Architect Julian Guthrie’s Cowey House renovation continues a convo between what was and what is

In association with First Windows & Doors.

Amid an outlook of dappled green with a soundtrack of chirping cicadas and the thwack of tennis balls coming from the club behind the hedge, it’s easy to forget you’re fairly close to the central city when you’re standing on the deck of this home in Remuera, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland.
When asked whether he considers himself a mid-century enthusiast, its owner and architect Julian Guthrie says, “Absolutely, yes! I really love the early modernism. There were exciting, experimental things happening internationally and here in New Zealand, resulting in some lovely little places. Typically, they were simply built and modest in scale, but a lot of the language of the architecture of that time still feels fresh and interesting.”

TOP & ABOVE Relocating the entryway has proved a success in terms of both form and function. Inspired by the Parker hotel in Palm Springs, California, the couple faced the existing concrete block wall with one made from breeze blocks. The rust-coloured door’s handle is a vintage 1stDibs score and the artwork behind Monty toning in with it all is by Stephen Bambury.

During the hunt for a place to call home with his wife Georgie Robinson (who owns clothing label Stella & Gemma) and their blended family, Julian was thrilled with the discovery of this vintage gem, designed by late Christchurch architect Don Cowey and tucked away in a suburban valley. It was close to its original condition, so a coat of paint and the removal of the mouldy carpet made it more liveable while Julian took the opportunity as ‘live-in architect’ to work out the best approach for a sympathetic update.
He says moving in with his then new fiancée and four children between them was “a bit of a social experiment”, and they figured a pool would be an ideal tool to help the kids bond. This became the catalyst for tackling the basement level of the home in the first part of a two-stage project.

TOP & ABOVE Julian and Georgie took their colour cue for the front door from the original brick fireplace and continued the theme with pops of rust throughout the house, which is filled with mid-century finds. “When you arrive at an existing building, it’s all about finding the parts that are worth keeping and making it special by celebrating those aspects,” says Julian. “Then it’s about how the new parts of the building speak to that — whether they defer or contrast to it. There’s a number of valid approaches, and I guess that adds to the challenge of how to bring old and new together in an exciting way.”

One of the many things about this property that appealed to Julian and Georgie was its large, level lawn and leafy view. “It’s got a slight feel of [West Auckland’s] Titirangi in the centre of town, so it’s quite a special site,” says Julian. “We loved the true modernist details of the house, and aimed to keep and enhance them while retaining as much of the garden as possible.”
Extending the basement out to the line of the pavilion above maximised the home’s floor area, eliminating the need to extend the overall footprint. “In a fairly complicated construction sequence, we propped up the house on steel beams and had a bulldozer drive around underneath it, digging out the space directly under our feet for six weeks, while the dust drifted up between the floorboards,” says Julian. “We got through it, though!”

ABOVE In the galley kitchen, a bank of walnut cabinetry was built into the back of the fireplace and contrasted with simple stainless steel and polished concrete to give this zone a minimalist appeal that doesn’t detract from the view. The couple’s passion for collecting local art continues here with a photo by Jae Hoon Lee over the bench, a painting by Judy Millar on the wall and a photo by Bill Culbert opposite it (far right).

Laying this groundwork resulted in a teenage-friendly downstairs zone with two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living space and easy access to the new pool, and shored up the house structurally ahead of stage two of the renovation — going up. In this phase, the original pavilion was reorganised to make way for a new entrance and stairwell linking the lower level at the western end of the house, and to accommodate two more kids’ rooms and a bathroom in the eastern wing — all while preserving the central living space, where a lounge, dining area and galley kitchen circulate around the original brick fireplace and connect to decks on all sides that have been reworked to cantilever out over the pool.

TOP Each of the zones in the open-plan living space has its own vibe created by layered art, furnishings and fixtures. “It’s nice to find pieces that are true to the project, rather than the hipster flavour of the month,” says Julian. “We searched international mid-century websites for pendant lights and found this 1970s fitting by Gaetano Sciolari for the dining area. The latest release from Milan might have been fabulous, but it wouldn’t have related to the rest of the house so well.” ABOVE The large-scale artwork on the wall in the living area is a photo by Ann Shelton from her A Library To Scale series. “The renovation has transformed what this building is like to live in — it’s such a comfortable home now,” says Julian. “The reasonably low ceilings and exposed beams give it a warm feel that’s enhanced now the house is so open to the sun; it moves around the interior from sunrise to sunset.”

“I looked at a number of schemes for fitting in one more bedroom pavilion, but kept coming back to the feeling of wanting to preserve the land around the house,” says Julian. “In the end, we put the main bedroom on the top at the far, eastern end of the house, giving it a sense of being its own lofty retreat where we can escape it all.”
For this new rooftop hideaway, Julian made the decision to design a single form clad in one material, aluminium — paired with Metro Series aluminium joinery from First Windows & Doors — to make it distinct from the brick, concrete block and timber of the old house. On this level, the elevated outlook over the treetops is enhanced by north-facing stacker sliding doors that frame the view. Windows wrap around to the western side, where they capture the last light of the day.

TOP A combination of First Windows & Doors Metro Series stackers, windows and louvres gives the couple’s sleep space amazing access to the outdoors. The western window (seen here on the left) slides right along, and outside there’s an external aluminium shutter you can roll across. “It’s a lovely way to control the light and heat coming into the room in the afternoon,” says Julian. ABOVE “The Flax Pod powdercoated joinery from First Windows & Doors has a different feel to the original timber joinery, which has a lot of transoms and divisions,” says Julian. ”We achieved a really minimalist look with large areas of glass, crisp detailing and Elemental hardware, and folded all the wall linings upstairs, so it’s extremely minimal, to differentiate from the character of the other parts of the building.”

“Rather than having a bedroom balcony, which most people say you never actually use, we opted for floor-to-ceiling doors, then set a half- height piece of frameless glass into the Metro Series joinery, so it reads as fully open but the glass stops you toppling out,” says Julian. “The feeling of opening the sliding doors is dramatic and beautiful, and it lets in lots of fresh air.”

TOP An aluminium canopy wraps around the outside of the addition to take a bit of the heat off the top level of the house. ABOVE “In the northern part of New Zealand, where we’re often dealing with heat and humidity, I think louvres are an almost tropical architectural response,” says Julian. “They’re a fantastic way to get excellent natural ventilation in a room and they integrate beautifully into the joinery.” Echoing the kitchen, walnut panelling has been used for the wall behind the bed.

In the ensuite, some good luck with regards to the positioning of the neighbours’ place gave the couple the opportunity to make the windows here similar to those in their bedroom. “The joinery has been beautifully arranged, so when you’re lying in the bath, you can slide open the door, look out to the trees and listen to the native birds that flock around here,” says Julian. “It’s really quite special.”

TOP & ABOVE Louvre windows by First Windows & Doors also make an appearance on both sides of the ensuite, providing cross-ventilation. The colour of the veins in the vanity is another nod to the rust of the overarching colour palette. “We were looking for something that we hadn’t seen used a lot, and that had that relationship with the rest of the house,” says Julian of the Mare Giallo Quartzite from Artedomus.

Again speaking the mid-century lingo, Julian’s eye for detail is evident in the repetition of forms and materials that communicate between vintage and modern in an appealing way. Wherever new elements feature, there’s always a reference back to the original building or the era.

ABOVE “The garden was very overgrown when we bought the property,” says Julian. “The house looked straight into a 6m hedge! I started lowering it and pulling out the vegetation, but have kept the key specimen trees.” With the assistance of Humphreys Landscaping, the overhauled garden was established around a flat, north-facing area, where the team was able to add a pool that gives the ground floor a personality of its own. A floating staircase draws you up to the decks on the main level of the home, providing flow between the floors without the need to step inside.

“I was conscious of refreshing the house as a celebration of its 50th anniversary,” says Julian. “I hope that through us staying true to its mid-century spirit, in another 50 years, people will still be able to say, ‘Gee, that feels great.’”

Words Alice Lines
Photography Simon Wilson

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