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'The Elegant Shed' with First Windows and Doors

When a young couple based in Pōneke/Wellington decided they’d had enough of their busy schedule juggling a bungalow renovation with burnout, they made like the reality-TV show and escaped to the country. Step one of their lifestyle change was to buy a section in the Wairarapa. Happily landing on a site in Kahutara, they felt as if it was all coming together, though finding someone to design their new home proved to be less easily achieved — until…

“Years before, we’d seen an article in the local paper about two young architects who’d designed and built a house for themselves in Whanganui,” says one of the homeowners. “Time went by, then up popped another inspiring project by the same pair in Pōneke. On both occasions, we admired how they’d lived and breathed these builds, and that was how we decided to approach Sally Ogle and Ben Mitchell-Anyon of Patchwork Architecture to design a house for us.”

Being of similar ages, the couple found Sally and Ben to be more approachable than some of the other architecture practices they’d contacted. “It can be quite an intimidating process — at times it felt like we were interviewing to be the client, rather than the other way around!” says the homeowner. “Once we’d spoken with Sally and Ben, though, we were assured that their approach responded to what we were after.”

The vision? A striking silhouette that would suit the surrounding rural landscape. Presented in a concise brief that outlined the practicalities (a bedroom, a bunkroom, a home office) but was aesthetically open-ended, it was an architect’s dream. Thinking big on a small budget is what Patchwork has become known for, through their portfolio of clever homes that seek to shrink environmental footprints while creatively using common, cost-effective materials.

“This had to be a reasonably straightforward structure and shape because of the budget,” says Ben. “After visiting the site, a paddock, our first response was, ‘There aren’t any constraints — what do we actually do here?!’”

“That sounds like it should be freeing, but it’s actually super difficult,” says Sally. “It’s not how we’re used to working.”

Compared to tackling urban sites on which limitations inform the starting point, this home saw Sally and Ben taking their approach back to basics with the kind of site analysis they teach you in architecture school — reviewing the wind, the sun and the view.

“The most obvious thing was the beautiful scene of the hills to the southeast in the mornings and strong sun to the northwest in the evenings,” says Ben. “To embrace that, we’ve explored the idea of deep farm verandahs with diagonally opposite outlooks.”

An S-shaped, 128m² footprint adjoins two outdoor rooms that link to the home’s interior through joinery from First Windows & Doors. From each end, the building feels similar to a symmetrically pitched barn. As a twist on that vernacular, the gabled roof is clipped back in line with the triangular verandahs, making the simple form more dynamic and providing a gradient of protection. The majority of the glazing is contained in the verandahs, where doors are utilised for both access and ventilation that’s protected from the wind and rain.

Key to the layout was the owners’ intention for their home to flex between functioning for the two of them and hosting whānau and friends — thus the well-considered living spaces do double duty for a range of activities and occasions. The office is especially hardworking. “Our studio functions like a marae,” says the homeowner. “We have meetings in there, we chuck mattresses on the floor, it’s been a karaoke room and a playroom. We’ve filled it with photos of our tūpuna [ancestors] alongside artwork by our nieces and nephews.”

A 4 x 4m sliding wall/door accesses this zone from the wider open-plan area. Finished in a tukutuku pattern, it’s become the heart of the home. “This came about during the design phase, when I considered how could we reflect my Māoritanga in this piece of architecture,” says the homeowner. “I’m proud of our accomplishments, and so is my family, and the vast surface of this internal door/wall provided an opportunity to do something awesome to reflect that. We settled on poutama as the design reference, which represents a stairway to heaven. To us, it signifies the people that we love who’ve passed away. With each step we take in life, we’re closer to seeing them again.”

Now that the build is complete, the couple’s settling into the rhythms of country life. Thanks to a newfound passion for taking their ride-on mower for a spin, they’ve been loving getting out to cut tracks through the wavy, golden rye grass. Life here is about keeping it real in a relatively humble abode so thoughtfully and efficiently designed that the greatest luxury can be enjoyed to its fullest — time to just be.

As seen in Homestyle Magazine. Words by Alice Lines.

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