Werry House bach by Bonnifait & Giesen Atelierworkshop Architects is designed for happily ever after

In association with First Windows & Doors.

In the coastal town of Paekākāriki, an unassuming plot of land has had a major upgrade from its previous life as a driveway. Here, where the birdsong is all around, interrupted by the occasional whoosh of wings as tūī and kererū swoop between the trees, Wellington’s Pippa and David Werry reap the rewards of the design decisions they and Bonnifait & Giesen Atelierworkshop Architects made for their bach.
Under an hour’s drive from the city and also on the train line, this beachy village is a hotspot for Wellingtonians seeking a sea change, and in recent years available land for building has become much harder to get your hands on. For this particular project, a section was secured when an accessway to the property behind it came up for sale, and what was once a long, narrow drive with a couple of clumps of cabbage trees became an opportunity for architects Cecile Bonnifait and William Giesen to express their point of view, which seeks to connect home and landscape through common sense and innovation ­— an approach the Werrys also value. 

MAIN IMAGE Privacy from the road and a space for author Pippa to write in were key requirements in her and GP David’s brief to the architects. Both were achieved through the addition of a studio and garage at the front of the site, which are hidden behind a timber facade. Inserted into this is a boardwalk that leads you into the garden. ABOVE Metro Series bifolds by First Windows & Doors link the kitchen and dining space with the bunkroom across the western deck — a favourite spot in which to soak up the afternoon sun.

“David and Pippa had a nuanced view of sustainability and building in a responsible manner,” says William. “They gave us complete creative freedom to decipher how best to interpret this with their needs and budget in mind.”
Both Paekākāriki residents themselves, Cecile and William are well versed in the patterns of the prevailing north-west and southerly winds here, so a U-shaped courtyard house made sense, creating livable external spaces that cater to the outdoorsy nature of bach life while accommodating those cabbage  trees, the clusters of which Cecile says became an organising tool for the project.
“As architects, we’re constantly making choices,” she says. “In this case, we made one early on in the design process that we’d keep these site elements that were planted by the previous owner and developing well. Precious native trees attracting native birds — what a wonderful feature for the new house!”

TOP Large expanses of north-facing glass usher in light that warms up the insulated concrete flooring. ABOVE Thanks to this passive solar gain, the house stays a moderate temperate most of the time, but the Pyroclassic fire cosies things up even more when it’s really cold outside. Meanwhile, form and function meet in built-in storage included in most of the rooms, like this handsome cabinet.

Bonnifait & Giesen factored future-proofing into their drawings, with a single-level plan and two-stage build that has seen a separate studio added five years after the initial dwelling was completed, taking advantage of the building regulations in the Kāpiti area that allow for a secondary dwelling of up to 50m2. Situated at the front of the property, the recently completed studio functions as an office/bedsit.
An integral part of Cecile and William’s practice, sustainability considerations came into play from the start. “As part of a new generation of architects, we’re acutely aware ofthe impact on the environment of all facets of the construction process,” says William. “This comes into every decision for us: favouring raw materials and components, maximising the orientation, minimising the footprint of service cores, increasing insulation.”

ABOVE Plywood ceilings and walls teamed with the raw concrete floors hand-finished by Pippa and David with Resene Concrete Wax give the bach a suitably informal look and feel that extends to the breezy indoor-outdoor connection created by the generously sized Metro Series openings on three sides of this main living space. Energising red is an accent colour that reoccurs throughout the house, including in the kitchen splashback and fireplace surround.

The footprint of these two dwellings was informed by the site’s topography. Taking full advantage of the east-west axis, the bach’s floorplan spreads along the spine that runs the length of the south side of the property. All rooms are accessed from this spine, with the living areas and bedrooms capturing the all-day sun that streams through large openings by First Windows & Doors that also allow life to spill out onto the decks, walkways and courtyards that join the independent spaces along the northern side of the home.
“Flanked by the garage on one side and the studio on the other, the entrance point from the street is a long and narrow covered boardwalk showered in natural light,” says Cecile. “The walkway opens up to the first lush native garden and a courtyard space large enough to pitch a family tent on.”

ABOVE “The timber screen around the soffits is a detail we’re particularly pleased with,” says Cecile. “It’s something we’ve continued to develop because we like our buildings to have clear, strong forms, and find overhangs with this detail work well from a shading and an aesthetic point of view.“

The journey inside continues informally with bifold doors ensuring fluid transitions between entry and exit, inside and out — a design move that provides locations in which the Werrys’ extended family can spend time together and apart, while still keeping tabs on their younger members via glimpses through picture windows and louvres strategically positioned throughout.
The spine of this home also functions as a device to protect privacy, first revealing the shared living spaces when you enter the front door, then bringing into view the bathrooms, bunkroom and other bedrooms as you travel further down. The size of this house is modest, but its design extends the sensation of occupation from one end of the property to the other. 

TOP Louvre windows were included in the design in response to the weather in this region. “They allow for natural ventilation, which we favour over mechanical in this climate, and give the effect of the wall disappearing when they’re open,” says Cecile. “We’ve offset their lower insulation value by over-insulating all other parts of the building envelope.” ABOVE The view to the studio from the bach’s living space. For the exterior of both abodes, natural anodised joinery by First Windows & Doors was combined with mill-finished aluminium, and cedar cladding that will silver off over time.

Bonnifait & Giesen’s considered approach to designing this multi-generational bach won them a New Zealand Institute of Architects award for this project. Not only have they crafted a winning holiday home, but they’ve also designed holistically for life as the Werry family knows it now, as well as a future in which they hope to be able to enjoy the slower pace of life here full time.

Words Alice Lines
Photography Russell Kleyn

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