This Kid-Friendly Home Is Full of Surprises

Clad in black-stained cedar, a monolithic family home rises from its alpine setting outside Queenstown, New Zealand.

Architect Bergendy Cooke, who worked for Zaha Hadid and Peter Marino before returning to her home country in 2007, is an admirer of the strong, sculptural architectural forms that appear in Japanese and Spanish architecture. Outside Queenstown, she put her ideas into practice in a home that would be the benchmark for bc+a studio, her own venture.

The site is in a slight depression, and surrounded by mountains, so the architect kept the footprint small, and built upwards to give access to the views.  Recessed, floor-to-ceiling windows frame the views while gathering passive heat from the sun in winter, and shading the interior in summer.

Cooke clad the building in a black-stained, sustainably-grown Canadian cedar, a durable choice that ages well and requires little maintenance. The dark glazing was chosen so windows appear seamless, accentuating the form of the building.

Inside, the architect began by re-thinking each interior space in non-traditional terms. The entryway, for example, is double-height, drawing attention to its narrowness. There is also an aperture to the upper floor, allowing more points of connection between the two levels.

"I wanted there to be an element of surprise, similarly to those experiences in Moroccan riads, where an unassuming door opens into another world," she says. "It was important for me to bring non-uniformity to my own house."

The downstairs area is floored in polished concrete, and flanked on the north side by huge full-height windows through which passive heat is gathered. The majority of the winter heating, however, is from a ground source heat pump that uses the latent energy in the earth — a relatively new solution in New Zealand.

Cooke treated the southern beech in the stairwell with natural oils, rather than polyurethane, to bring out the grain and warmth of the natural materials. To keep the surface visually clean and minimal, the balustrade is set into the wall, so wood wraps the stairwell from ground floor to skylight.

In the kitchen and dining room, Cooke rethought traditional wood panelling using black pigment-stained veneer.

The kitchen has expansive surfaces, including a long, wood-topped kitchen island where the couple cook and entertain, and where the children eat and play. "All of the materials were selected for their integrity and longevity," says Bergendy.

The architect specifically chose a palette of natural finishes, including the polished concrete floor that flows the length and breadth of the ground level.

By way of contrast, the couple’s eclectic collection of much-loved vintage furniture, including Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs, an Artemide lamp, and this 50-year-old sofa by mid-century Swedish designer Arne Norell, provide color and warmth. "The bookcase also makes use of space to add layers of texture. Books are always a great addition to any interior," says Cooke.

The Beni Ouarain rug was purchased on a trip to Morocco.

The 1920s Catalan chandelier and dining room table were both bought second-hand from a shop in Barcelona, where the family used to live. The table is the perfect place for the children to draw and play, "because it’s so old it doesn’t matter if it gets scratched," says Bergendy. "It’s technically a dining room with old-style wood panels, but the treatment is new — it’s not cutting edge, but the way the materials have been treated is different."

The combination bunk bed and playhouse is another whimsical gesture the architect designed specifically for her two daughters. The spaces are organized in such a way that they can play independently or together.

A clever combination bookshelf and staircase in the children’s bedroom leads to the interior "star-gazing" deck, which is invisible from the ground, and contains an open-air bathtub and a sauna. It is also accessible from an adjacent guest bedroom.

"The house is not huge but uses comparative spaces to create different experiences — it’s also about enjoying life and not being overly serious, hence these perceived ‘follies’ such as the deck. Those non-traditional elements have given the house a different flavor," says Cooke.


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