Macintosh Harris’s Piha House has grandstand views front and back

A lunch invitation to Geoff and Rose Creighton’s beach house is a hot ticket, well worth the drive out to Piha. Fishmonger Geoff has access to the freshest kaimoana around, and is known for throwing the odd crayfish on the barbie. He also whips up a mean whitebait fritter. The secret to a good fritter is not to over-egg it, he says. “I use only the egg whites — otherwise it’s an omelette.” The secret to a good holiday house is along the same lines: keep it low-key, with more of the essence and fewer trappings.

TOP The view towards Lion Rock sits directly in the frame formed by the purple-heart pergola and railings. The decking is Vitex and the Mirthe chairs and Tao table by Tribù were chosen to withstand the salty air. ABOVE The waterfront home built by Steve Gould of Probuilt Projects is tied into the bush-clad hill behind it by a rear courtyard garden designed by Andy Hamilton Studio. It features a pathway of purple-heart planks and native groundcovers that are robust enough to walk on. The roof of the home needed to be bulletproof and blend with the background; it’s Euromax aluminium in Dark Grey Metallic, from Ambro Metals.

Memories of wave skiing in the punchy surf in the ’80s flooded back when, 11 years ago, the couple swapped allegiance from Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland’s east coast to the west, and came to look at a property for sale that had “winked at them” on Trade Me. “There’s a comforting sameness to Piha; it doesn’t change from one decade to the next,” says Geoff.
Won over by its waterfront location in this tightly held corner at the southern end of the beach, the couple bought the 1960s concrete dwelling and slowly but surely began to find its foibles. With only retrofitted insulation, it wasn’t the warmest house on the block and although gazing at the sea and sand from the front deck had its merits, the prevailing southwester often made that a windblown trial. Creating useable space in the sheltered area out the back of the property, facing the native bush, would double the holiday fun. All things considered, it wasn’t as easy as tacking on a deck. They decided to start afresh.

ABOVE Constructed from hardy, folded galvanised steel, these stairs connect the upper-floor day room to the lower garden.

Having previously built on Waiheke Island with designers Paul (Macca) and Mandy Macintosh of Macintosh Harris, they knew who to turn to. “In our previous house, we had quite specific input but found when living there that some of the things we wanted provided limitations,” recalls Geoff. This time, they gave a very brief brief: bulletproof materials and a room that would open up to the bush-painted hill to the east.

TOP & ABOVE A copper Neptune 2 shower from Hydra Plumbing Supplies is surrounded by screens made from slender kwila that was cut from larger planks then painstakingly drilled and nailed. The family rinse off in it after they’ve been at the beach — often before jumping in the hot tub to warm up. Geoff made the rope handle himself. “I just bought some rope from a ship’s chandlery, dipped the ends in paint and googled how to tie a monkey knot,” he says.

As to the style of the house, they had faith. The inimitable Macca aesthetic suited them just fine. Pushed to define what that is, Paul is reticent. He doesn’t wish to be maligned with a label, but will throw out cues such as “gables”, “open ceilings” and “texture”. It pays not to “get sucked into a trend that passes in five minutes” is his thinking.
That philosophy is followed so well in this spot that those who pass by the house for the first time would swear it had been here for decades. The double-storey, four-bedroom home occupies the footprint of the original bach, blending into the treescape of the pōhutukawa-lined cliff. Silvery board-and-batten cladding and dark- coloured tray-profile roofing see to that.

TOP To mix up the textures in the entry foyer, Mandy chose Basalt Type B Cat’s Paw tiles from Designsource and Bedford sisal from Artisan Floors. The wall is finished in a charcoal STO plaster render. ABOVE When there’s no supermarket within cooee, you need a fridge-freezer with plenty of storage, like this French door model by Smeg. Overhead, exposed macrocarpa roof trusses with steel structural plates lend an industrial vibe to the aesthetic. Golden Journey by Anna Stitchbury balances dark and light at the top of the stairs, where the walls are lined with butt-jointed cedar planks.

Yet there’s more to this ‘less’ than meets the eye. The exterior skin, made of high-performance Accoya wood (pine that’s been treated so it doesn’t rot), was band-sawn to roughen it up a little and stained the grey tone it’d ultimately have reached in a few years’ time. It has the effect of turning the clock forward. “The house becomes a bit of driftwood on the beach,” says Mandy.

TOP There’s something fishy about the artworks in the kitchen. The painting of the lobster in the scullery was picked up at Fish House Art, a specialist gallery in Syracuse, Sicily. It hangs near the Dick Frizzell print Crayfish Ravioli with Bluff Oysters & Fresh Sevruga Caviar. ABOVE An island bench crafted from iroko brings yet another type of timber into the kitchen’s material palette, while the rear bench features Ceppo di Gris stone from Designsource. The cabinetry here is finished in Liquid Tin by Porter’s Paints and the stainless mixer tap is Cox, from Metrix. Both task and ambient lighting is provided for with Czech cloche pendants from Vintage Industries and a Micro-
HB linear light from Lightplan. The artwork sticks to the marine theme and includes a work featuring mussels and a kerosene lamp by Terry Prince on the left-hand wall, and a photograph by Emma Hoyle. A gift from a friend, the horseshoe has accompanied Geoff and Rose from home to home.

Using wood to full effect is a trademark move, and this gabled dwelling next to the ocean is no exception. The programme is fairly simple: upstairs, the main branch of the L-shaped plan runs roughly east to west and contains the interconnected living zones, while the master suite occupies the shorter arm on a north-south axis. Downstairs, there are more bedrooms and a garage.
A set of iron gates to the side of the home signals the entrance gallery before Anna Stitchbury’s Golden Journey beckons up a flight of stairs. Inside, the first impression is not the light, bright hit of sea and sky one might expect, but a more subdued — warmer — welcome courtesy of a tapestry of timbers.

TOP At the kitchen servery, visitors can take a seat on Osso stools by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec for Mattiazzi from Simon James to watch the cook at work. Gavel adjustable spotlights from Lightplan are practical for evening entertaining. ABOVE  The dayroom is a study in timber and louvred glass that allows the family to enjoy the outdoors whichever way the wind blows. Teamed with antique oak chairs from Corso De’ Fiori, the 3m concrete trestle table from Design Warehouse is perfect for big get-togethers; a Russian ship’s light from Vintage Industries ensures the conversation can
flow well into the night and the Herringbone vase below it is by Phil Cuttance from Everyday Needs.

The exposed post-and-beam structure is made of purple heart. Although its colour might not be your cup of tea, Paul specified it for its strength, not its looks. “The builder needed a block and tackle to lift it,” he says. “It’s great for the edges and corners.” Macrocarpa roof trusses pair with this South American hardwood so the interior has the feel of an upscale barn.
The owners are no fans of plasterboard, and Paul and Mandy were happy to oblige. The walls and ceilings are lined in butt-jointed cedar planks — wide for the walls, narrower on the vaulted ceiling — and lighter-toned American oak flooring finishes off this encasement of wood. Since natural materials are the hero of this set piece, it’s no surprise to find iroko timber and pebbled stone on the same team on the kitchen benches.

ABOVE Waxed blackened steel makes a statement around the fireplace, in front of which is a side table from Corso De’ Fiori.

Mandy, who trained as a graphic designer and has a fine arts degree, says her approach to the interior finishes was to keep the palette restrained. Her method is instinctual, and Piha’s grasses, diesel-coloured sea and strong black sand became her muses. It was she who commissioned the cast-bronze door handle for the front door, used toe-curling sisal on the stairway and discovered the old ship lights that now hang in the kitchen above the hob. Geoff, an accomplished cook, enjoys being in this ‘galley’ when entertaining, with the servery window that connects the kitchen to the much-used dayroom keeping him part of the conversation when friends or the couple’s three adult children — James, Emma and Lucy — are in residence.

TOP With purple-heart railings and Vitex decking, the bridge was designed to connect the house to the land and bush at the back of the property. “And at the front, we have that incredible connection to the beach and the ocean — so the best of both worlds,” says Geoff. The nīkau palm and carex grasses are ornamental and easy-care for a holiday home. A Truffle sofa from Dawson & Co can be seen through the back door. ABOVE A rug bought from Source Mondial 20 years ago softens the engineered oak flooring from Goodwood Flooring that runs throughout the living areas. From here, you get a bird’s-eye view of the surf-lifesaving flags that are constantly on the move in response to the changing tides.

Although the family do spend time on the front deck, watching surfers and beachcombers while shifting the sliding screens for shade, it’s the indoor-outdoor dayroom facing that incredible parade of pōhutukawa that takes the star turn in this production. A careful composition in timber and glass, it has louvres (many of them) for ventilation, clerestories and roof glass facing north to let in as much sunlight as possible. “It’s probably our favourite room in the house,” says Geoff.
A long, concrete-topped table is primed for garrulous gatherings with Te Piha/Lion Rock in the frame beyond the louvres, there’s a fireplace finished in waxed blackened steel to ward off the chills and a bridge that leads from the back door for access to a native wonderland, where landscaper Andy Hamilton has planted so that the house melds organically with its surrounds.

ABOVE Sliding Accoya pine screens can be moved to direct the sea breeze on the deck, where a rattan Slane chair from Corso De’ Fiori is a comfortable place in which to pause and an Infratech outdoor heater is useful in the colder months.

Geoff and Rose have busy lives in the city but when work dies down, they love to jump into their 1966 Mustang to spin out west in style. On a typical weekend, they’ll head to the Piha Store for morning coffee and a bite to eat, then set off on a long walk to clear the cobwebs and explore how Mother Nature has shaped the beach and the rock pools today. Within this dynamic environment, the house is a constant: there will always be somewhere to sit and chew the fat with whānau. They’re content to feel part of this place, their tūrangawaewae. Changeable it may be, but there’s also a real sense of something enduring.

Words Claire McCall
Photography Duncan Innes

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