Off-the-Grid Island House in New Zealand Connects with the Outdoors

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By Sam Eichblatt / Published by Dwell
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A remote beachside cottage evokes the spirit of camping trips.

"Bach" is local shorthand in New Zealand for a rudimentary beachside cabin. This one, located on a remote island 62 miles from the coast of Auckland and off the electricity grid, is designed around the rituals of communal food preparation, dining and sleeping, and to be occupied for short periods of time.

The structure consists of two rectangular, cedar-clad pavilions of different lengths, connected by a walkway that is permeable to the elements. Its focal point is a covered deck with an outdoor fireplace for cooking and heat, enclosed on three sides and with sliding screens on the fourth that can be adjusted to block the wind.

One side of the building contains two simple bedrooms and a bathroom. The other, larger side houses the open-plan living area, kitchen, covered deck with fireplace, and additional bedroom.

The deck-hallway that runs the length of the building is partially covered, but the decking boards and inset fiberglass door panels allow air and light to penetrate. The architects wanted to suggest that moving between the different living spaces involved a trip through nature, as it does in traditional camping.

The cedar plywood paneling used throughout the project adds a mellow quality to the light. The dropped fiberglass screen recalls an outdoor shower, but also provides privacy.

The materials were chosen for their texture, weathering characteristics, durability, and organic appearance — while fiberglass may not actually be natural, says architect Lance Herbst, the type used here, with its visible fibers, has a natural quality.

The basin is Metrix, and the shower curtain by Catherine David.

The bach, which is rented as a vacation home when not being used by its owners, gives a range of spaces to escape to within its walls. The end of the house farthest from the road contains the secluded master bedroom with en suite, which has its own entrance and is separated by the covered deck.

Each bedroom has a sheltered outdoor space with a translucent screen that acts as a kind of lightwell, offering total privacy while allowing light to permeate the interior. The height of the screens was lowered slightly to give a clear view of the silhouette of the nearby mountain.

“You don’t want to be opening and closing curtains all the time,” says Lance Herbst. “We wanted it to be the kind of house you can walk around in after your swim and have a high level of privacy.”

The bach features a series of moveable wall-sized glass panels and screens that define light, shade, and shelter, and are designed to make the most of the limitations of the surrounding plot. The central kitchen-dining-living space can be opened completely, or shut up tight in winter.

“One of the builders referred to it as the ‘inside-out house’,” says Herbst. “I thought that was quite fitting.”

The building is wrapped in a skin of silvery grey western red cedar. There are no windows visible from the street. The front door is a simple, sliding panel of fiberglass sheeting.

The living area is designed for entertaining. On sunny days, the glass walls slide back so it’s totally open. The semi-opaque screen can also be opened to catch the last rays of the setting sun. At night and in poor weather, the whole assembly closes up, the laminated sliding doors sealing out drafts and locking in the day’s warmth.

As is typical for a bach like this, the owners have used inexpensive furnishings; in this case, second-hand bar stools and generic paper shades.

High clerestory windows provide light over the indoor kitchen, with its Gaboon ply cabinets and joinery designed by the architects.

Given the lack of a central power system on the island, Herbst Architects designed the kitchen on the premise that less is more, deliberately keeping appliances to a bare minimum. The fridge and oven run on gas, and a solar energy system supplies limited lighting.