This DIY Home in New Zealand Doubles as a Coffee Spot and Art Gallery

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By Candace Jackson
A budget-savvy, well-caffeinated couple get their hands dirty building a house, art gallery, and coffee kiosk on New Zealand’s North Island.

When Karen Jack, an elementary school teacher, and her artist husband, Grant, were looking for a home in Cambridge, New Zealand, they knew they wanted to replicate the walkable village lifestyle they’d enjoyed living in Britain several years before. So it felt appropriate to enlist their friend and roommate from that time, Christopher Beer, an architect who had also moved to Cambridge, to help. The Jacks spent about $600,000 on the project, including the land, saving money by building parts of the interior themselves. The result is a 1,710-square-foot three-courtyard home with an art gallery and coffee kiosk—smack in the middle of town. Shortly before the business opened, the Jacks recounted how their busy little home came to be.

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Architect Christopher Beer helped his DIY-friendly former roommates Karen and Grant Jack create a mixed-use dwelling in a town located about 90 miles south of Auckland. 

Architect Christopher Beer helped his DIY-friendly former roommates Karen and Grant Jack create a mixed-use dwelling in a town located about 90 miles south of Auckland. 

Karen Jack: When we were looking at houses, we looked at a few older places to renovate. Eventually, we thought the houses we saw would cost a bit too much. And as we were looking, we realized we wanted something quite close to or in the village. Grant saw a place for sale, but it was an empty retail store. 

Grant Jack: Karen wasn’t into it. 

"The project reverses the traditional suburban pattern of a house centered on its site and surrounded by empty space," says Beer. Instead of a lawn, it has three courtyards behind a brick wall.

"The project reverses the traditional suburban pattern of a house centered on its site and surrounded by empty space," says Beer. Instead of a lawn, it has three courtyards behind a brick wall.

Karen: But there was this plot of grass next to it… 

Grant built the steel-and-cypress gate. On the other side, he set up his coffee kiosk and art gallery.

Grant built the steel-and-cypress gate. On the other side, he set up his coffee kiosk and art gallery.

Grant: It looked like a convenient location to live, where we could easily get around. And I wanted a place where I could also sell art out of the front.

Karen: It’s a commercial site, which means we could build quite differently from the way we would build a residential site. You can build right up to the edges. 

Potential buyers can browse his prints, sip espresso, or lounge in the NY chair by Takeshi Nii.

Potential buyers can browse his prints, sip espresso, or lounge in the NY chair by Takeshi Nii.

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Emeco Heritage Chair
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Lzf Lamps Nut Pendant
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Low-cost materials like plaster board, knotty cedar, and polished concrete appear in the gallery as well as in the residence. 

Low-cost materials like plaster board, knotty cedar, and polished concrete appear in the gallery as well as in the residence. 

Grant: I’d seen small houses in Tokyo that are surrounded by an exterior wall but still have lots of light. And I liked the idea of not having much gardening. 

In the living area, a cedar storage unit made by Grant features a five-by-five-foot sliding panel that conceals shelving and the television. "It’s a way to make it feel less like a TV room during the day," Beer says. The sunken sofa—a throwback to the residents’ childhoods in the 1970s— is from the Houdini collection by King Living. The dining chairs were a secondhand purchase.

In the living area, a cedar storage unit made by Grant features a five-by-five-foot sliding panel that conceals shelving and the television. "It’s a way to make it feel less like a TV room during the day," Beer says. The sunken sofa—a throwback to the residents’ childhoods in the 1970s— is from the Houdini collection by King Living. The dining chairs were a secondhand purchase.

Karen: We were really willing to do something different with the design, but we had to make sure our house was compatible with the surroundings as well. It couldn’t look like a normal house, because that would just look weird on a commercial street. There’s a school across the road, a supermarket next door, and a cafe across the back.  

Grant: There are no other houses. 

Karen: The corrugated steel and the brick on the exterior wall help the house fit in with the rest of the buildings around it.

Grant: The bricks were rejected materials from an old folks home being built nearby. 

Karen: There’s a courtyard in the front. When Grant gets his gallery up and running, that’s where people will come in. 

In the middle courtyard, the Jacks landscaped a small grass mound for Sadie, five, to play on. The house is topped with corrugated steel. "It’s essentially the cheapest material you can get for roofing in New Zealand," says Beer.

In the middle courtyard, the Jacks landscaped a small grass mound for Sadie, five, to play on. The house is topped with corrugated steel. "It’s essentially the cheapest material you can get for roofing in New Zealand," says Beer.

Grant painted the master bedroom and the rest of the interior Alabaster by Resene. For big jobs, like framing the walls, they relied on Langsford Construction. 

Grant painted the master bedroom and the rest of the interior Alabaster by Resene. For big jobs, like framing the walls, they relied on Langsford Construction. 

Grant: I built a coffee kiosk that opens to the courtyard. I thought it would go well with the gallery and I just really like coffee.

Covered in slate squares from Cambridge Tile, the master bathroom includes a double shower <br>with rain heads by M&amp;Z Rubinetterie. A skylight lets in natural light while maintaining the residents’ privacy.

Covered in slate squares from Cambridge Tile, the master bathroom includes a double shower
with rain heads by M&Z Rubinetterie. A skylight lets in natural light while maintaining the residents’ privacy.

"With this kind of house, you’re not really looking outward toward the street and people. You’re looking inward toward yourself." -Karen Jack, resident

Karen: Farther inside, there’s a second courtyard with a fireplace. There are sliding walls that can tuck away to open it to the living areas. It’s a great space—it’s become like another room for us. We put a little mound in it. We wanted a bit of interest instead of just a flat space. Our daughter, Sadie, goes up on the hill and has picnics with her friends. With this kind of house, you’re not really looking outward toward the street and people. You’re looking inward toward yourself. 

Grant: The inside of the house has quite a big volume because the ceilings are quite high. It doesn’t feel claustrophobic. 

This DIY Home in New Zealand Doubles as a Coffee Spot and Art Gallery - Photo 10 of 16 -
This DIY Home in New Zealand Doubles as a Coffee Spot and Art Gallery - Photo 11 of 16 -

Karen: Because we’ve got one space for the kitchen, dining area, and lounge, we needed to be able to separate things, so the lounge is sunken. 

Grant: We’re both kids of the ’70s, so we liked that. 

Karen: The walls are all cedar millwork. We call it a second-grade cedar here. 

Grant: It’s unfinished and kind of rough. To save money, I did all the painting and the cabinetry. 

Karen: It’s really cool because you actually feel like you’re in a tree house with all this wood around you.

Make It Yours

The Jacks call attention to some of their more ingenious weekend projects.

<b>Coffee Kiosk:</b> Accessible through a sliding millwork wall, the coffee kiosk doubles as a laundry room (the washer and dryer are hidden behind cabinets). A hatch window opens the space, which is outfitted with a refurbished 1997 Elektra espresso maker.

Coffee Kiosk: Accessible through a sliding millwork wall, the coffee kiosk doubles as a laundry room (the washer and dryer are hidden behind cabinets). A hatch window opens the space, which is outfitted with a refurbished 1997 Elektra espresso maker.

<b>Cabinetry: </b>The owners’ biggest savings came from building the cabinetry themselves. Because the house has no garage, the couple wanted lots of indoor storage, which they mostly hid behind flush, full-height "second-grade" cedar doors.

Cabinetry: The owners’ biggest savings came from building the cabinetry themselves. Because the house has no garage, the couple wanted lots of indoor storage, which they mostly hid behind flush, full-height "second-grade" cedar doors.

<b>Kitchen Countertops: </b>The Jacks saved about $6,500 by skipping counter-sized marble  slabs and using one-by-two-foot marble tiles, sealed with silicone. "The counters are thin and highly polished, but the sides have a rough texture," Beer observes.

Kitchen Countertops: The Jacks saved about $6,500 by skipping counter-sized marble slabs and using one-by-two-foot marble tiles, sealed with silicone. "The counters are thin and highly polished, but the sides have a rough texture," Beer observes.

<b>Door Pulls &amp; Lights:</b> Grant made many of the light fixtures and door pulls himself using brass tubing. For the lights, he realized that a New Zealand dollar coin was the perfect size for the end caps, a discovery that saved him $36 on store-bought versions.

Door Pulls & Lights: Grant made many of the light fixtures and door pulls himself using brass tubing. For the lights, he realized that a New Zealand dollar coin was the perfect size for the end caps, a discovery that saved him $36 on store-bought versions.

This DIY Home in New Zealand Doubles as a Coffee Spot and Art Gallery - Photo 16 of 16 -