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A 45-square-metre studio designed for an exposed Wellington hilltop

Article by Home Magazine

An architect designs a studio with bach connotations for an exposed Wellington site with top views

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Thurston Studio, Wellington

Architect: Cushla Thurston
Floor area: 45m2

In 2006, when Wellington couple Cushla and Richard Thurston purchased their mid-century home in Brooklyn, Wellington, they earmarked the flat, barren space at the rear of the property for an art studio. Six years later, tired of schlepping across town to use a space behind his parents’ Seatoun home, Rich, an artist and film contractor, and Cushla, an architect with Opus Architecture, collaborated on the studio’s design.

Within 45 square metres, the couple wanted an open-plan studio they could both work from, a mezzanine level to accommodate overflow house guests and a relaxing space away from the family home.

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“We created a collection of spaces with different scales within a larger volume to support a variety of activities,” says Cushla. “We achieved this by using the mezzanine to divide a portion of the space horizontally to create bathing and sleeping zones adjacent, but connected to, the main creative studio space. The site is incredibly windy, so orientation, roof pitch, bracing and noise insulation were crucial considerations. Along with the wind in Wellington comes the sun and views, so we modelled the building to ensure we made the most of this amazing site.”

The couple opted for a balance between wall space and windows. “This allowed us to frame views and maintain privacy and thermal comfort. The continuous wall behind the fireplace allows the mezzanine to be private, yet connected to the larger space,” says Cushla.

The budget of $90,000 was also a driving factor in design. Considerable savings were made thanks to Cushla’s father, Kevin Dowman, who runs a timber-milling business from the family’s Whakatane farm. He supplied the bulk of the building material, including radiata for the structure, macrocarpa for the ceiling, and the matai flooring.

The architect says that key considerations in designing small spaces include orientation and material selection to address unique environmental conditions. “These are more extreme in a small building, with less volume to even out temperature fluctuations. Clever storage systems and reducing circulation to make the entire footprint usable are also important.”

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Rich saved costs by helping excavate the site and assisting the builder, Darren Handscomb. Rich had a distinct vision for the studio and was particularly mindful of the compact shower and kitchenette, which are tucked behind the fireplace. “The transition from the living space to the functional areas had to appear seamless, with an unbroken line of sight between the two,” he says.

We’re a very small part

of something much larger

“That presented me with the challenge of recessing the shower tray into the floor and designing a flush slatted timber boardwalk over it,” says Cushla. Another bathing option is the outdoor bath.

Since completing the project last year, Rich has been enjoying the studio where he specialises in mixed media pieces that focus on abstract expressionism. “What we love about this studio and its amazing views is that it constantly reminds us of our place in the world,” he says. “That we’re a very small part of something much larger.”

Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Paul McCredie.

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