written by:
photos by:
March 4, 2009
Originally published in Learning From Down Under

On the shores of New Zealand’s Lake Wakatipu, architects Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie designed a relaxed family home that reclines into its spectacular landscape.

When Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie decided to relocate from New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, to Queenstown, on the country’s South Island, they designed a new home for themselves and their three children on a site Ritchie had purchased when he was livin
When Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie decided to relocate from New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, to Queenstown, on the country’s South Island, they designed a new home for themselves and their three children on a site Ritchie had purchased when he was living in the area—a stunning lakeside plot. Working in partnership, the couple devised a home and studio that is separated by a passage through the middle of the building.
Photo by 
1 / 11
New Zealand house with ceder weatherboards
The sunny side of the home is clad in cedar weatherboards and features sleeping quarters on the upper level with living spaces below.
Photo by 
2 / 11
One bathroom features a ladder that leads up to a yoga studio.
One bathroom features a ladder that leads up to a yoga studio.
Photo by 
3 / 11
The kids, Archie, Linus, and Olive, stand in the kitchen, beneath the strand board–clad stairwell that leads to the bedrooms. Kerr and Ritchie initially envisaged rich materials for the interior, but changed their minds in favor of what they call a “carto
The kids, Archie, Linus, and Olive, stand in the kitchen, beneath the strand board–clad stairwell that leads to the bedrooms. Kerr and Ritchie initially envisaged rich materials for the interior, but changed their minds in favor of what they call a “cartoony” approach with cheaper, hard-wearing elements. “We didn’t want the space to feel too grown-up,” Kerr says.
Photo by 
4 / 11
Queenstown gets cold in winter, hence the installation of a sauna. Outside, the landscaping was kept deliberately casual, with rock walls and gravel paths.
Queenstown gets cold in winter, hence the installation of a sauna. Outside, the landscaping was kept deliberately casual, with rock walls and gravel paths.
Photo by 
5 / 11
The home is made up of two parts: a rear wing containing the studio and a guest room, and the north-facing living quarters (which, in the southern hemisphere, attract the most sun) overlooking the lake.
The home is made up of two parts: a rear wing containing the studio and a guest room, and the north-facing living quarters (which, in the southern hemisphere, attract the most sun) overlooking the lake.
Photo by 
6 / 11
The home is mostly clad in black trapezoidal-profile steel, with cedar boards lining what the owners call the “human spaces”—external passages between buildings. A solar hot water system perches on the roof.
The home is mostly clad in black trapezoidal-profile steel, with cedar boards lining what the owners call the “human spaces”—external passages between buildings. A solar hot water system perches on the roof.
Photo by 
7 / 11
Kerr Ritchie Architects’ studio at the rear of the building opens onto a lawn on the lake side of the home. The form evolved during planning from a “modernist box” into a “strong, sculptural” frame.
Kerr Ritchie Architects’ studio at the rear of the building opens onto a lawn on the lake side of the home. The form evolved during planning from a “modernist box” into a “strong, sculptural” frame.
Photo by 
8 / 11
Linus, Archie, and Olive relax on the home’s cedar-lined front deck that opens off the main living area.
Linus, Archie, and Olive relax on the home’s cedar-lined front deck that opens off the main living area.
Photo by 
9 / 11
The main living area. The home is flanked on the east by a precipitous mountain range named The Remarkables. In summer, the weather gets hot enough for the family to go swimming and boating.
The main living area. The home is flanked on the east by a precipitous mountain range named The Remarkables. In summer, the weather gets hot enough for the family to go swimming and boating.
Photo by 
10 / 11
The location on the shores of a small bay means it is sheltered from cold southerly winds. The alpine location provided plenty of inspiration for landscaping, which Ritchie and Kerr elected to keep as minimal as possible, as if the home had landed on its
The location on the shores of a small bay means it is sheltered from cold southerly winds. The alpine location provided plenty of inspiration for landscaping, which Ritchie and Kerr elected to keep as minimal as possible, as if the home had landed on its site with as little disturbance or alteration as possible.
Photo by 
11 / 11
When Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie decided to relocate from New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, to Queenstown, on the country’s South Island, they designed a new home for themselves and their three children on a site Ritchie had purchased when he was livin
When Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie decided to relocate from New Zealand’s capital, Wellington, to Queenstown, on the country’s South Island, they designed a new home for themselves and their three children on a site Ritchie had purchased when he was living in the area—a stunning lakeside plot. Working in partnership, the couple devised a home and studio that is separated by a passage through the middle of the building.
Project 
Kerr-Ritchie Residence

The gorgeous alpine region of Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, has always been popular with domestic visitors. But in recent years the area has seen an international tourism boom, fueled at least in part by The Lord of the Rings trilogy, some of which was filmed here. The sumptuous vistas, excellent vineyards, and exhilarating sense of isolation make a handful of well-off visitors fall so in love with the place that they decide to stay. This phenomenon has spawned an architectural style best described as steroidal, with grandiose homes striving to assert their presence among all the spectacular scenery.

The profusion of megahomes—many of them occupied only a few months of the year—can become depressing. Luckily, a visit to the home of local architects Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie and their children—Archie, seven; Linus, five; and Olive, three—is the perfect antidote to this rectilinear bravado. Here, the duo has dreamed up a building that doesn’t try to compete with its spectacular surroundings but seems genuinely at ease in them. “We wanted to relax and let our house fit the landscape as if it’s reclining into it,” Kerr says.“Elements appear to lounge and gaze out at the view. I like buildings that show human characteristics.”

Good things take time, and there was nothing rushed about this place. Ritchie, who grew up a little south of Queenstown, was working in the area as a surveyor when he purchased the three-quarter-acre plot in 1999. The 15-minute drive south from Queenstown seemed inconvenient to most local people, but Ritchie thought the site made up for this by being more sheltered and sunny than most locations in town. The couple initially contemplated building a “small modernist box” on the site, but those plans were put on hold when they moved north to Wellington for five years so Ritchie could complete a degree in landscape architecture while Kerr continued working as an architect.

The land sat empty while the couple’s plans for it slowly took shape. They started a family, with three children arriving over the next four years. They took note of the idiosyncratic work of the Japanese firm Atelier Bow-Wow. They admired the fluid and relaxed planning of Australian architect Kerstin Thompson, particularly a long, low lakeside home she designed near Melbourne that is an elegant geometric echo of the landscape around it. During their five years away, Kerr and Ritchie made regular visits to the Queenstown property, spending hours beside Lake Wakatipu considering their options. “Our thoughts developed, and the way we worked over that time developed too,” Kerr says. “We gained confidence and tried a few things out. Our response to the landscape became more sophisticated, and the planning and the form gradually became more fluid, more of an intuitive response to the site.”

The end result is a long way from the modernist box they initially envisaged. It is not a home that tries to hide by burying itself in its surroundings or by emulating one of the area’s old barns, a strategy deployed by other local contemporary homes. It is relaxed but still rigorous, with a breezy unorthodoxy all its own. It seems to derive strength from its robust surroundings without attempting to outdo them. “I like our buildings to have a strong sculptural form,” Ritchie says. “We didn’t want a generic cultural interpretation like a barn or a box.”

The 3,000-square-foot home is divided into two parts, linked by an open-air breezeway.  To the right, the passage leads to the rear of the home, with a guest bedroom and bathroom and the studio where Kerr and Ritchie base their practice. To the left are the family quarters, including a large combined kitchen, dining, and living area with a small cedar-lined deck stretching northward to the lake. Up two steps is a snug lounge with a log burner, separated from the other living spaces by bookshelves backed with movable panels. The second floor houses three bedrooms and a bathroom, all with big windows facing the lake. On its eastern flank, the home pulls gently away from the slope to create space for a sheltered courtyard that catches the morning sun. There is no formal area for parking cars, so visitors pull up wherever they like at the end of the unsealed driveway and walk up a loose gravel path to the entrance.

Unlike most of the rest of New Zealand, which is known for its benign climate, Queenstown experiences some of the country’s greatest temperature extremes. Winter days are regularly below freezing, but the mercury can rise into the 80s (Fahrenheit) in the summer. There is, however, still plenty of sun, so Kerr and Ritchie designed their home to retain as much solar heat in its concrete floors as possible. They also insulated the walls with batting made from recycled wool and specified double-glazed joinery for all the windows and doors. Solar panels and a backup boiler fueled by wood pellets—compressed waste from local timber mills—can pump hot water to warm the concrete floor when needed, although the family found that the home’s thermal performance was so good they survived their first winter using only a single log burner. “It was a bit cold in the studio in the mornings,” Kerr says, “but the bedrooms get a lot of sun and were always warm.” On particularly frigid nights, the sauna provides relief.

A need to economize led to Kerr and Ritchie’s choice of bold, simple building materials, but the robust palette feels appropriate in this tough environment. Corrugated concrete retaining walls—their pattern molded from the steel that clads the building—skirt parts of the home and work their way inside the studio and snug lounge.

Inside, tough materials are left behind in favor of more childlike interiors. “We wanted it to be a young person’s house, sort of like a primary school,” Kerr says. They opted not to grind the concrete floor, furnishing the lounge in bright-green carpet deliberately reminiscent of the 1970s, and chose “bold and cheerful” plastic lights and large-chipped strand board for the walls and doors.

Kerr and Ritchie have worked in partnership ever since Ritchie completed his landscape architecture degree, combining their skills to form a holistic design practice that they now deploy on a handful of projects each year. Their open-minded approach of fusing disciplines may explain why their own home sits so naturally on its site. While many of the oversize residences nearby look as if they landed with a tremendous thud, Kerr and Ritchie’s home has touched down gently, enhancing the splendor of its surroundings.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016
Affordable Portland home upper floor wrapped in black corrugated steel
These homes revel in both nature and city life.
February 01, 2016
London bedroom with exposed beams.
These homes show their bones to great effect.
February 01, 2016
Bar in an Amsterdam loft.
Bend an elbow with us at these very local watering holes.
February 01, 2016