Three Timber Cabins Form a New Zealand Architect's Family Retreat

Architect Cymon Allfrey takes a page from the traditional “bach,” or holiday home, to design this alpine getaway.

Inspired by the iconic New Zealand "bach"—a modest holiday home or beach house that rose to popularity in the mid-20th century—Christchurch architect Cymon Allfrey designed his family home as a cluster of asymmetrical structures arranged around a communal outdoor space. Tucked away in the vacation town of Hanmer Springs in North Canterbury on the South Island, this 1,356-square-foot retreat calls forth the holiday lifestyle.

Three separate structures surround an elevated dining platform and sunken terrace. Each of these buildings contains its own sleeping areas, which allows a degree of privacy and independence for family members and guests.

"The forms interpret the township’s alpine setting using height, volume, and pitch to create a dynamic experience as one moves between buildings and between internal spaces," says Allfrey. "Openings are carefully placed to ensure a casual connection between buildings."

On the north section of the plot is a towering structure that looks like a sundial needle. This third structure, which Allfrey named "The Folly," was constructed with unfinished cedar, a wonderful contrast to the dark-stained cedar of the two other buildings. 

A sheltered, exterior corridor protects the main building from the summer sun, and allows the family to walk to the second building without getting wet when it rains. 

A firewood storage area is located beneath a small bunkroom that is accessible from the terrace via a metal staircase.

Along the glass sliding doors, a wooden bench extends to the apex of the room to capture stunning views of the rural landscape.

"The prefabricated, glue-laminated portals, cross-laminated wall, and roof panels keep the family amused during the winter nights searching for the many faces within the scattering of knots," says Allfrey, "while expressed ‘vee’ joints of the MDF-lined walls remind us of a simple bach aesthetic of a bygone era."

Within the largest of the three buildings is an open-plan living area and bedroom that’s separated by a bathroom and utility area.   

The use of timber adds warmth to the design, and the cheery Canary yellow of the metal stair rails and gate echoes the seasonal colors of the hills—and the autumnal tones of the turning trees.  

In the second building is a multi-purpose room with a fold-down bed, a kitchenette, and another sleeping area with a bathroom.

The low-mass structure enables the house to warm up quickly in winter, and the geometric, concrete mass that wraps around a log burner helps moderate internal temperatures. Low-0energy fittings and north-facing photovoltaic cells enhance energy efficiency.

Cymon, his wife Angela, and their two teenage daughters furnished the home with objects they love.

Priority was given to the elevated deck, which extends outwards towards the rural boundary to take in the late afternoon son, and views across the Hanmer Plain to the Tekoa Range on the southwestern side of the plot.

Section drawing

Floor plan drawing

Project Credits: 

Architecture and interior design: Cymon Allfrey Architects Ltd. 

Builder: California Homes South Ltd. 

Structural engineering: Kirk Roberts Consulting Engineers Ltd. 

Landscape design: Rough and Milne Landscape Architects 

Photography: Stephen Goodenough 



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