Nature takes a front seat at this home by van Veenendaal Rosnell Langley Architecture and Schwarz Design

The journey to this beach house near Mangawhai Heads is punctuated by assertive bullocks (who must, gently but firmly, be coaxed off the rural road), sheep warming their bellies on the gravel drive, and a pair of pheasants that race the car, their triple-plume tails flying out behind them. It all feels rather adventurous, so the arrival into a courtyard sanctuary, where stately kahikatea stand sentinel above a gravel-and-grasses garden, is an instant change of pace.

TOP The glazed walkway linking the living and bedroom pavilions gives you a glance at the Japanese-style courtyard on one side and coastal views through the branches of specimen trees on the other. ABOVE A pair of classic PK22 chairs by Fritz Hansen from Cult provides a punch of russet in the living area’s neutral colour scheme, which is lit by a beautifully subtle Zerodieci globe by Prandina from Inlite.

Simplicity is what the owners of this three-bedroom home craved when they found this land on Bream Tail Farm more than 10 years ago. Located on a working farm and conservation estate, the site is a cross-section of natural assets. Its clifftop position delivers ocean, island and beach views; it’s surrounded by native trees; and the birdlife is prolific.
With such a jaw-droppingly awesome position, the building was always going to take a back seat, as it should. Architect Leo van Veenendaal of VRLA tucked two cedar-clad pavilions into the grassy hillsides. They’re connected by a glass bridge and sit in the landscape with minimal interruption, while generous eaves provide an elegant horizontal plane, and peel-away sliding doors let the elements become key players. A zen-like garden crafted with natives by landscape architect Trudy Crerar completes the whole. 

ABOVE “I wanted to replicate the colours of the kahikatea trunks on the ground plane,” says landscape designer Trudy Crerar, who achieved this in the courtyard garden with local basalt rock, native grasses oioi and libertia, and low-growing selliera. The shrub Muehlenbeckia astonii casts patterns on the concrete walls all day long.

Rose Schwarz, who runs Schwarz Design alongside her daughter Juliette, was called in at the very start of the process. She’d worked with the owners before, so she understood the nuances of their preferences. She settled on a contemporary Japanese aesthetic to elevate the atmosphere of calm, then presented it to the clients and architect. Rose describes the collaboration as “effortless” — an easy understanding between parties that shows in the result.
Schwarz Design’s aim was to provide a backdrop of neutral finishes that feed into the serenity but still have character. “We wanted to provide soul through texture,” says Rose — and they did so with subtle sensory touches, like plastering walls to negate the use of skirtings, using tiles with wonderful reflective qualities to contrast with the matte details, and specifying basalt floor tiles with variations in their tone. 

TOP The modular sofa in the living space provides plenty of room for extended family to stretch out in. It was custom-designed by Schwarz Design, while the Soori coffee table by Poliform beside it was inspired by the shape of traditional Balinese water vessels. ABOVE Among the objects expertly brought together on this sideboard by Artcopi from Corso De’ Fiori are an artwork by Martin Poppelwell (top) and a calligraphy ink work by Tokyo-based Aona Hayashi from Public Record. The floor lamp — a Cho light by Established & Sons from Simon James — continues the Japanese aesthetic.

The kitchen is a fine-lined insertion in the open-plan living space, with a sliver of ceramic bench and two-pot lacquer cabinetry. A window here overlooks a V-shaped valley where fantails flit above a mānuka forest that’s interrupted by flamboyant pops of nīkau. Rose worked with the architect to disguise the architraves behind the cabinetry, so the window is frameless, uncluttered.
Throughout the day, shadows created by the home’s moveable cedar screens travel across the floor, quietly marking the passage of time. In the living area, a blade wall of bagged bricks that runs the length of the room is a robust counterpoint to the lightness of the wraparound glass. Sea breezes lift the linen drapes in a delicate dance that softens the edges.

TOP On the basalt flooring that runs through the living areas, reflecting light and shadows, a Super Elliptical dining table by Fritz Hansen from Cult is complemented by pale timber Tokyo chairs by Bensen from Tim Webber. ABOVE The walk-in scullery is so sublimely organised that even the stained pizza stone looks artistic. A place of visual pleasure for both the cook and guests, where form and function intertwine, the simplistic yet detailed design by Rose is decorated with items including bottle grinders by Norm Architects for Menu from Simon James, a wooden platter from Città and handmade Japanese tea towels by Claska Do from Everyday Needs.

Courtyard and coast sandwich the bridge that links the living and sleeping zones, and the monochromatic palette continues in the bathrooms with customised cabinetry in Russian birch timber. “We chose the palest timber we could find to emulate that Japanese raw-wood look,” says Rose. Tiles with undulating surfaces feed into this natural, handmade effect.
With the bones of the home calmly cohesive, its owners entrusted the designers to curate the objects and art within it too. These are pieces — some useful, some beautiful, often both — that wind through the owners’ lives from dawn till dusk. 

ABOVE In the ensuite, the Pietra Del Cardoso granite benchtop is the dark yin to the yang of the Russian birch cabinetry. Charged wirelessly, the Nox table lamp by Astep from Good Form can be carried around the home, inside and out.

Juliette began to collaborate with Rose five years ago, expanding Schwarz Design. She’d studied visual arts, then worked in the luxury beauty industry for brands such as L’Oréal and Chanel. “I’ve loved Chanel since I was a little girl, but I always thought I’d end up in interior design,” she says.
It’s clearly the perfect place for her. “Our style is so similar and her eye is amazing. She sees everything as a photograph,” says Rose.
This goes some way towards explaining the vignettes that populate every corner of this home: the circular forms of the pizza stone, timber platter and bowls lined up in the scullery; the pottery collection on the sideboard in the dining room; the artworks in monochromatic tones that are a contemporary continuation of Japanese ink drawings.

ABOVE Birdlife’s abundant in the bush-clad hills, which makes this deck a magical place on which to sit on C317 Yuzuru Yamakawa chairs for Feelgood from Backhouse.

These chic snapshots are visually soothing and undeniably unique. “We don’t want to slip into following trends,” says Rose.
In creating their own style, they hope the look will be timeless, that the spaces will adapt as beautifully as the ancient pōhutukawa on the front lawn, its bark stripped white, bare limbs stretching towards the horizon. It may no longer be in the full flush of youth, but as the Japanese believe: nothing is permanent, nothing is perfect. This place, here and now, comes pretty close.

Words Claire McCall
Photography Jackie Meiring

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