An unassuming architectural hideaway

On the rugged West Coast of Northland, architect Jackie Sue and interior designer Tomi Williams have designed a family holiday home that takes its cues from traditional tramping huts.

You’d be forgiven for missing the house. Complementing the hillside, the sandy tones of this holiday home are barely noticeable from Ripiro Beach below. A kilometre from its neighbour, the house quietly blends in with its sand and grass surrounds; it doesn’t fight the drama of this wild west coast landscape, but relaxes into it. It’s the kind of feeling most of us want when we’re on holiday — to disappear for a while — yet underneath its subtle disposition, the home makes its presence known through a strong desire to unite with the environment.

The homeowners — a couple and their two teenage children — were poolside in Thailand five years ago when they found the 150ha plot of land online. With recreation as their motivation — he rides dirt bikes, she and their daughter ride horses — the 107km strip of beach would become their playground. Add to that the show-stopping natural beauty and they were sold.

ABOVE The homeowners specified that the house not have a main entrance, so when guests arrive, they approach the front deck.

Ready to build, the question was: how best to live in and feel connected to the landscape and climate? They resisted the pull towards something ostentatious. Their desire was for something appropriate to the beautiful location: a tramping-hut form, simple and organic. “We started with a series of huts with a small footprint,” says one of the homeowners. “It evolved from there.” Architect Jackie Sue finalised the design. To battle the prevailing south-west wind, they oriented the house north-west and built up the sand in a horseshoe shape behind it as a buffer from the southerly. By digging into the hillside, this allowed the dwelling to be positioned low on its site, protecting it from the weather while maintaining a view.

ABOVE The secondhand dining table (with Tommy chairs from Soren Liv) was painted with the help of artist friend Jeanine Oxenius of Bye Bye Love. The jar pendants above it are a nod to one of the homeowners’ late parents, who bottled fruit from their orchard.

Inside, one ‘hut’ was designed to cater for living and the master bedroom, and another to house the children’s rooms, the two buildings connected through a central outdoor space that can be closed off to the elements. The main house occupies one level covering 112m2, excluding the outdoor room. A few metres away is a separate dwelling housing the garage, two guest rooms and a bathroom. Clad in Scoria Colorsteel, it harks back to the red barns that frequented farms in the past.

ABOVE Sitting low on the site, with a facade of Lawson cypress and ply behind it, the house is in perfect harmony with its setting. Aluminium shades replace the usual eaves, keeping the exterior aesthetic simple.

The height of the hip roof was carefully considered to avoid the house being windswept, while capturing views through valleys and dunes. “We steered away from a barn with a simple pitched roof,” says Jackie. “The result is an elegant response with a visual difference, deflecting the wind and anchoring the home in its environment.”

ABOVE In the kitchen, battens stop the sloped ceiling appearing overpowering and break up the cabinetry below the porcelain Florim benchtop in Metal Russet. The adjacent lounge nook is a sought-after spot made even cosier by an Ethnicraft Slouch sofa from Soren Liv and plump, textural cushions from Città and A&C Homestore. The Hut stool is also from Città and the Nysse chair is from Bauhaus. Motorised blinds from Mr Blinds feature throughout the huts.

The couple called in Tomi Williams of At Space (formerly Indigo Design) for help with the interior. “Simplicity of materials and finishes was key,” she says. “The interior doesn’t compete with the colours and drama of the environment outside, but provides a warm cave from which to view it. 

ABOVE The Fibo panels on the walls in the bathrooms (including the ensuite, pictured here) consist of a high-pressure laminate bonded to plywood. The mirrors in these spaces and the toilet overleaf are by Zavedo.

“What makes tramping huts unique is that they used wood tonally so it all worked together,” she continues. “It was about what was around at the time.” Here, Ashin with a clear matte finish clads the walls and meranti ply was used on the ceiling. 

TOP In the master bedroom, the headboard and bedding (including a tactile sage velvet cushion from Città) is a tonal reflection of the grass, sea and sky outside. ABOVE As in the bathrooms, the sink in the toilet is a play on old-fashioned concrete tubs.

Meranti ply was also chosen for the kitchen cabinetry and battens. “Kitchens [in classic huts] were simple designs made of sturdy materials, and we created an elevated version, which meant finding the right wood finishes that would work together without closing in the space too much,” says Tomi. “Given the kitchen is one long expanse, the battens were designed to provide interest.” Although traditional tramping huts used a lot of stainless steel for benchtops, Tomi proposed a thin porcelain product for even better durability.

TOP Incorporating the guest rooms into the main house would have made it bigger than the homeowners wanted it to be — plus, the separate building affords visitors maximum privacy. ABOVE Floor-to-ceiling timber, a small window, and bunk beds custom-made by Natural Beds & Furniture strongly communicate the hut aesthetic in this guest bedroom. Even the reeded knob door handles from Vintage Hardware tie in.

A corrugated polycarbonate slider was installed across the back of the outdoor room, breaking up the rough-sawn timber of the exterior. “That will silver off over time,” says one of the homeowners. “We wanted to create something solid and timeless. It’s a place we can pass onto our kids and their children.”   

TOP You’re really at one with the elements here. It’s a 10-minute walk to the beach across paddocks and dunes, with a steep climb back to the house. ABOVE The polycarbonate slider can be flung open when its sunny and filters natural light into the outdoor room when it’s closed off to the weather. External fixtures capable of enduring the rugged environment were a necessity for this fit-out, such as the reconditioned fishing boat light seen here, from Vintage Industries. The cushion below it on the end of the Ofyr bench from Outdoor Concepts is in Club Tropicalia fabric by Mokum from James Dunlop Textiles.

Words Catherine Steel
Photography Larnie Nicolson
Styling Larnie Nicolson and Tomi Williams

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