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Why this Wanaka new-build was designed around outdoor living

An architecturally designed Wanaka house blurs the lines between indoors and out to create a versatile home for this nature-loving family

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Meet and greet

Chris Norman, architect at Chris Norman Architecture, Natalie Norman, head of the product team at Mons Royale clothing, Estelle, 14, and Scarlett, 12.

Why this Wanaka new-build was designed around outdoor living

When Chris and Natalie Norman decided to build a modern new home for themselves and their two daughters, they were presented with an almost impossible choice. “Initially we had two main ideas,” says Natalie. “A two-storey house that opened up great views of reserve land to the north, or a single-storey house that offered better connection to the land.”

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Their Wanaka property, in the suburb of Albert Town, is blessed with glorious views across to Mount Iron and Cardrona Valley as far as the Minaret and Remarkables ranges, which made option one seem like the obvious choice. But equally, the family’s love of the outdoors and of being connected to their environment made option two look like a no-brainer.

“In the end, we favoured the second option because we spend a great deal of time outside,” says Natalie. “We developed ideas that created connections to multiple outdoor spaces for sun or shade at varying times of the day, as well as shelter from the summer winds. A narrow plan that wrapped around an inner courtyard offered the best solution for the climate and views.”

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Design detail 

Natalie was content to give architect Chris free rein on the home’s design and he relished the opportunity to work beyond the usual constraints of a client’s brief. Every detail was carefully considered, from the width of the house (narrow, to maintain sight lines through the internal courtyard) to the line of the roof (simple, to keep costs down). The northern veranda was designed to ward off summer heat and admit winter sun, which means the woodburner frequently sits idle while neighbouring fires are burning.

A desire to embrace views through large windows has been tempered by the need to retain warmth and cosiness – plus, too many windows would mean too little wall space for these art lovers.

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Timeless style

Inspired by his work on multimillion-dollar log homes in the Canadian ski resort village of Whistler, Chris was determined to utilise timber inside the house. It was Natalie’s task to adorn the ply-lined interior, and her background in fashion design came to the fore as she hunted down fabrics for the girls’ curtains and black wall tiles for the kitchen, or decided where to hang family paintings. However, she and Chris have a unified style and nothing stays in the house unless both of them love it.

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“We quite like that slightly retro aesthetic,” Natalie says. “We like mid-century modern with a subtle retro twist. A lot of our furniture is quite retro and we’re slowly replacing it as we can afford to, trying to buy more designer mid-century modern pieces.”

It’s a style that suits their environment and relaxed lifestyle, with an emphasis on comfort. “We didn’t want it to look like a show home,” says Natalie. “We used colour sparingly in the main living space but, now we have lived with it, we are going to change the wall colours to add a bit more warmth and depth. The bedrooms are a bit brighter as we all chose our own carpets, fabrics and light fittings for our own rooms.”

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Outdoor types

Sets of skis, mountain bikes and a dedicated drying room are testament to the family’s intrepid sporting interests. Estelle, 14, is a keen rower and multi-sport adventure racer, Scarlett, 12, is a triathlete, and both Chris and Natalie enjoy a range of outdoor pursuits from paddleboarding and water-skiing to tramping and camping.

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“It’s been hugely beneficial to the family,” Chris says of the four-bedroom dwelling. “The house can be closed down and made cosier for intimate family time in winter but in summer everything can be opened up so that we are all outside playing, gardening or socialising.”

The home was carefully designed with teenagers in mind, and features sliding cavity doors that close off both ends of the hallway to create a space for Estelle’s piano and clarinet practice.

The timber-floored living and dining area is large enough to allow the pushing back of sofas to create an art studio – Scarlett’s forte – or exercise room. An office-workshop near the front entrance has been converted into a well-used guest room but may well revert to an office once the girls have left home.

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Plan and prioritise 

While the couple left the construction of their home to the professionals, they did meet with their builders most mornings to discuss and refine decisions. During the build, which finished in May 2014, they were in charge of weekend site clean-up and maintaining supplies of baking and beer. “There were no obstacles, really,” Chris says of the project. “You just need to spend the time to plan out, review and prioritise what is important to you.”

The family has tackled harsh winters and dry summers to complete the landscaping themselves and there is still work to be done outdoors, nurturing the young garden and finishing a water feature. While the house meets all their current needs, both Chris and Natalie yearn to build another place once their daughters have left home. Their future home will be smaller, even more ecologically friendly and yet more focused on design. “All these fixtures and fittings were carefully chosen, but on a budget. We’d love to do something cutting-edge one day,” says Chris.

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Natalie and Chris’ tips 

  • Employ a registered architect and engage a builder early.
  • Take your time to make and review your choices, including comparing your design against other houses.
  • Choose quality over quantity.
  • Increase your thermal efficiency to reduce the need for bigger energy sources (it will end up costing you less).
  • Thermal efficiency is not just about extra insulation; you have to get the planning and detailing right.

Photography by: Daniel Allen.

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