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At home in the trees

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The simple form of this holiday home respects the site on which it sits, blurring the line between indoors and outdoors

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The tyranny of distance that kept New Zealand apart from the rest of the world for so long nurtured an ability to face all kinds of challenges. It may have been grudging at times, but the respect – even reverence – our forebears felt for the natural environment has passed down to become an affinity for the landscape.

So it is not surprising that many New Zealanders head back to this landscape when seeking respite from the city.

When the owners of this woodland site were looking to add a holiday home, they were keen to avoid imposing on the delicate ecosystem, designer Chris Tate says.

"The family has owned the land for three generations and there is already a house on the site. They wanted the new one as additional accommodation, to be set on a piece of land that had been a vegetable patch, but was now no longer used.

"Because of its prior use, we were able to minimise our impact on the site, moving only a couple of trees, which were later replanted. One ponga tree we left where it was and built the deck around it."

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Because of site restrictions, the entire built-up area is little more than 80 sq mts.

"Essentially the whole building is no more than one room wide," says Tate. "But the design is typical of the work I do, predominantly for wooded or coastal plots, in that the site is an extension of the building."

"When you're in the living area and the joinery is fully pushed back, it's as if you're outside. The space recalls a covered viewing platform, and you're never any further than arm's reach from the trees."

Compounding the feeling of being nestled in the bush is the fact that the site drops away steeply, leaving the deck cantilevered three metres above the ground.

This idea of being at one with the surroundings also played a role in the choice of materials, as well as the colour palette, says Tate.

"I really enjoy working with sites such as this, as it is the site that dictates how the building will appear."

"In this case, the limited building platform, and the proximity of the trees resulted in a pared-back, functional property."

Plantation pine exterior cladding is stained black to match the ponga trunks, and creates a visual cohesion with the surroundings. Its inclusion inside further blurs the indoor-outdoor line. Heat-absorbing glass makes both a sustainable and an aesthetic contribution to the project. Higher levels of iron oxide give the glass a greener than normal cast, which complements the green of the woodland.

"It's about working with the view, not competing with or complicating it," says Tate.

"The interior presents as a utilitarian space in order to make the view the focus. The view is the prize and deserves to be celebrated."

This is one of the reasons why the bathtub is outdoors. Tate originally meant the tub to be on the deck, but when one of the owners suggested another spot near the house, the designer recognised its suitability straight away.

"Again, it's about enjoying nature, so why not make use of the beautiful setting. A tank collects rainwater runoff from the roof, which is then heated by the wetback stove. It is a fully functioning bath – it just happens to be outdoors."

Aside from the bath and living area, there are two bedrooms, a bathroom and separate toilet, a storage closet and pantry.

Council regulations meant the house couldn't have a kitchen, so the wetback stove can also be used to cook on.

"It looks rudimentary, but the owners have everything they need," says Tate. "It is a building that recalls the great holiday home tradition and what it is to be a part of the New Zealand landscape – an invaluable experience that is unique to us."

First published date: 16 February 2012

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Credit List

Architectural designer Chris Tate, Chris Tate Architecture (Auckland)
Interior designer Chris Tate
Builder Andrew Graham, ADG Builders
Kitchen designer Chris Tate
Kitchen manufacturer RH Cabinet Makers
Cladding Shadowclad
Roofing ColorSteel
Tiling European Ceramics & Stone
Flooring Saligna
Paints and varnishes Resene; Woca
Lighting Wave Electrical
Doors and windows Windowmakers
Furniture Forma, ECC, Vast, Antipodes Design Store
Fireplace Wagener Butler Multi
Kitchen cabinetry Black oak
Benchtops Stainless steel
Table setting Freedom Furniture
Selected accessories Bo Concept