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This compact Waiheke Island home is a lesson in clever design

This Waiheke Island home is small – but doesn’t look it. Packing a lot into its 90 square metres, it’s a perfect example of how clever design can provide a blueprint for better living

Meet and greet

Peter Cosnett, sales and marketing manager for Box, and Hannes Strydom, general manager of a dispute resolution company

This compact Waiheke Island home is a lesson in clever design

Before they’d even set foot on Waiheke Island, Peter Cosnett and Hannes Strydom were convinced it was paradise. The South African expats were living and working in Taiwan when they watched a foodie show where Australian chef Neil Perry sizzled up a seafood feast at Cable Bay. Sea, sun, scenery (and the barbecue lifestyle) made New Zealand the main course on their menu.

The decision to move to the idyllic island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf was easier than finding somewhere to buy. “The quality of the housing stock just didn’t stack up,” says Peter. To get something at the standard they wanted meant building new. The land they eventually settled on was in Little Oneroa – a lofty section with wraparound views from Maraetai to Rangitoto. Although access was steep and 60 metres from the road (the tricky bit), it already had a relatively flat platform (the easy bit).

Peter, who had taken on a marketing role at design-and-build company Box, saw it as a great opportunity to put his money where his mouth was. The couple were sold on the company’s modernist design aesthetic but also wanted something a little “different” to accommodate a life less ordinary.

Box architect Tim Dorrington came up with a plan to build four equal-sized rectangular ‘modules’ positioned around a small central lightwell or atrium. A separate sleep-out would add flexibility. In the end, that original concept stuck – it was only the ratios that changed.

Small stories 

At 90 square metres, the main home is compact but nevertheless delivers open-plan living plus two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a walk-in wardrobe and a separate laundry. The architectural magic that removes any sense of a squeeze is the creative use of outdoor space. “When you step inside and close the doors, you realise the kitchen-living area is small and intimate,” says Hannes. “But the decking is so integral to the footprint that it feels like part of the house.”

At this point, let’s clear up a common misconception: smaller houses don’t necessarily cost less. But Peter and Hannes were convinced of the benefits of sacrificing floor area for better materials. “Things like a concrete slab were non-negotiable for us, even though it would have been more cost-effective to put the house on poles,” explains Peter. Other must-haves were floor-to-ceiling joinery with flush thresholds (Peter and Hannes), a ‘proper’ laundry (Peter), and a heavy-grind concrete floor (Hannes).

The detail-oriented duo (you could call them perfectionists) worked closely with the Box team and the result is a house that feels far greater than the sum of its parts. Essentially, it’s a perfect square with an atrium in the middle. Peter and Hannes changed the proportions of the modules to allow a bigger living zone. Here, the internal ceiling runs straight past the sliding doors to cover a decked area with wide stairs that operates as the entrance to the home. “We have no formal front door – you step from the deck straight into the living room,” explains Peter. The 4.2-metre-wide stairs feel grand, to create a sense of arrival, and also double as seating for casual gatherings. Full-height sliders with no transoms mean the view across the valley is not impeded from the inside.

“What we compromised on space, we put into features,” says Peter. “It was important for us to get the feeling of transparency.”

The master bedroom also links to the entry deck which means that, when both sets of doors are open, there is “100 per cent” uninterrupted circulation around the home. It’s a readymade track and the neighbour’s cat loves to do laps around the house.

Features and foibles 

With service areas grouped along one side, no hallways and built-in features, not an inch of space was wasted in the planning. That is, if you discount the atrium. Peter is quick to admit that this has turned out to be something of a folly. Yes, it brings light into the centre of the house – which was important due to its form – but the Mondrian-like use of coloured glass and textured panels didn’t turn out as hoped.

Instead of throwing pretty patterns on the floor, the couple say the colours “drew the house inwards” and made it feel smaller. The textured, coloured glass panes have been replaced several times and a Japanese maple tree they planted in the space looked glum through winter. It has been tricky to get the replacement panes right but, 18 months later, they’ve finally cracked it. “We’ve used a lot more clear glass,” says Peter. “At night you can look up and see the stars when you walk to the kitchen.”

It’s happy surprises such as these that make the effort so worthwhile: the way the front deck drops off into infinity so that it feels like you are floating in a green valley when sitting in the living room; the fact that when lying in bed, Peter can see all four corners of the house and feel connected to it and the landscape beyond. “If you put a tracker on my back for a day, you’d discover that I use every single room,” he says.

Finishing touches 

The kitchen has bamboo cabinetry and a three-metre Dekton benchtop. “We definitely didn’t want a white kitchen, nor the ply cabinets that Box tends to do,” says Peter. The bamboo has a wonderful edge detail and the Dekton is textural, hard-wearing and stain-resistant – no red-wine circles for this much-used surface.

The pair have furnished the home simply with a single long sofa, a custom-built TV cabinet and a table that they move between their dining area and the deck on the southeast corner of the house.

“If we had a dedicated outdoor table, we’d just be looking at it eight months of the year,” says Hannes. Built-in king-size beds in both rooms save space and come complete with storage underneath.

Peter is a fan of sculpture and a piece that he has a particular connection with is one he bought from a Dunedin cafe, having seen it sitting on the counter for a number of years – a cast-bronze bird by Moira Crossman which now resides on their TV cabinet.

“We like to live minimally and not clutter up the walls,” he says. “I see sculpture in things such as beautiful light fittings and architectural detail and, besides, look at what we have outside.”

Never look back

Building for the first time – and working with an architect – has given the couple a fresh perspective on design. For Peter especially, it has been invaluable. As a Box ambassador, he now has first-hand experience of the process. And he tells it like it is: “We would never have achieved the view shafts and spatial clarity without the input of an architect but things can and do go wrong, especially if you’re trying something untested.”

All in all, though, they believe their decision to build – and build smaller – was the right choice. “The house has ‘us’ running right through it,” says Hannes. “It’s the emotion that resonates for the long term – not the size.”

New build tips

  • Choose a builder who is focused on details, details, details. We used random-width horizontal cedar boards on the sleep-out but we made sure they were laid so the groove of the board lined up with the top of the door flashing (otherwise it would have detracted from the architecture).
  • A good architect should think of future-proofing the design – for example, orienting the house for privacy from any new-builds on the land next door or providing the potential for screens to be built.
  • Flexi spaces make sure the house can adapt to changing circumstances.
  • Instead of spending money to remove soil from the site, use any excess excavated soil (where permitted) to develop a flat platform for the garden. We had to excavate quite significantly in order to meet height-to-boundary regulations and the extra soil was used to create a flat patio area which we have covered in Waiheke stone.
  • If you can, ensure the architect and the landscaper talk to each other. The architect’s role stops at the edge of the house, yet how the design connects to the garden (in our case, how the entry stairs connect to the steep pathway that provides access) is important.
  • Many homes these days incorporate a covered deck area which will not age or ‘silver off’ at the same rate as exposed decking. Treating or staining the timber may be an option to consider if you don’t like an inconsistent look.

Build cost: $900,000

Words by: Claire McCall. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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