Make Your Parents Happy by Building Them a House
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By Jeremy Hansen / Published by Dwell
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This seaside New Zealand house is a family affair.
The concrete wall mimics the slope of the hill outside as a reference to early Maori structures that were dug into the land. The simple kitchen has strandboard cabinetry and an MDF island that conceals a fireplace at one end. The ceramic works on the built-in seat at right are by Raewyn Atkinson and Robyn Lewis.

The concrete wall mimics the slope of the hill outside as a reference to early Maori structures that were dug into the land. The simple kitchen has strandboard cabinetry and an MDF island that conceals a fireplace at one end. The ceramic works on the built-in seat at right are by Raewyn Atkinson and Robyn Lewis.

The north-facing doors slide completely away to open the house to the outdoors, offering an uninterrupted view of the water. The pendant lights over the table are from Iko Iko.

The north-facing doors slide completely away to open the house to the outdoors, offering an uninterrupted view of the water. The pendant lights over the table are from Iko Iko.

A pop of color in the kitchen cabinets refers to the native greenery outside.

A pop of color in the kitchen cabinets refers to the native greenery outside.

Builder Ross Percival helped finesse the finely tuned detailing that separates the internal slope from the rock outside (opposite). The Pedro wire stool is by Craig Bond for Candywhistle.

Builder Ross Percival helped finesse the finely tuned detailing that separates the internal slope from the rock outside (opposite). The Pedro wire stool is by Craig Bond for Candywhistle.

For now, one-year-old Awa is small enough to sleep in the hammock that hangs from the ceiling.

For now, one-year-old Awa is small enough to sleep in the hammock that hangs from the ceiling.

David and Christine Yates’s house on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula is a family home in the truest sense of the word. It was designed by their architect daughter,  Amanda, for their retirement, with the knowledge that future generations of the extended family—including Amanda, her partner, Adam Rose, and their one-year-old son, Awa—will see it as their place now and for decades down the line.

Inspired by her academic research into precolonial Maori structures that were partly dug into the land, Amanda, who is also a lecturer at Wellington’s Massey University, set out to create a building “somewhere between architecture and landscape.” This may not sound like your average retirement pad, but David and Christine were willing guinea pigs in their daughter’s architectural experiment. In fact, after the trio purchased the land and set the budget for the house (about US $330,000), David and Christine let Amanda call the shots entirely.

“I think we were ideal clients—we just let her have free rein with the design because she knew how we lived,” says Christine, as she looks over the turquoise waters of Maramaratotara Bay below the house. For her part, Amanda is grateful for the freedom her parents gave her. “The house has been a brilliant laboratory for me to test ideas,” she says. “I wouldn’t have had that opportunity with a regular client.”

Amanda—an only child—knew well that her mild-mannered parents had an adventurous streak that meant they would embrace her unorthodox design: a compact two-bedroom house that blends a cavelike quality at one end with a surprising openness at the other. “Because there were only three of us [when I was] growing up we’re a pretty tight crew—good friends as well as family,” she says.

The home she grew up in was radical for its time. Located in the city of Hastings, a few hours’ drive south of the Coromandel Peninsula, it was designed in 1904 by William Rush and featured innovative open-plan spaces, verandas and rooms where people could sleep outdoors in summer. Christine decorated it with flair. “She put some seriously cool stuff in it,” Amanda remembers. “We had horrifically expensive French wallpaper with orange-and-brown poppies on it in one room, turquoise walls in another, and a yellow ceiling in the kitchen.”

To design her parents’ new home—which has one bedroom and living space on the lower level and a self-contained studio upstairs—Amanda drew on a formative architectural experience from her childhood: Her father, a doctor, commissioned revered architect John Scott (who also happened to be one of his patients) to design a new building for his small medical practice in the late 1970s. “I’d never seen a building going up and it was really intriguing,” Amanda says. “I remember it so clearly—it had wonderful spaces for kids, with mysterious nooks, wide window seats where you could read, and great big panel doors that allowed you to slip through their sides when opened. I’d never seen a building like it before.”

Accordingly, Scott’s buildings inspired many features of David and Christine’s 1,340-square-foot home, most notably its pivoting doors and modest material palette of concrete and strandboard. The home is anchored to the hill with a dramatically sloping concrete wall that mimics the gradient of the rock face. It’s an conscious echo of Ngamatea, one of Scott’s most famous houses. David says their home’s “humbleness in size and its position on its site” also reminds him of Scott’s work.

The two architects share similar concerns as well: Scott’s buildings were deeply interested in how best to synthesize the influences of his Maori and European heritage. Amanda, who traces a Maori ancestry on her father’s side, Scottish and English on her mother’s, shares that interest as well. The internal concrete wall of David and Christine’s home is a direct reference to early Maori dwellings while other parts of the house more clearly take European modernism as their point of departure, with glass doors that slide away so the kitchen and dining area becomes a covered deck.

Though Amanda may well have run the risk of some cross-cultural architectural pastiche, what she’s achieved is beautiful, balanced, and flexible. On a sunny day with the glass sliders pushed back (which is most of the year according to David and Christine) you can sit at the table at the end of the kitchen island and hear birdsong and the sounds of the waves in the bay. In spring, blossoms from the manuka trees drift prettily onto the floor. On a cool night when a storm rages, the couple can sit near the fire—­cleverly incorporated at the other end of the kitchen island—and feel protected from the elements by the home’s solid embrace of the hill.

Another of Amanda’s canny tricks was to care-fully control views from the house to create a feeling of blissful isolation. In reality the location is deceptively convenient: It’s just a five-minute walk and a two-minute ferry ride to the small town of Whitianga, while three magnificent beaches are an easy stroll away. “It’s a walking neighborhood, which is fantastic because it’s so social,” Amanda says. There are also hiking trails tinged with history that still bear the contours of precolonial Maori settlements. Nearby hilltops look out to the bay where the English explorer Captain James Cook spent a few days at anchor on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769.

Before they moved to the Coromandel Peninsula full-time, David and Christine had vacationed in the area for almost 40 years. Nowadays they happily stay put while the holidaymakers come and go, among them David’s sister Aroha, her partner, and their three children, who have a vacation home nearby, and Amanda’s oldest friend, Gail, who purchased land down the road and has asked Amanda to design a house for it. Sometime soon, Amanda and Adam will travel up from their home in Wellington to bury Awa’s placenta on the property (it’s currently in their freezer), a Maori tradition that reinforces the idea of this being a family home for the ages.

There’s a Maori word for this sort of permanence: turangawaewae (pronounced “too-rung-a-why-why”), commonly translated as “a place to stand.” It describes the belief that if a community stays connected to the land it comes from, it will always know its place in the world. The term is normally ascribed to ancestral lands in communal ownership, but Amanda hopes her parents’ house will become a contemporary version of this, a place where now, and in the future, all the extended family can continue to gather.

Last January, more than 20 family members met for a summer meal to celebrate the new year. While the adults were bemused by the sloping internal concrete wall, the kids intuitively understood its designer’s intention to blur the interior with the rock outside. “They ran up and down it and had a great time,” Amanda says. Future generations are at home here already.

The house Amanda Yates (with her partner, Adam Rose, and their baby, Awa) designed for her parents, David and Christine, occupies a hillside site with views over Maramaratotara Bay.

The house Amanda Yates (with her partner, Adam Rose, and their baby, Awa) designed for her parents, David and Christine, occupies a hillside site with views over Maramaratotara Bay.

 

A short walk down the road, a ferry service carries passengers on the two-minute journey across the channel to the small town of Whitianga.

A short walk down the road, a ferry service carries passengers on the two-minute journey across the channel to the small town of Whitianga.

A short road leads to Maramaratotara Bay.

A short road leads to Maramaratotara Bay.

The home’s sliding doors blur the boundaries between inside and out.

The home’s sliding doors blur the boundaries between inside and out.

In the living area, the wooden bench is part of a set Amanda designed for a 1995 play. The Miss M sofa is by New Zealand designer Simon James.

In the living area, the wooden bench is part of a set Amanda designed for a 1995 play. The Miss M sofa is by New Zealand designer Simon James.

An almost-concealed door designed as a part of the kitchen cabinetry leads to the main bedroom and en-suite bath.

An almost-concealed door designed as a part of the kitchen cabinetry leads to the main bedroom and en-suite bath.

Christine (at left), and Amanda (at right) chat with David’s sister Aroha Yates-Smith (center) in the kitchen.

Christine (at left), and Amanda (at right) chat with David’s sister Aroha Yates-Smith (center) in the kitchen.

The shower provides a glimpse of the outdoors.

The shower provides a glimpse of the outdoors.

Amanda designed the upstairs studio with its own entrance and a small kitchen and bathroom for when she, Adam, and Awa come to visit.

Amanda designed the upstairs studio with its own entrance and a small kitchen and bathroom for when she, Adam, and Awa come to visit.

Living so near the water the views, especially through these louvered windows, out to Maramaratotara Bay are spectacular.

Living so near the water the views, especially through these louvered windows, out to Maramaratotara Bay are spectacular.

Yates used the same medium density fiberboard on this bookshelf as she did on the wall in the kitchen.

Yates used the same medium density fiberboard on this bookshelf as she did on the wall in the kitchen.

The concrete bench in the living area just past the kitchen is built into the sloping wall. The Pedro wire stool is by Craig Bond for Candywhistle.

The concrete bench in the living area just past the kitchen is built into the sloping wall. The Pedro wire stool is by Craig Bond for Candywhistle.

No better way to test paint colors than to simply apply them.

No better way to test paint colors than to simply apply them.

Beneath the house, Adam and Awa find ample space to hand the laundry to dry.

Beneath the house, Adam and Awa find ample space to hand the laundry to dry.

The planks inside the house blend into those on the small porch just outside. It's a nice touch that helps marry the outdoors with the home's interior.

The planks inside the house blend into those on the small porch just outside. It's a nice touch that helps marry the outdoors with the home's interior.

The hanging Iko Iko pendants in the kitchen add a vertical touch to a space and help frame the views outside.

The hanging Iko Iko pendants in the kitchen add a vertical touch to a space and help frame the views outside.

A small space for laundry.

A small space for laundry.

The rock slope just outside is in clear sympathy with the concrete cant inside—nature right alongside architecture.

The rock slope just outside is in clear sympathy with the concrete cant inside—nature right alongside architecture.

Here's a glimpse of how easy the pull-out shelves function in the kitchen. Again, medium density fiberboard is the material Yates chose.

Here's a glimpse of how easy the pull-out shelves function in the kitchen. Again, medium density fiberboard is the material Yates chose.

The beach is never far off, and the path to get there is about as appealing as the water itself. <br><br>Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our  FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

The beach is never far off, and the path to get there is about as appealing as the water itself.

Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

Details
Project: Yates Residence
Architect: Amanda Yates
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Jeremy Hansen

@jeremy_hansen

To write "Nature Nurtured," Kiwi journalist Jeremy Hansen flew from his home in Auckland, on New Zealand's North Island, to the South Island city of Queenstown, in the heart of the spectacular alpine region. The only downside of Hansen's visit to the lakeside home of architects Bronwen Kerr and Pete Ritchie: He's been dreaming of living there ever since.

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