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An architectural marvel at Bethells Beach

Article by Home Magazine

With animals outside and a wild collection of art and antiques indoors, a home by Stevens Lawson Architects on Auckland’s west coast feels like something out of a dream

Q&A with architect Nicholas Stevens of Stevens Lawson

How did this amazing location behind the dunes of Te Henga affect your design? There is a big responsibility that comes with building in such a place, so it was important that the house felt that it belonged in this dramatic, windblown landscape. The forms of the buildings are subtly shaped as if sculpted by the weather, similar to dunes, and they are scattered around the site like driftwood. Although the buildings have strong forms I believe they have empathy with the natural environment.

The home feels like a farmhouse in the best possible way – was this part of your brief? Our clients are a family of strong horsewomen with a deep connection to this land. They have a French provenance and are unconventional in the modern world. They love simple things, old things and the old ways. The house is like a portrait of them and needed to feel both old and new.

How important was the owner’s collection of furniture and photography in informing your design? These collections are their family history and also express who they are now. It was important to keep the interior spaces very simple, to create a frame for the eclectic furniture, objects and photographs. They required plain walls for art which we clad with rough painted boards to give a rustic warmth. The wide hallway acts as a family photo gallery with an extraordinary collection of images taken by Deborah and Mark Smith, as well as other notable photographers over the years. And of course there are spectacular views to be had, so a balancing act between art and landscape needed to be played out.

What are the three most important design decisions with which you’re most pleased about the house? Spreading the three buildings around the site in a naturalistic composition gives a dynamic spatial relationship between the buildings and allows the landscape to flow through the site unimpeded. The subtly sculpted building forms, which allude to both natural weathering and to the shapes of boats, include a nautical lookout tower which resonates with the family’s maritime history. And the use of solid timber throughout the house, with rough-sawn painted pine boards on the internal walls and ceilings, oiled hardwood floors, cedar joinery and hardwood wharf decking, creates a sense of craft, quality and patina and reminds us of the beauty of a thing well made.

Words by: Gregory O’Brien. Photos by: Mark Smith.

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