After spontaneously purchasing a dreamy section on Awhitu Peninsula, this family planned and built a modular bach designed for many summers to come
Stretching northwards into the Manukau Harbour is the hilly, green Awhitu Peninsula, a rugged, rural place that, as the crow flies, lies only a short distance from central Auckland but feels a lot further away. Like many coastal areas of New Zealand, the drive into this sleepy district reveals streets devoid of footpaths and dotted with quirky letterboxes and pastel-coloured, mid-century baches.
“Our bach on Awhitu is still in the Auckland region and less than an hour for us to get to from home,” says Emma Macdonald. “This works really well as we can maximise the time we spend at the bach while juggling our work and the kids’ activities at the weekends.”
Emma and husband Andrew’s holiday home is as Kiwi as it gets and harks back to a simpler, less rushed time when kids could roam free, build huts and hack secret paths through the bush to the beach. A desire for their kids, Flynn and Sienna, to spend those precious early years flying kites instead of staring at devices was a large part of why the couple took a leap of faith after a chance visit to the area.
At first site
“We weren’t planning on buying a section for a bach,” says Emma. “But after going out for a drive, we stumbled upon ‘our’ section. We got out of the car, looked at each other and knew we had to have this land!” With unobstructed views to the north and west, it’s easy to see why they fell in love with it.
Despite making a quick decision to purchase the site, the Macdonalds didn’t want to rush into building before they had got to know the unique characteristics of the section. “We camped there for the first two summers, which gave us a good idea of where we wanted to position the bach and how windy it can get,” says Emma. After two years of spending time on the land and experiencing it in all weathers, the ideal bach started to take shape in their minds.
Modular bach design and build
With a clear budget always uppermost in their minds, the Macdonalds started to design a simple, H-shaped structure comprising two ‘pods’. This scheme would provide the family of four with a living pod and a sleeping pod, the two connected by a covered deck which would also function as a sheltered outdoor living and dining area.
The couple’s choice of a prefab build was based not only on budget but also on style, as they found the simple, modern look of Transbuild homes was exactly what they had in mind.
“We spent a while researching what we could achieve within our budget that would meet our short- and long-term needs,” Emma says. “We both kept being drawn towards black, square exteriors. I wanted something small that wouldn’t be hard to clean and maintain and made the most of the views. In the end, we sketched out what we had in mind and took it to Transbuild, who reconfigured their prefab buildings to make our sketch a reality.
“We knew we wanted the ability to add some more bedrooms in time and, by using pods, we can easily do this and still have a central deck area to gravitate to.”
The Macdonalds were fortunate that their gently sloping section was a perfect fit for the prefab and two years of getting to know the site meant they knew exactly where it should go.
From council submission to laying the final plank of decking timber, the house was complete in less than a year. Initial fixed quotes from Transbuild and other contractors ensured the budget stayed on track, but it was Emma’s careful planning and execution of the interior fit-out that ultimately kept things in check.
“We planned each room and purchased strictly to that plan,” she says. “Then, once we were in, we added to the basics as budget allowed. We definitely didn’t want it to feel precious or pretentious.”
The pods were built in a factory in nearby Papakura, which meant the couple could check on progress easily and, thanks to Emma’s love of spreadsheets, the finished build came in smack-bang on budget.
Rooms with a view
Inside, the bach feels clean and fresh, and surprisingly spacious. “I wanted to keep the style simple and low-key so that it’s easy to lock up and leave,” says Emma. “The views are what we love, so maximising those, and keeping the interior colours more neutral so as not to detract from them, was a design focus.”
Floor-to-ceiling windows on the north side of both pods frame the view perfectly and allow all-day sunlight to stream in. Simple, slimline furniture in white, grey and oak keeps the aesthetic cool and calm, and white sunscreen blinds are often lowered to shield the interior from the sun’s intensity. Walls painted in Dulux ‘Dannevirke’ throughout ensure the space feels as open and light as possible.
Although currently sparse, the garden has been edged with hardy pittosporum hedging, and a fire pit provides a spot to gather after dinner and roast marshmallows. The rest of the large section will provide camping space for extra guests.
The Macdonalds are already looking forward: plans for a new storage shed are under way after the original one was blown over in a storm, and another sleeping pod has been allowed for in the plans. A container pool is also on the wish list, but for now trips to the local beaches at high tide, followed by a cold drink and a barbie on the deck, are the order of the day.
“It’s about recharging and spending quality time together,” says Emma. “There’s no TV or wifi, and we enjoy getting out the board games, spending time outside and switching off from the pressures of work. I feel relaxed the minute I walk in the door.”
Words & styling by: Tina Stephen. Photography by: Helen Bankers