Renovation project with Dorrington Atcheson Architects

At heart, architects always want to build new. Particularly when it comes to their own homes, their heads are brimming with ideas they’re itching to trial. Renovations are a compromise, and Tim Dorrington of Dorrington Atcheson Architects felt no differently, but with his wife, photographer Emma-Jane Hetherington, pregnant with their first child, it was a case of needs must. This was no time for flights of fantasy.
The couple had been living in a cottage in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland’s Arch Hill, which involved navigating three flights of stairs to access all areas. It was impractical, so when a bungalow in Westmere within easy walking distance of good co-ed public schools came up for private sale in their price range, they jumped at it. “In my uni days, I had a friend who lived in the area,” says Tim. “Back then, I thought it was the back of beyond.” He never imagined he’d spend 17 years here as his eventual two children (Jasper, now 16, and Charlotte, 14) grew up.

MAIN IMAGE A wall between the sunroom and living room was replaced by a divider that’s filled with a collection of glass art that began with two ashtrays inherited from Tim’s grandads. “Our friend Jason Ward built the divider and the unit in the lounge,” says Emma-Jane. “He was very proud that no nails were needed in the divider because every piece was so accurately cut.” TOP & ABOVE Two renovations later and the kitchen now has bifold doors leading to a north-facing deck. Phoenix bar stools from Cintesi pull up to the honed granite island bench, while selected alcoves within the cabinetry are backed by coloured panels, against which treasures including a House Bird by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra (top) and an incense holder by Walk in the Park (bottom) are displayed.

In basically an original state, the three-bedroom, one-bathroom dwelling with a big backyard had potential. Rooms led off a central hallway, the kitchen faced south, the main bedroom was in the best corner for north-west sun and there was labyrinthine access to the garden. “The whole planning was arse about face; it was one of the hardest design challenges I’ve ever had,” says Tim.

ABOVE The fibreglass fish in the sunroom is a replica of the biggest snapper Tim’s ever caught. His mum’s old kauri table is teamed with Cesca chairs by Marcel Breuer and on the bench seat’s stripy retro squabs are cushions from Città.

He tried not to be overwhelmed by the upside-down, back-to-front illogicality of it all and instead focused on the plus points. Although it was tempting to throw themselves into huge debt to effect the transformation, Tim and Emma-Jane opted for a slow and steady approach. A four-stage design plan was developed, with a focus on creating two view shafts — one north-south from the back garden through the guts of the dwelling to the bay, and the other east-west, when an upper storey would be added to take advantage of the nearby park and cityscape.

ABOVE Emma-Jane and Tim wanted a soft, playful, modular couch they could put together in different ways, so this Italian Modernist Camaleonda sofa by Mario Bellini for B&B is the business paired with a coffee table by Isamu Noguchi and a kidney-shaped side table Tim found in a second-hand shop. The wall behind is dedicated to depictions of animals.

Stage one, in which they invested $100,000, happened quite quickly. Walls were moved and sliding doors instated to create a more open-plan environment, where the couple could have eyes on their then-young children, Jasper and Charlotte. Stage two (the addition of a garage and north-facing front yard), stage three (landscaping and re-planning the backyard and pool) and stage four (popping the roof to build an upper level) took ages. Although Emma-Jane had cut her entry journey of three flights of stairs in half, it wasn’t ideal. She still had to struggle up the outside stairs with a pushchair. “The house was also compromised by being on a busy road, but we loved its elevation, so we quickly got used to it,” she says.
At the end of their first year in residence, the pair threw a party, at which Tim and a friend sat on the roof and raised a toast to what became stage five —the 360-degree view proving so special that a roof deck was thrown into the mix.

ABOVE This generous space has had many iterations for living and dining but is now simply home to an artwork by Oliver Marsden, a Gretsch guitar, and a lounge chair and ottoman by Charles and Ray Eames from Mr Bigglesworthy — although Shadow the dog prefers to sit on the rug by Nodi.

Today the home is a well-lived-in, well-loved expression of architecture meets art meets full-on family activity, where spaces have metamorphosed to embrace the changing times. Downstairs, there’s still the 1920s flavour, with panelled ceilings, rehung doors, deep skirtings, hardwood floors (including a smudged spot where the toilet was removed) and a DIY sunroom overlooking the street, in which the casement windows aren’t quite uniform.
An ever-evolving shopping and to-do list is written in marker pen on the glazed splashback behind the east-facing kitchen. Tauhou/wax-eyes flitting in the cabbage trees outside have a bird’s-eye view of the daily menu. “This is the second iteration of the kitchen, and it’s basically an inversion of the first,” says Tim. By this he means that what once was black is now white, and vice versa. The black granite bench is cool and sleek, while splashes of ice-cream colour enliven the back of the open shelves amid the lacquered white cabinetry.

TOP A new open-tread staircase leads past the office and up to the main bedroom suite. It features gaboon-ply treads and a yellow-cedar balustrade; the original flooring below it is mataī. ABOVE In the main bathroom, the couple used chocolate-brown mosaic tiles on the floor, walls and ceiling for an immersive feel. An Aēsop incense burner, shampoo and conditioner encourage mindfulness alongside the vintage clawfoot bath from Great Baths that they had re-enamelled; it’s draped with a Beppu bathmat from Baina.

The roomy entrance hall, which Tim admits some might term “a generous waste of space”, has been many things. “These days, it’s more of a thoroughfare, but we once had the dining table here and then a couple of big couches for the kids to lie on.” Every December, it comes into its own when the couple gather all the tables from around the house, line them up from inside to out on the deck, throw tablecloths over the top and host a ‘Friendsmas’ lunch for several families.

TOP Sun floods into the main bedroom, where the earthy tones of the bedding by Dehei and cushions from Città are cut through with a bright yellow lamp by Douglas & Bec (now Snelling Studio). Pablo the cat is captured living his best life below a mobile by Walk in the Park. MIDDLE A fern in a Sky Planter by Boskke from Simon James has been growing strong in the ensuite for 10 years. Cabin towels from Città support the green theme. ABOVE An artwork by David Bromley hangs on the landing, where the laundry is behind closed doors. The ‘R’ light jokingly references the couple’s nickname; they call themselves ‘the Ringtons’ due to their surnames being Hetherington and Dorrington.

Added seven years after the pair moved in, the upstairs level is a contemporary insertion. It floats above the entrance hall at the top of a slanted, open-tread staircase. “It was designed as a big, black box hanging out the back, so we could grab the view to the east,” says Tim. An expensive structural upgrade was required to support this design move. “One night in a storm, when the whole thing was shaking, I thought, ‘I hope the engineer got it right,’” recalls Emma-Jane.

ABOVE Norfolk pines near the local tennis courts tower over the house, while in the foreground a dragon tree is thriving. The extension is clad in random-width cedar shiplap oiled with dark Resene Wood-X, and you can see a sculptural artwork by Jodi Newnham for Swag Design hanging on the wall inside.

With its 2.4m stud, the mood up here is light and airy. It’s very much an adults’ zone, with Emma-Jane’s office and a hidden laundry alongside the main suite. Every morning, the couple wake to a view over park-side suburbia and the city skyline. “I never get tired of it,” says Emma-Jane. After Tim has pushed their charcoal labrador off the window seat, he might practise meditation on a Shakti mat. The soft thwack of tennis balls from the courts next door gives him a sound to focus on.

ABOVE From above, the new black box is seen as a disruption of the pretty little white bungalow. “It aggressively pushes out from the house and cantilevers to create a master suite, the roof deck and a covered sitting area to the rear garden,” explains Tim. The placement of the box means the bedroom has a view east over Cox’s Bay through a 2.2m x 2.2m window. Equipped with an Outo chair and side table by Toou from Città, the roof deck is private for sunbathing and has a modular garden from Stormwater 360 planted with hardy muehlenbeckia and flaxes.

Through the decades, this home has filled up with things that spark joy (many more than Marie Kondo would approve of). These keepsakes mark moments in time. There’s the wall of ‘animal art’ in the living room that includes a poster of sardines picked up in Portugal, a bird print Tim gave Emma-Jane for an anniversary and a comical portrait of Zoe, a late family cat. There’s the assortment of glass art alongside a collection of vinyl records. Displayed on a built-in room divider, the glass is beautifully backlit by the rays that stream in through the sunroom. Mid-century finds including an Eames House Bird and a modular candleholder from Mr Bigglesworthy are also part of the mix, along with Moroccan bowls, a penguin jug from Buenos Aires… the eclectic list goes on.

TOP A Secto 4200 pendant light by Seppo Koho from Simon James hangs in the stairwell in front of a painting Tim received from his parents for his 21st birthday. “It’s of a wharf in Plimmerton that I did a heap of fishing off as a child,” he says. ABOVE Emma-Jane and Tim relax on the deck off the landing on the second floor. “I like the rusted roof that slices through the view,” says Tim. “It’s a nice urban composition.”

But by far their most treasured collection is the memories of good times, in both the little niceties of the everyday and the grand planned occasions like the rooftop cocktail party they threw for Emma-Jane’s 40th birthday. “I love being part of this neighbourhood,” she says. “There’s a real sense of community, from people who walk past and say hi, to having the local kids around to play in the pool or the rumpus room.”
Now that she and Tim have teenagers on their hands, this basement playroom — the last space to be renovated — has become an essential in the repertoire. Tim still harbours dreams of building from scratch, but it remains not quite the right time. “It’s great to see how this house adapts and works,” he says. Familiarity breeds content.

Words Claire McCall
Photography Simon Wilson

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