When the Auckland Unitary Plan allowed this couple an as-of-right minor dwelling, they wondered if they could live well on a 65 square metre footprint. As it turned out, they could. See their cosy little home below
Pat de Pont, SGA
Mt Eden, Auckland
Build a secondary dwelling for rental, no bigger than 65 square metres
Sixty-five is a magic number. It brings a certain freedom: the opportunity for reinvention and self-expression. And while some might wait for the age when NZ Super kicks in, others jump the gun. Sixty-five is still a magic number.
When Mt Eden residents Neil and Jill heard that the parameters of the Auckland Unitary Plan for their neighbourhood included an as-of-right minor dwelling, they wondered if they could live well on a 65-square-metre footprint. The couple, now in their mid-fifties, moved to the suburb in 2011, to a house they called ‘The Tardis’: a 1920s bungalow with a monstrous basement and four double bedrooms.
“We loved the area, its proximity to town and Eden Park, and being near so much amenity,” says Neil. Although giving up work was not imminent, they wondered if building here could be the answer to an active retirement. They consulted a planning friend, stood on the elevated platform at the rear of the section and dared to dream.
When they spoke to Pat de Pont of Strachan Group Architects, he flipped the go switch. “He gave us a lot of comfort from the outset,” says Jill. She’s referring to de Pont’s calm-mannered, no-nonsense approach. But she could easily be talking about what he has massaged into the limited space. Faced with such spatial mastery, Neil put away his own preliminary sketches. “Pat came up with the opposite of a square box and looked at how to use light and natural energy,” says Jill.
A concrete path to one side of the original bungalow leads to a set of floating timber stairs at the entrance to the new home. Where once a few fruit trees dotted a lawn gone wild, there is now the ‘top’ house, a domestic world in miniature.
Access was tricky, with only 2.5 metres alongside the house, and the site is 3.5 metres above ground level. Faced with the challenge of near neighbours to the north and a volcanic rock building platform, de Pont and the SGA team – Kelly O’Sullivan and Brad Pearless – worked hard to make every inch count. The result stretches space like a rubber band – pulled to its limits but remaining within the specified form. “We stuck to the prescribed floor area,” says de Pont. “The trick lies in interpreting the rules around that.”
Excavations were kept to a minimum. The building has a rafted concrete floor, walls clad in Siberian larch, windows in anodised bronze aluminium and a single, folded roof that kicks up to the east. “I call it a cat slide,” says de Pont. “It gets more volume into the space and good morning sun.”
Within this, there’s the open-plan living space, two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry. The bay windows that project out from the second bedroom are fitted with built-in shelving and a fold-up desk. “Because they’re suspended, the bays don’t count as part of the floor space,” says de Pont. “But they give more area.” A fold-down bed here is tucked away when Neil or Jill work from home. This flexi-space is separated from the living zone by a sliding door that creates privacy or extra room as the situation dictates.
Clerestory windows beneath ply ceilings (which reach 3.6 metres at their highest point) bring in light from all sides, but they’re the only punctuation on the northern wall where privacy was paramount. “When you look out of the top windows, you only see trees. It’s like you’re in a forest,” says Neil.
Internally, the house is urban and urbane. There’s a focus on literature, art, music and food. “We asked for a design that emphasised the things we love,” says Jill. Three built-in bookcases are crammed to capacity, Neil’s vinyl collection is housed in a cabinet that came up from the big house and the kitchen has a rolling island bench with a built-in wine rack. “It provides extra work space but we can push it out of the way when we have people around,” says Neil.
And that’s the general idea. Now that the couple’s two grown children are spreading their wings, Neil and Jill intend to live large in their little home.
“We carefully devised the project so it would fund itself, and planned to rent it for five years to cover the cost of construction,” says Neil. But these best-laid plans overlooked the potential for envy. “The friends we rented it to raved so much about how great it was,” says Jill. Twelve months later, the owners moved in and the main house is rented out.
A covered outdoor area, leading from the living room, expands the scope for entertainment. “These interconnected spaces belie the small scale and this is another area not included in the metre count,” says de Pont.
Despite the propensity for the fun the home delivers, the pair sees this move as a responsible choice. Putting the squeeze on has meant they’ve had to evaluate their possessions, Marie Kondo style. Although storage is tucked in at every opportunity, the crock-pot, linen used in the Airbnb they ran in their former basement, and chunky furniture had to go. “There was nothing we threw out that we felt any angst over,” says Neil. They’ve also installed a water tank to collect roof runoff (it feeds the washing machine, loo and garden), they ride bikes or the Vespa to work and are inviting the birds and bees to return with a planting plan that includes feijoas, rhododendrons and bird of paradise.
After just a short time living here, they’ve come to the conclusion that 65 square metres has very powerful properties indeed. “We realise now that we used to lead stupidly demanding lives,” reflects Jill. “Downsizing releases you from the constant busyness. We plan to stay forever.”
Words by: Claire mccall. Photography by: Ross Keane.