There are many hidden architectural treasures in some of the most remote corners of the country and, sometimes, even in the cities – small family vacation homes that not only delight, but provide much-needed solace.
Catherine Foster presents the best of them in her new book, Small Holiday Houses. These are all enviable properties, but we asked the author to pick out some of his favorites and tell us why they tick all the boxes that make this the perfect family hideaway.
Mahanga Bach, East Cape by Harry Croucher, Edwards White Architects
Josh and Lauren Jones have bought a slice of land on a sunny hill above Mahanga Beach on the east coast of the Northern Islands as a place to camp and socialize off the grid and without a device while their two boys let off steam.
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It turned out to be so appealing that they decided to call on their old friend, architect Harry Croucher, to come up with a design for a bach. It had to be affordable – the budget was tight – and flexible in its use.
The result is a light and agile structure that is as witty and attractive as it is practical. With inexpensive, lightweight materials and only 45m² of the fully fenced 74m² house, it was cheap to build but full of ideas. For example, dispensing with ceiling coverings inside the cabin was both economical and a design feature – elegant by day and entertaining by night, as the shadows of the exposed trusses play against the plywood roof covering.
In the sheltered porch next door, this effect is even more pronounced. Here, the roof and walls are made of translucent dark gray polycarbonate corrugated sheet with the same profile as the corrugated sheet cladding. During the day, this translucency allows for the charm of an ever-changing play of shadows on the floor, while, when illuminated at night, the entire structure glows like a magic lantern.
With two bedrooms, one bath, a comfortable living space and kitchen, plus the expanding living porch, this is a bach that family memories are made of.
Skylark Cabin, Mackenzie Country, by Barry Connor, Barry Connor Design
Crouched like a nesting bird under the vast skies of the Aoraki MacKenzie International Dark Sky Reserve is the small but intriguing Skylark Hut. Designed and positioned by architect Barry Connor to retreat rather than compete with the iconic landscape, the cabin is virtually invisible: at night there is little more than a faint glow to even indicate its presence.
A black exterior contributes to this illusion, and where the color is present on the window frames and the carport, it is the particular shade of burnt orange found in the lichens and low grasses in the middle of the dominant tuft.
To maximize the 50m² floor plan, Connor staggered the two wings at an angle, ensuring privacy in the one-room studio, while maximizing the spectacular views and ever-changing light. The smaller bedroom wing faces east towards the Black Hills and Backbone Peak, while the longer and larger living room faces west with a closer view of the Ben Ohau Range through a wall fully glazed facing west.
Interiors are clad in birch plywood, a creamy-toned wood that, in Connor’s words, “blurs the threshold,” capturing the feeling of being nestled right in the landscape. Black-edged pleated rib detailing takes this metaphor further. Connor sees it as representing the “cradle” of being indoors, protected, safe and private.
Decks and an outdoor bath expand the small interior and provide more places to stretch out and drink in the grandeur of the surroundings and the sound of the larks for which the cabin is named.
Kowhai Cabin, Ohakune by Maurice Regeer and Marije Regeer-Hoornstra, M&M Design
With its decidedly blocky shape and simple material palette, Kowhai Cabin in Ohakune could be described as a Siberian larch box with cutouts. It’s also an exploration of what it took to make a thermally efficient home in a harsh climate.
The average electric bill for the cabin is just $67 per month, compared to a neighbor’s similarly sized house from the 2010s that cost around $200 to heat during the same period.
The living areas are positioned for the winter sun (but with wide eaves to provide shade in the summer). And there are passive ventilation strips inserted into the frames of the thermally broken double glazed carpentry, additional layers of wall and ceiling insulation, and solar gain from a concrete wall and ceiling. an insulated concrete slab. A wood burning stove is only used to supplement heating during the colder months and when airflow is needed for the drying room.
Horizontal grooves between the large planks inside the house draw the eye outward, enhancing the indoor-outdoor feel. The recessed porches are covered with charred larch – a method pioneered by the Japanese called shou-sugi-ban. This gives the wood natural protection while adding texture, color and visual drama.
Urban Bach, Auckland by Sarosh Muller, PAC Architecture
It might seem strange to include a second home in Auckland in a singles book, but Auckland is the vacation destination of the owner, who lives and works elsewhere. PAC Studio’s Sarosh Muller says the house is “all about retirement and a change of mindset.”
Although tightly built on a simple oblong floor plan, this backyard garden home spells out its design credits right from the start. With a steeply pitched asymmetrical gable roof, slightly taller than expected proportions, and vertically suspended bleached blonde exterior cladding, this is a building with an attitude – a smart fit on a tight city site.
Inside, the game continues. Instead of the plywood wall coverings we’ve grown accustomed to in these smaller projects, there’s a feast of colors and textures. The plywood ceiling is contrasted by indigo walls in the central living areas that seem to recede or come forward depending on where the sunlight hits. And a very yellow wall of cupboards is the backbone of the kitchen.
A tall window in this mezzanine draws the morning light deep into the confines of the living room below. The extra height of the mezzanine allows this area to be a multifunctional space. The little house also has a generously sized bedroom with built-in storage.
Little Holiday Homes by Catherine Foster, published by Penguin Random House NZ, RRP $55
STUFF / Connor Scott
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