the intensity out of the sun. “They give the effect of filtered light, like you experience when you walk in the bush,” says Martin. “There are beautiful levels of changing light in this space. Golden light, intense light, warm afternoon light… Then, lit up at night, it’s like a beacon glowing in the landscape.”

TOP Oiled plywood on the walls and ceilings brings a beautiful warmth to this home. The couple love to blend inherited and upcycled furniture with collected and gifted trinkets, and soft furnishings with a bit
of boho about them. The chair and sideboard seen here are handmade family heirlooms. ABOVE A friend made this mirror out of one on its way to the tip. The Swiss tapware and Tondo basin are by Progetto from Plumbline, the shower is by Impresa and the light is by Mr Ralph.

The breezeway also forms a welcoming entry for the house and fun play area for the couple’s daughter, Daisy, plus it links the home’s two pods. On one side is a mudroom incorporating the laundry, toilet and software engineer James’s office, which, with the inclusion of a fold-away bed, doubles as a guest room. On the other, the home’s main pod features open-plan living, two bedrooms, the main bathroom and a spacious loft.

TOP The driveway is effectively a farm race, played down to suit the aesthetic.



The existence of the latter is thanks to the home’s high-pitched roof — just like the ones that commonly top tramping huts. The loft sits above the bathroom and bedrooms looking down on the hub of family living.It’s a wonderfully versatile zone where Daisy’s toys can remain scattered on the floor away from the main living area, and that during the Covid-19 lockdown became a workspace for Sarah, a parks and recreation planning contractor currently completing a year of te reo Māori study.

ABOVE Sarah and James often drag their sofa out onto the breezeway to relax on while taking in the view. This area also provides a spot in which to store firewood, hang all-weather gear and house the clothing rack
by Crafty Gatherer hoisted up on a pulley system. “We can close the barn door to block the wind, so it’s great in all seasons,” says Sarah.

Sarah and James selected their home’s finishing details with longevity in mind. The kitchen bench is stainless steel that offers a suitably raw look. Contributing the same ambience are the home’s plywood walls and ceilings, which are coated with an environmentally friendly oil. Marine-grade lights adorn the exterior walls.
Sustainablity and environmental considerations are key to the ethos the couple live by. Nearly half of their land is being restored back to indigenous plant species, while their neighbours’ cows graze the rest. “It was never our intention to farm for profit,” says Sarah. “Our farm borders a river with a significant wetland that was in poor condition, so our main project has been restoring this wetland, which is now a fenced-off conservation area.”

TOP The family’s much-loved dog, Ben, is a bearded collie-greyhound cross. The family also has two donkeys named Po and Stormie. ABOVE As the architecture of tramping huts tends to dictate, the high-pitched roof flattens off to cover the veranda. On the decked outdoor corridor is a walnut and brass Butterfly stool designed by Sori Yanagi in 1954. The Marine Bean XL beanbag is by Coast.


Grants from Forestry NZ (through the One Billion Trees project) and Waikato Regional Council have already enabled them to plant a few thousand trees. All up, 5500 will be planted with assistance from the couple’s friends, who gather for working bees followed by the obligatory barbecues.
Having tended it for four-and-a-half years now, Sarah and James feel a lot of love for their land. They say having a complementary home is all part of it.   

Words Monique Balvert-O’Connor
Photography David Straight

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