written by:
photos by:
May 16, 2011
Originally published in Beach Houses We Love

With authenticity and simplicity as their rallying cry, a Kiwi architect and his wife have built a modern beach house that puts a fresh spin on the local vernacular.

Modern beach house porch in New Zealand
Bach to the Beach

With authenticity and simplicity as their rallying cry, a Kiwi architect and his wife have built a modern beach house that puts a fresh spin on the local vernacular.

Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Beach house living room view of outside
The bach’s beachfront site is nestled behind sand dunes with views toward Kapiti Island, a nature sanctuary.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Dining table kitchen area with open shelves and orange MDF cabinets
The bach was designed with a combined open-plan kitchen, living room, and dining area, for which Gerald designed a dining table that seats ten. Bare bulbs, open shelves, and bright orange MDF cabinets in the kitchen maintain the low-key vibe.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Modern beach house bach exterior
Gerald designed the bach to feel as casual as possible, hence the lack of a paved driveway and garage.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
4 / 30
Roof top view of Kapiti Island
The view of Kapiti Island is fully revealed from the tower.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Outdoor washing line
Gerald wanted the siting of the buildings to appear loose, like a campsite. The gap between the living room and the bedroom wing accommodates a washing line.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Outdoor boat shed with tractor
The site includes a boat shed and a tractor the family uses to pull their boat to and from the ramp.
Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Gary Freemantle painting hanging above a Gerald Parsonson sofa
Will relaxes on the sofa Gerald designed, below a painting by Gary Freemantle.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Modern bathroom with corrugated steel walls
A bathroom with corrugated steel walls opens directly to the outdoors, making it easy to shower post-beach.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Books and board games storage area
With no television in the bach, reading books and playing board games are favorite activities.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Living room with orange cushion chairs
Kate and Gerald relax in the living room.
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matthew williams
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Green narrow staircase
Kate’s father predicted they would never use the crow’s nest–like tower, which is reached by climbing a narrow staircase.
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matthew williams
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Salvaged chair and telescope by the window
Kate and Gerald enjoy the view up there most nights. The chair was salvaged from the original bach on site and reupholstered.
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matthew williams
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Modern beach house exterior in New Zealand
Kayak in hand, Tom and Will make a break for the beach.
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matthew williams
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Family in front of their beach house in New Zealand
The family spends summers and school vacations at the bach. New Zealand's relatively mild winters mean they use the house year-round.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Glassy pavilion outdoor view
The glassy pavilion containing kitchen, dining, and living areas is elevated three feet off the ground on posts so it appears to hover among the dunes.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Kitchen area with orange-painted MDF cabinets
The orange-painted MDF cabinets add a pop of color to the sun-washed kitchen.
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Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Couple prepping food in beach house kitchen
The kitchen in action!
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matthew williams
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Stainless steel countertops near the window
Stainless steel countertops are easy to clean and weightless-looking, helping bounce light around the kitchen.
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matthew williams
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Boys bedroom with bunk bed and rolling ladder
In the boys' room, a rolling ladder provides access to the top bunk.
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matthew williams
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Foosball table in beach house living room
Will and Tom enjoy their other bedroom essential: a foosball table.
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matthew williams
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Couple relaxing outside of their beach home
The Parsonsons' dog takes a breather.
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matthew williams
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Living room with Eames lounger and custom-made orange chair
There are plenty of places to sprawl in the living room, including an Eames lounger and a custom-made orange chair.
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matthew williams
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Guest room with four wooden bunk beds and ladder
The guest room cleverly shoehorns four bunks into a small footprint.
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matthew williams
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Spacious guest room with patterned bed spread
Another guestroom, with a bit more space.
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matthew williams
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Books and lamp by night stand
There's plenty of beach reading on hand.
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matthew williams
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Framed topographic map of Kapiti Island
A topographic map of Kapiti Island hangs in the tower.
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matthew williams
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Descending staircase view of living room
The view as you head downstairs from the crow's nest tower.
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matthew williams
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Minimalist indoor shower with wood panel floor
Will demonstrates the post-beach shower ritual.
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matthew williams
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Porch view of living room in beach house
A view into the house from the porch.

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Photo by 
Courtesy of 
matthew williams
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Modern beach house porch in New Zealand
Bach to the Beach

With authenticity and simplicity as their rallying cry, a Kiwi architect and his wife have built a modern beach house that puts a fresh spin on the local vernacular.

Image courtesy of matthew williams.
Project 
Parsonson Residence

For a small country, New Zealand has a surfeit of coastline: over 9,400 miles of it, more than the contiguous United States (which has roughly 5,000), and enough to allow—in theory at least—more than 11 feet of coastline for every New Zealander. It’s a luxury that has not gone unappreciated, as the country’s long, slim profile means few of its inhabitants live more than two hours’ drive from the coast. With so much of it so close, it’s no wonder Kiwis view time at the beach as a birthright.

If the beach is at the core of the island nation’s identity, so too are the humble vacation homes erected on shorelines during the middle of the last century. These back-to-basics dwellings are known as “baches” (pronounced “batches”), a term derived from “bachelor pad,” because although whole families squeeze into them, the modest buildings best fit a single occupant. If baches had personalities, they would be the laid-back surfer siblings of highly strung city homes: uncomplicated, unpretentious, and, because of their lightweight construction and small size, respectful of their natural surroundings.

Beach house living room view of outside
The bach’s beachfront site is nestled behind sand dunes with views toward Kapiti Island, a nature sanctuary. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
Recent years, however, have spawned a genre of immodest, brand-new beach homes that some owners have the nerve to call “baches” but that are better described as boastful bling. Abuse of the term is a point of contention with architect Gerald Parsonson and his wife, Kate, who were determined that their vacation home in Paraparaumu, a 45-minute drive north of Wellington on the North Island’s west coast, would be not a slicked-up city-style pad but pared back enough to honestly call itself a bach. “We didn’t like the idea of these beautiful dune-lands having big suburban houses on them that were desensitized to their environments,” Gerald says.

Even so, the design of their house was going to be a balancing act. Strip back the romanticism that shrouds authentic baches and you’ll find they provide the bare minimum of shelter and are usually so cramped that when bad weather forces everyone indoors, family meltdowns quickly follow. Gerald and Kate wanted just a little more comfort and, with three children (their sons Tom, Richard, and Will are 20, 18, and 13), a little more space, too: a home that was clearly descended from humble roots but with enough modern conveniences to make staying in it a pleasure, not a chore.

Dining table kitchen area with open shelves and orange MDF cabinets
The bach was designed with a combined open-plan kitchen, living room, and dining area, for which Gerald designed a dining table that seats ten. Bare bulbs, open shelves, and bright orange MDF cabinets in the kitchen maintain the low-key vibe. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
They had a great site to work with. Nestled behind sand dunes with views westward towards Kapiti Island, a nature sanctuary, the dramatic outlook makes it possible to ignore the surrounding suburbs. The family likes to take their motorboat out across the channel for picnics on the islands there, and the water offers terrific fishing, one of Gerald’s favorite pastimes. Even better, the bach is close enough to their Wellington home to allow the family to visit on a whim, and for Kate and the kids to stay there during school vacations while Gerald commutes to work in the city. (New Zealand’s relatively mild winters mean they use the house year-round.)

When they purchased the site in the early 1990s, it was occupied by an old timber bungalow that Gerald says “was rotting and leaking so badly that when you opened a window it would fall out.” Despite its dilapidated condition, the family vacationed there for seven years and, as its leaks grew worse, began discussing what they might build in its place, a process guided by a rigorous keep-it-simple rule. “I wanted something really low key,” Kate says.

Modern beach house bach exterior
Gerald designed the bach to feel as casual as possible, hence the lack of a paved driveway and garage. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
The humble baches that were their design touchstones were not usually designed by architects, which meant that if Gerald was to capture their essence he needed to exercise discretion. He and Kate did not want a house that looked like it was trying too hard. Gerald used Kate as a sounding board as he experimented with design approaches, knowing she would reject anything frivolous or overstated. She nixed an early design featuring folded plywood planes, along with other schemes that strayed too far from the couple’s vision. “When I was heading somewhere that didn’t work, Kate would tell me,” Gerald says.

Gerald considered designing a two-story building with living areas upstairs to maximize sea views, a common strategy of their neighbors, but decided it would make their house feel disconnected from its site. Instead, he designed a group of small buildings that feel casually arranged, like a campsite. The 1,670-square-foot bach is made up of a living pavilion, a connected structure containing three compact bedrooms and a bathroom, and a small separate building containing a guest bedroom and bathroom. More recently, a boat shed and a bunk room have been constructed at the periphery of the property. All these structures are clad in black-stained pine weatherboards or fiber-cement sheet, staple materials of traditional bach construction.

Gary Freemantle painting hanging above a Gerald Parsonson sofa
Will relaxes on the sofa Gerald designed, below a painting by Gary Freemantle. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
While the bach’s ancillary structures are firmly grounded, the glassy pavilion containing kitchen, dining, and living areas is elevated three feet off the ground on posts so it appears to hover among the dunes. A wooden deck and wide steps lead to the lawn and the short path to the sea. “We wanted to lift it enough to get a bit of a view but be connected to the ground so everyone could run in and out,” Gerald says. This pavilion is the hub of family activity, which is just what Gerald and Kate wanted. “Having just one living area means the kids have to hang out with us,” Kate says. Gerald designed a dining table that seats ten, around which the family and a stream of regular visitors sit for meals and cups of tea and coffee. Evening activities include reading and board games. They had discussed the idea of having a television early on—Gerald thought it would come in handy for watching summer cricket matches—but they both ultimately decided against it, viewing the TV’s absence as a key ingredient of authentic “bachiness.”

Outdoor washing line
Gerald wanted the siting of the buildings to appear loose, like a campsite. The gap between the living room and the bedroom wing accommodates a washing line. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
Sensible as it sounds, a keep-it-simple philosophy is not without its pitfalls, the main one being that if too rigorously applied, such an approach can tip into austerity and take the fun out of everything. To combat this, Gerald and Kate decided to incorporate a little playfulness. They experimented with color in ways they wouldn’t have dared in their city home: sea-green surroundings greet visitors in the bach’s entryway while orange cabinetry flares in the kitchen, and deep-red walls lend a womblike feeling to the hallway. “It’s easy to pare things back,” Gerald says. “We also wanted the freedom to be able to give things a go.” He explored the limits of this freedom by installing small orange stained-glass windows in the hallway without telling Kate, fearing she would reject them. When Kate eventually saw them, she says, “they gave me a bit of a fright—I thought it might be gilding the lily.” But Gerald loves the way the late-afternoon sun slices through the idiosyncratic windows. “It really sparks up and makes you feel like you’re inside some sort of creature,” he says.

Modern beach house exterior in New Zealand
Kayak in hand, Tom and Will make a break for the beach. Image courtesy of matthew williams.
The urge to experiment also drove the design of a crow’s nest-like tower above the living pavilion. It’s a space Kate’s father predicted they would never use, but Gerald and Kate spend time in it most evenings they’re at the bach. From here, they can enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sun set over Kapiti Island, use the telescope to follow whales swimming through the channel, and gaze at the night sky: the simple but exhilarating pleasures of life on the coast.

 

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