For Andrew Watson of Christchurch’s AW Architects, this house was meant to be

It was meant to be a bachelor pad — small, simple and bach-like. On a hillside in Sumner in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, this simple abode would be part of Andrew Watson’s plan for a fresh start.
“I was happy for just a shack with a barbecue and space for me and the kids,” says the director of AW Architects. But while he was in the design phase, his vision for himself and his children Zoe (14) and Jono (12) took a turn when he met interior designer Jessica Bartlett.

MAIN IMAGE The home’s steel portal frames and flexible DonoBrace steel braces emphasise the honesty of the build. Here, the facade deliberately excludes windows for privacy, while the black folded steel structure at the top of stairs provides a sense of enclosure on arrival. ABOVE Landscape architect Paul Roper-Gee of Canopy’s vision for the garden was soft, meadow-like planting to offset the bold lines of the house and provide seasonal flavour when looking down at it from above or walking through it at ground level.

It’s said good things come in pairs, and in this case, they sure did. Eventually, the couple approached the build together, expanding the home’s design to include Jessica and her son Romeo (8). To that end, Andrew’s original plan for an L-shaped, three-bedroom dwelling was reimagined into a U-shaped four-bedroom one that reaches out to embrace its elevated site.

ABOVE Jessica on the path leading to the back of the house, below the main bedroom window, where Andrew set back the framing so it hides the gutters and roof finishes.

The hillside location is what Andrew refers to as a “Goldilocks” zone — not too high up the hill but not too low to miss out on the sweeping vista. “We get the benefits of being near the flat — close to public transport and the kids are able to walk to school — yet we also enjoy a lovely green view over the tops of the trees. If our house was one layer above, we’d be looking down on rooftops instead.”

TOP Zoe’s bedroom opens onto the courtyard at the back of the house, which takes in a view of the Port Hills. Her duvet cover and pillowcases are from Città, and her cushion is from A&C Home. Beside a Bistro table and chairs by Fermob from Jardin, Jessica planted pink jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum) that now hangs low, softening the look of the exposed brick wall. “We discussed plastering the wall, but we like the rawness of it,” says Andrew. ABOVE On the deck at the front of the house — which Andrew says “functions as another room within the grid of modules” — is an Aruba Platform sofa from Soren Liv. Like the home’s Abodo cladding and laminated macrocarpa entry steps, the Garapa timber used for the decking was chosen for the way it silvers off naturally over time.

This is a site Andrew knew well before he started his original design, having worked on an even earlier design for it for its then owners that didn’t come to fruition. Then the opportunity came up to buy it himself. “The original scheme was based on ideas I’d worked on with the previous owners regarding where certain parts of the house would be — kitchen and living in a spot to accommodate the views and sun, and all else scaled back to accommodate the landscape,” he says. “After I met Jessica, the house developed from a basic house into a home that complements the site. It’s what should have been from the get-go.”

TOP The picture window in the living area mirrors the window of the same style in the main bedroom. “We wanted them to be as large as possible, but they’re not full height, so furniture can be tucked under them,” says Andrew. Positioning the Reed sofa by Nonn close to the glass in this space means the family can “lie there and be in the view”. Surrounded by walls in Resene Wan White, some of the other details featured here include curtains by The Makers in Icon Everyday Paliano linen, a Rolf rug from Città, a Ghost coffee table from Freedom and built-in cabinetry by House of Joinery. ABOVE The couple has created a gallery wall in the living area for the art they’ve picked up over the years. “We liked the idea of keeping our collection in one space,” says Jessica. This snapshot includes pieces by Julie Bartlett (two works top left), Alice Sarginson (two works bottom left), Julia Morison (middle), Anton Mogridge (bottom middle) and Stanley Donwood (bottom right).

What the couple has created is a “suburban apartment”, complete with a sheltered courtyard facing the hills and a deck looking seaward from the living/kitchen/dining area. Celebrating aspects of apartment-style living on a single level, “It’s small-scale family living but with the benefits of suburbia and its surrounding space,” says Andrew. “Low-energy and low-maintenance, the home is a sanctuary due to its cosiness and serenity.”

TOP & ABOVE The couple designed the kitchen to be practical and connect with the living area inside and out via the deck. “This means that when the doors are open, it’s one big space,” says Andrew. “We set the kitchen asymmetrically, so we have tall cupboards at one end, then cooking, coffee, sink and other lower elements at the end closest to the living room. Originally, we had the stools [custom-made by Buxeda] at the other end, then when we came on site, we saw where the view over Sumner is, so we moved the seating to take it in.” Notable décor details seen in the top image include a Friday armchair by Zeitraum and a Captain Flint floor lamp by Flos from ECC.
One thread that has remained throughout the dwelling’s evolution is its prefab modular structure. The home was always going to reflect this model; in fact, the prefab process inspired the design. “The house is based on a grid of 4.8m2 modules, each representing a different aspect: the living and kitchen module, the dining module, the service module and the bedroom modules,” says Andrew. “Around that, it was based on a prefabricated process of building, such as floor cassettes and wall and roof panels.”

TOP Highlights here are the artworks by Simon Edwards and Bellhop lamp by Flos from ECC. ABOVE Unlike the picture window in the main bedroom, the one in the living area doesn’t open, so this window on the gallery wall caters for ventilation instead. “I like to design houses that I can walk around and open windows to ventilate them,” says Andrew. “The kids’ bedrooms have top-light windows for both ventilation and security.” The exterior Abodo Vulcan cladding system is made from heat-treated laminate timber. It forms a decorative layer, under which is a membrane that provides moisture control and airtightness.

It’s a lesson in efficiency, allowing the creation of a weather-tight shell in a short amount of time. “Once the shell is locked in, you can get away from the elements and finish work quickly,” says Andrew. “Also, the place is locked up. Measuring joinery units and installing plumbing can happen in tandem with finishing the home’s exterior. It’s a way of de-risking the project, so the building isn’t in the elements, especially when you’re building in winter. Tools are dry and accuracy is better. Everyone benefits.”
Local materials were also a key factor in this build. “We were able to go and get the products, fabricate them in the factory, then ship them to the site and flip the house up relatively quickly,” says Andrew. “We weren’t relying on machinery from Germany or wall panels from America.”

ABOVE Opening to engage with the courtyard garden and late afternoon sun, the dining area features a Soul table by Nonn from Simon James and vintage dining chairs from Mr Mod. The flooring throughout the house is hard oak with an Osmo Wood Wax finish by Timbers of New Zealand.

The home’s layout encompasses a main bathroom and laundry in the middle of the floorplan, with four bedrooms on one side and living/kitchen/dining on the other. The grid of modules lining up with each other means space flows freely inside, while outside some exterior walls have been replaced with doors that open wide for unimpeded indoor-outdoor flow, allowing rooms to blend with the landscape, increasing their size.
Despite the easy flow, intimate spaces can form. Wing walls between the dining and living areas slide out to close off the living space, bringing a fluidity to the home that’s ideal for a family of five. The sliding doors to the laundry and main bathroom can be closed or opened for a more spacious feel.

TOP Romeo’s bedroom includes a rug from Kmart, a Willowby cube table from Ico Traders, an AJ lamp by Louis Poulsen, a print by Evie Kemp and bedding from Wallace Cotton. ABOVE The home’s uncomplicated aesthetic is embraced in the main bathroom with simple matte Kapela tiles from Designastyle and oak veneer cabinetry that ties in with that in the ensuite. The Cox tapware is by Paini and the Luv sink is by Duravit.

Having resided here for two years, Andrew calls it an experiment in living. “Now we know what these spaces mean in terms of the dimensions, and how it feels for us as designers going forward into other jobs and spaces,” he says. “We know what works, so it gives us a point of reference that’s pretty cool.”
Now a member of the AW Architects practice, Jessica took charge of the interior design. Her creation of simple, calm colour and material palettes using natural and restrained inclusions is a nod to the natural beauty of the home’s surroundings. “I wanted the interiors to be made from honest materials and feel very serene,” she says. This is perfectly juxtaposed by structural interest, such as the wing walls and built-in furniture.

TOP Zoe brought a little colour into her sleep space with a feature wall in Resene Half Wax Flower, which creates a nice, warm glow at the end of hallway. ABOVE In the couple’s soothing suite, a pristine white duvet cover and pillowcases from Città team with an Ava throw from A&C Home. Their wardrobe is a Spectrum Eco wardrobe by Plytech, with leather pulls custom-made by Buxeda that are repeated in the kids’ rooms, a hall cupboard and the sideboards in the living and dining areas.

Although future expansion is in the back of Andrew and Jessica’s minds, they can’t help but be reminded how good they have it right now. “We thought it’d be nice to have pods for a gym or yoga studio, but we always return to the fact that we have about 10 more years of the children living at home and the house should accommodate our future requirements when space opens up,” says Andrew. “So even though we have grand ideas, we keep coming back to asking ourselves, ‘Do we need to do that?’ We hope the house will accommodate us for a long time.” 

Words Catherine Steel
Photography Sam Hartnett

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