This Moody New Zealand Home Overlooks the Black Sands of Piha Beach
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This Moody New Zealand Home Overlooks the Black Sands of Piha Beach

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By Lauren Jones / Photos by Patrick Reynolds
On New Zealand’s rugged west coast, a family’s brooding beach house opens up to the surrounding canopy and ocean views.

Amid the jagged rocks, pounding surf, and black sand of Western New Zealand’s Piha Beach resides a family home that reflects its wild, brooding surroundings. Seated at the base of a steep slope and surrounded by towering Pohutukawa trees—known locally as the Christmas tree of New Zealand due to its red blooms—Kawakawa House echoes the volatile, masculine coastline on which it resides. 

The black, steel-framed residence has a Western red cedar skin brought in from Canada, chosen for its ability to withstand tumultuous environments.

"The oceans in New Zealand are thought of as male and female," explains Lance Herbst, principal of Herbst Architects. "The eastern coast has white-sand beaches and blue waters, while the west is angry and dramatic." 

Light floods into the indoor/outdoor living area. 

The homeowners, well-versed in architectural principles and on their fourth custom home, came to Herbst with a loose directive in mind: build a modern beach home they could use through every season of the year. While there was a home already on their lot, it was only suitable for summer usage, and it lacked a direct sightline to the ocean. 

While located on the beach, this home offers enough functionality to act as a second family home any time of the year. 

Herbst and his team got to work, replacing the existing home with one that would take full advantage of its unique landscape, ultimately yielding a 2,000-square-foot, three-bed, two-bath home. 

The most important aspect of designing this home was capturing the views from every angle. By placing the home on stilts, Herbst was able to make the best use of the surroundings. 

The first decision was to plan for a raised upper level, creating a tree house of sorts, to increase the light and provide better views. 

Herbst leaned on a traditional New Zealand palette, going for natural materials, neutral tones, and hints of dark green. A leather Liaison Sofa sits opposite the Journal Table by Nonn and Parallel Chairs, all from Simon James. In the kitchen hang Fisherman Pendants by Zero for Simon James, a nod to the ocean setting. 

"The trees are tall, and thus the land was very sun-challenged," he says. "The sun is also edited by the mountain behind it. It’s this encapsulating canopy of trees that soars high above both floors that creates a very intimate relationship. Essentially, we wanted to make all functions, especially on the upper level, have interaction with trees." 

The raised second level features floor-to-ceiling windows that wrap around its entirety. There’s a living space with an enclosed veranda with a large sliding glass window, a fireplace, and a barbecue. A big steel plate on the exterior is the perfect spot for guests to lean up against or place their drinks on. 

The bunk room is a clever addition to maximize sleeping quarters, while keeping the footprint as small as possible. 

"The prevailing winds on the west coast can be relentless and cold," he says. "We wanted to make an outdoor space that was protected from the winds." 

This open central courtyard also lifts the focus from the slanting roofline to the canopy above. In between, there is a bunk room with four beds, a casual and comfortable nook for future grandchildren. 

The peaceful master bedroom feels secluded, but stays connected with the tree canopy.

"Their grown daughter may come for the weekend with friends, or people may come for dinner and make a night of it," he says. "It is a 45-minute drive from [Auckland]." 

The rest of the home is occupied by the two other bedrooms which sit in each corner, the unique roofline folding in to demarcate the ceiling and draw the eye up. 

Constructed from all-natural, sustainable building materials, this home fades into its background and provides protection from the weather. 

When it came to colors and materials, Herbst went with what felt right for the beachside community. "Black is a really understood color in New Zealand, and it’s used everywhere," he says. "We also brought in this jade green, a traditional color linked to the Maori culture. It felt appropriate for the west coast and its history." 

While Herbst doesn't typically construct step-in bathtubs, this project led the team to work on as small a scale as possible as to balance the supporting stilts. 

The ceilings and cabinetry are built with stained birch plywood, while the floors, decking, and bunks are natural spotted gum, a plant native to Australia. "The soft woods take the stain very well, and you have a strong grain of timber and depth of blackness onto the wood," says Herbst.

In combination with furnishings from New Zealand designer Simon James, the result is a year-round beach retreat that pays homage to its unique locale.

Related Reading: 

This New Zealand Architect Created a House That Looks Like a Tiny Village    

10 Breezy Bachs That’ll Have You Running to the Beach

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Herbst Architects / @herbstarchitects

Contractor: Riggans Contractors

Structural Engineer: Sullivan Hall

Landscape Design Company: Second Nature

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