This $155K Tiny House in New Zealand Was Inspired by a Couple’s Cycling Tour

This $155K Tiny House in New Zealand Was Inspired by a Couple’s Cycling Tour

By Mandi Keighran
A simple, gabled form and clever storage define this compact one-bedroom home in Wanaka, New Zealand.

Most are familiar with the luggage of living—the countless bits and pieces that we inevitably collect over a lifetime. And, these days, it’s something that many are trying to minimize.

New Zealand–based couple Will and Jen realized that they didn’t need a lot of possessions to be happy after living out of pannier bags on months-long cycling tours. While looking for a site to build a new home, they moved several times before making the decision to downsize their lives into a 30-square-meter footprint.

The home is defined by a simple, gabled form clad in asphalt shingles and larch weatherboards. Thanks to a combination of passive house measures and structural insulated panels, virtually no additional energy is required to maintain a consistent level of thermal comfort against the backdrop of the unforgiving New Zealand alpine climate.

"I think there is a growing appetite to live at a smaller scale without it having to be a ‘frugal’ statement," says Will. "Every time we opened our storage boxes [after moving], we’d ask, ‘why bother keeping all this stuff?" So, they engaged the services of their good friend and neighbor, Barry Condon of Condon Scott Architects to design their compact, one-bedroom home.

"I love the simple gabled form and its contrasting claddings, with the dark asphalt shingles contrasting with the warmth of the wood," says architect Barry Condon.

"The clients’ cycling trips made them realize that they could live a comfortable life with very little extraneous ‘stuff,’ and they were motivated by the freedom of living with less," says Condon. "The brief was for a 30-square-meter footprint and a volume that didn’t feel tight or frugal—and the client was resolute that the design had to meet this criteria. At first, I thought it was a bit ambitious, and I actually tried a few times to make it a little bit bigger—but the client would always push back. It was interesting for me, because normally with clients I’m the one trying to reduce size!"

The home opens out to the private garden to the north and remains closed to the road and neighbors on the south side. A deck connects the home with a single-car garage.

Located on a quiet, suburban street in Wanaka, a small alpine resort town on New Zealand’s South Island, the resulting home is defined by a simple, gabled form with a striking silhouette. The restrained and functional external cladding—a combination of asphalt shingles and larch weatherboards—emphasizes the archetypal form. "Given the relatively small size of the house, a simple gabled form was considered to be the most striking and effective form to contain the design," says Condon.

Asphalt shingles wrap around the east facade and onto the roof, allowing the home to be read as a simple, visually unified form.

The suburban site is bounded by streets on two sides, so privacy was a key consideration that informed the dramatically contrasting facades. The south, east, and west facades are almost entirely blank, while the north facade is entirely glazed. The glazed facade brings a feeling of lightness and airiness to the small home. Minimizing the number of openings on three sides also has the added benefit of making the home as thermally efficient as possible.

Bench seating is built into the exterior of the home, beneath the living room window. Deep eaves, clad in larch timber, protect the interior from the strong sun in the summer months.

"In the southern hemisphere, the North is where the sun comes from—so it made sense to glaze this facade and invite in as much passive solar gain as possible," says Condon. "Overheating is tempered by the deep eaves, which cut out the worst of the hot summer sun."

The large deck space acts as an outdoor living area in the warmer months. Exterior heaters allow the space to be used for outdoor entertaining on cooler evenings. It is constructed from FutureWood, a sustainable composite product made from sawdust and recycled plastic.

The home is accessed via a large wooden deck, which doubles as an outdoor living space during warmer months. The glazed entry door leads directly to the main double-height living space, from which the entire home is visible—the kitchen/dining space is to the right, the bathroom and storage are at the rear of the space, and a bedroom on a mezzanine level overlooks the ground-floor living space.

The only door to the exterior is the main entry door, which leads from the deck directly to the living space. Large windows in the glazed facade open to the garden. 

The living room features a timber-clad wall that echoes the timber used in the south facade. 

In such a small space, it was essential to build in enough storage to avoid clutter. "The design concept was envisioned as a crafted joinery box with not a morsel of space wasted," says Condon. "Spring-back drawers pull out of each step tread, and more storage is concealed under the kitchen joinery in the toe space."

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Ample storage is built into every corner of the home— from the stair treads to the kitchen counter. Since the client moved in, a ceiling fan and portable heater have been sufficient on both the warmest and coldest days. The Smappee smart energy monitoring system shows a consistent ambient temperature within the house of 20°C (68°F).

The stairs lead to the bedroom, which is located on a mezzanine in the gabled roof space. The bedroom overlooks the living room on one side, while a small window on the other side of the room allows additional natural light to enter the space while maintaining privacy.

The budget for the couple’s home, excluding the carport and the landscaping, was approximately $250,000 NZ (about $155,000 USD). "The most expensive part of the build was the structural insulated panels, from which the home is constructed," reveals Condon. "They were worth it though, as the increased insulation value means that ongoing running costs for heating and cooling are very low."

The south elevation features a single glazed section, which maintains privacy for the homeowners. It also increases the thermal efficiency of the home in a location that experiences extremes of temperature, with hot dry summers that top 35°C (95°F) and cold winters where the temperature often drops below freezing.

A BIM model with a precise cutting pattern was produced for the panel fabricator, which allowed for accurate pricing of the home’s superstructure—which was a major factor in ensuring the house came in on budget.

The fully glazed north face overlooks a private garden to the rear. This large area of glazing allows natural light to fill the home.

"Trying to pack all the essentials of a larger home into a tight space so there is no compromise on comfort was challenging," says Condon. "But there is room for artwork, a full-sized fridge, two large couches, and a coffee table—and the client loves the home!"

Unsurprisingly, so do others—the project has received a number of awards, including the New Zealand Institute of Architects 2019 Southern Architecture Award and a bronze award at the 2019 Designers Institute of New Zealand Best Awards.

Floor plans of Kirimoko Tiny House by Condon Scott Architects.

Elevations of Kirimoko Tiny House by Condon Scott Architects.

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