Magical mystery

There’s so much more to this home than meets the eye — come inside as we discover its secrets.

Estelle Martin loves how different her Point Wells home is to the others around here. “Neighbours call it the Mystery House because it doesn’t reveal itself from the street,” she says. “There’s always a ‘Wow’ when I show people around.”
This exceptional home was one of the first to be built in a new subdivision in the area an hour north of Auckland that Estelle and her family have lived and vacationed in for more than 25 years. Its design was a collaboration between mother and son — Estelle and her architect offspring Antony, director of Melbourne’s MRTN Architects. Some say you should never work with family, but the process was a treat for them both.

TOP Teamed with grey custom-ordered tiles from Middle Earth Tiles and American oak flooring, the kitchen cabinets are in stained oak veneer. The homeware items on the shelf and bench include a teapot from Babelogue, jug by Stelton from Everday Needs and fruit bowl by Gidon Bing. The chopping board, glasses and stools are from Città and the appliances are Fisher & Paykel. ABOVE The use of black for the roof is intended to make the material read as part form, part shadow, while the cast-in-place concrete wall was formed up using the cedar lining boards, so it appears as a concrete version of the timber cladding.

“Antony came over from Melbourne every four to six weeks during the build, so I really enjoyed spending that time with him and watching him doing what he’s good at,” says Estelle.
Ditto, says Antony. “Working on the house together was a wonderful learning experience. Obviously I was very aware of my mother as a person, but to see her as a client and grow into that, and see the pleasure she received from the construction process, was lovely. I’m thrilled that she loves living here.”
Antony’s work is known for its material-driven approach, and here he’s expertly used shadow as a design material. “A significant element is the heavy overhanging roof,” he says. “There’s an obvious reason for this — to keep water away from the house — but I also love its calming and protective nature, which is very important when designing for your mother. The dark extended eaves embrace the house under shadow and accentuate the surrounding greenery.”

ABOVE “Estelle was fairly specific about her space requirements and how she saw herself using the house,” says Antony. “It became clear to me that she saw the kitchen not solely as a cooking space but rather a space where she ate, read and socialised too. She was comfortable basing herself in it, so we designed it to incorporate cooking, dining and living areas.” The window seat has a lowered ceiling, so it feels as if you’re sitting in a separate box. “I spend most of my evenings in it,” says Estelle. “I have a TV on the wall, which Antony felt spoilt the view from the front door, but I insisted on it.”

Antony’s lifelong experience of the climate here was another prime driver of the architecture. “I was well aware of the importance of cross ventilation, and the need to shelter from the region’s heavy downpours while still being open to the outside,” he says. “We were also conscious about providing various locations around the house where you could be outdoors yet out of the wind, which often changes direction over the course of the day. We addressed this through a complexity in the perimeter of the plan. By creating a lot of movement at the edge, we were able to provide places of refuge and screened views from inside. These nooks and crannies also allowed us to bring the landscape into the house. We wanted Estelle to lose sight of the fact she’s in a subdivision and rather feel like she’s located on an island of green.”

TOP The living and dining area opens onto gardens and a flat lawn. “I wanted to have a mix of natives and tropical plants so I felt like I was on holiday,” says Estelle, adding that the landscaper, Bill Holden, taught Antony at primary school. “It was an interesting situation for both of them with Antony issuing the directives in this case.” ABOVE In contrast to the home’s dark envelope, the use of openings is optimised and permeates the interior spaces with natural light. The cushion seen here on the outdoor chair is from Babelogue.

A cast-in-place concrete wall screens the home’s entry, with cedar framing the composition on each side. This exterior cladding continues to become the interior wall lining, complemented by locally made glazed tiles — part of a pared-back colour palette (with differing textures for interest) that doesn’t compete with Estelle’s art collection and ensures the garden views remain an emphasis. The interior’s split-gable form divides the floor plan into two wings connected by a glazed link, with Estelle’s living quarters and office at one end and a guest wing at the other; when it’s not in use, Estelle can shut off this part of the house completely. A glass hallway runs the length of the dwelling, stepping down towards the back wall, which opens to the north-facing garden.

TOP “The 1000m2 site is very flat, so creating various floor levels as you move from the front of the house to the rear garden helps create a sense of topography and varies the view,” says Antony. A change in materials subtly announces the transition between spaces. Other special features in the home also make themselves known gradually. For example, says Estelle, “there are repeating themes, such as the black metal trim on the floating step in the glazed link and then as a detail in the kitchen. I love walking in the front door and seeing the large kitchen window and the garden beyond that. The house doesn’t give any indication of it from the street, so it’s another surprise.” ABOVE Both bathrooms were designed not with shower screens but as a series of connected chambers. The minimal material palette in each features timber, stone and glazed tiles, the latter selected for their bronze pearlescent finish, which reflects the light and surrounding colours, creating a constantly changing impression of the true hue of each room.

“The scale of the house is fascinating,” says Antony. “It appears relatively small, but keeps opening up as you move through it. By the time you’re in the garden looking back, it’s hard to believe it’s the same home you saw from the street.”
“There’s a lot of added interest that doesn’t reveal itself immediately,” says Estelle. “For example, the house has three different ceiling heights and the hallway has several different widths. The bottom of the hall cupboard extends to become a seat, and the bottom of the bathroom vanity extends to become a seat or shelf.
“The element of surprise and originality of the design make it my special place,” she says. “This project has taught me that it is possible to build a quality home within budget, that it can be fun and rewarding, and that your children know a whole lot more than you think they do!”   

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Simon Wilson

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