Pac Studio’s Twin Peaks House project reinvents a Freeman’s Bay villa

Along with Olley Construction and Xanthe White Design, they’ve transformed a rundown rental into a family home that’s wholly unique. 

You don’t need to be a regular churchgoer to appreciate a cathedral-esque space — just ask Sarah Melrose and Gez Johns, whose update of a 1900 villa in Auckland’s Freemans Bay has turned a typical student rental into a glorious, light-filled sanctuary with soaring ceilings they can really look up to. 

ABOVE The couple installed a new fence and grass, and worked with Xanthe White on garden plans they’re rolling out gradually. Sarah says, “We want to feel like when we’re inside we can just see nature, with lots of white and evergreens. We’re not quite there yet, but we’ve got the growing wall and Tecomanthe speciosa climbing up to mimic the protective benefits of the bamboo.”

“We definitely followed the mantra of buying the worst house in the best street,” jokes Network Communication senior account director Gez about their purchase of the home with its nicotine-tinged walls, cheap carpet and mounted TVs in virtually every room; ’80s extension tacked on the back with a ceiling so low you could touch it; and “scary” amount of bamboo framing the garden. At the time, he and Sarah, who’s creative director at branding studio Milk and co founder of gift registry The Lovely, were living in Mt Albert in what had been a state house, but when daughter Stella made three, they needed more space. 

ABOVE Appliances and storage are arranged along the kitchen walls, leaving the island free to function like a piece of furniture and as a multi-purpose zone for food prep, casual dining and entertaining. The oak cabinetry by Sharp & Page concealing the utilities continues up to the ceiling, emphasising the home’s vertical form. Other highlights here are the splashback in Pacific Gris Natural from European Ceramics & Stone, Parma 200 wall light by Astro from ECC, pendant light by Monmouth Glass Studio and stools by Hay from Cult.

With their inner-city purchase came compromise in the form of a smaller section and a house that needed some TLC to make it a home. Although they’d DIYed their Mt Albert abode, Gez says, “It’s fair to say the experience was instructive enough to ensure we knew what to leave to the experts this time around.” The pros they put their faith in were architects Pac Studio, builders Olley Construction and landscape designers Xanthe White Design who, inspired in part by the couple’s admiration of late US designers Charles and Ray Eames’ plant-fringed timber and glass home and studio in LA, replaced the main living, dining and kitchen area at the rear of the house, laid new flooring throughout, upgraded the main bathroom and redesigned the garden. 

ABOVE The Corian benchtop by APT includes an integrated sink to allow even easier cleaning of the seamless surface. The brushed platinum Icon mixer is by Astra Walker from The Kitchen Hub. Open shelving transitions the cabinetry into the dining area; decorating it is an Eames House Bird by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra from Città.

This being a narrow house on a skinny section, Pac Studio had only so much room to devote to reinvention, so they turned their talents to creating the illusion of space. Project lead Liz Tjahjana says, “We had no hesitation in stripping out the failing lean-to to create an extension that would be more sympathetic to the original home, incorporating the parts of villas we love, such as high ceilings and generously proportioned windows. Although the home had flat ceilings, it also had a double-hipped roof, so our key architectural intention was to extend the roofline to form a new extension with a skillion ceiling. The formal gesture of the double-pitched roof has created strong geometries and some beautiful moments. The steel joinery echoes the verticality of the house and roof, and includes bifold doors that open onto the backyard and a covered patio.”

ABOVE The 4.7m-high ceilings and big doors (Wrightstyle suite steel joinery from Southern Steel, zinc-sprayed black) of the extension work together to make the dwelling seem much bigger than it is. Says architect Liz of the home’s ‘twin peaks’, informed by villas’ traditional peaked roofs: “I love that the house is a small but crafted object — it doesn’t lose sight of the main design move.” The extension’s patio cut-out and soffit are clad in stained narrow-profile cedar from Hermpac. The Basket chair and Vimini table are from Studio Italia, the Disc cushion is by Klay from Tessuti and the glassware is by Monmouth Glass Studio.

Inside, every inch is purposeful. The two tall roof forms make the extension feel light and generous, despite the footprint not growing significantly. Other dextrous details that answer the prayer for space include the recess in the living area, which houses appliances without encroaching into the seating zone. Pac Studio designed the built-in cabinetry here to mimic a special sideboard housed in a similar nook in the adjacent dining room.

ABOVE Sarah and Gez are big fans of designer Simon James — their Facile dining table, Seam sideboard and The Knack sofa (the latter is pictured opposite) are all his creations. This artwork is by Karl Maughan, and suspended over the table with Elementary chairs by Jamie McLellan are Dome pendant lights by Monmouth Glass Studio. A central heating system has been ducted under the house and up through iron grilles in the floor.

Minimising the windows on the sides of the house (while maximising the openings at the rear) has provided sacred privacy, and skylights let in still more light yet no prying gazes from the neighbours. To focus the attention on the grand design, the material palette has been tightly edited, the congregation of steel, glass, and cedar and oak timber meeting off-white walls and black accents for contrast. 

ABOVE A bay window forms a TV nook that pops out of the wall. On the sofa are a cushion by Missoni from Tessuti, a bolster from Città and a throw from Madder & Rouge. The paintings are by Amy Unkovich. Sun is Sarah’s religion and this house offers ample opportunities to worship it. “It’s amazing lying on the sofa  looking up at the skylight,” she says. “My favourite thing is when the afternoon sun shines through the doors and hits the oak herringbone engineered timber floor [from Vienna Woods].”
“Working with Pac Studio was great,” reflects Gez. “We loved the double high-pitch effect and were sufficiently drawn into the aesthetic to revisit the bank manager.”
“We had a budget but wanted some hero features, which are the cathedral-like ceiling, steel doors and herringbone flooring — but the biggest thing they did was take a small footprint and make it feel epic,” adds Sarah. 

TOP The spirit of the original home is honoured in the existing leadlight windows, intricate mouldings and board-and-batten detail. Sarah and Gez have recently revamped the bedrooms with the Resene Wan White paint used in the extension, plus new window coverings, wardrobes and carpet. Some of the understated accents in their bedroom include a Random light by Moooi from ECC, photography by Lewis Mulatero, blue pillowcases and a throw from Città, and a Vida duvet by Seneca. MIDDLE Stella’s bedroom is decked out with a bed by Urban Kids, artwork by Penny Stotter and a bolster by Klay from Tessuti, and Tussore carpet from Cavalier Bremworth. ABOVE This renovation also saw the existing laundry separated from the bathroom and rehomed in a nook in the hallway in place of some redundant brickwork. As a result, the bathroom is now spacious and functional, with both a shower and a freestanding bath. “Finding room for a tucked-away laundry and having the dishwasher and fridge behind panelling in the kitchen means we’re not constantly reminded about the more menial aspects of life,” says Gez.

Life here is as you’d expect it to be with two working professionals, an energetic nine-year-old and a “slightly mad” dog — rinse-and-repeat busy but also a lot of fun. “The biggest change is that now when we walk through the door, we feel like we’re home, rather than just back at the house,” says Gez. “The combination of space, wood and greenery provides a pervading sense of calm — at least until you step on a stray piece of Lego or squeaky dog toy that reminds you it’s a home full of life!”   

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Larnie Nicolson

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