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Hillside home in steel and glass with views, long decks and large living spaces

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Large three-level cliffside home by architects Chris Wilson and Jane Rooney with long decks, panoramic views from most rooms and sheltered outdoor spaces

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Living for a time on the site can help new owners understand the lie of the land and get a sense of the climate before a single line is traced on the architect's drawing board.

Such was the strategy adopted by the owners of this expansive hillside home, by architect Chris Wilson. The couple lived on location in an old wooden house, perched on top of the hill, for several seasons. That experience helped them decide to set the new home in the same position high on the site, but dug into the slope. This would reduce the impact of its profile and offer improved protection from the elements, says Wilson.

"We had to do major excavation work to nestle the house into the land. The need to include a lift shaft to connect all the levels made it even more of a challenge –the old house was all about stairs."

The architecture was dictated by the steep site, variable climate and the views, with the long, linear design maximising the connection to the scenery.

The house is built in structural steel and concrete block. Timber louvres and an exposed metal frame give the front facade a layered look and add a sense of privacy. Western red cedar boards on the garage and entry provide a visual link to the natural environment.


The house is set on three levels, with the garage and entry on the ground floor, open-plan living spaces above, and the bedrooms on the top level.

"This design really is about connecting to the water and city views," says Wilson. "So the living spaces and all the bedrooms are pushed forward, with ancillary spaces – the study, laundry, all the bathrooms and circulation spaces – at the rear."

There are two ways to enter the house, via the garage and elevator, or through the main entrance to the right of the garage. The substantial front door opens to stairs leading directly up to the living spaces.

"Positioned in a double-height space, the stairway has sheer white walls that rise up on both sides. This blinkers the view until you reach the top of the stairs, at the rear of the living spaces. From here, a single glance takes in the sweep of the estuary and the expansive living spaces – the impact is dramatic."

An architectural "bite" out of the front facade breaks up the house visually. This forms an outdoor patio on the middle level, accessible on three sides from the living spaces. Set back in the building envelope, the alfresco area is protected from the wind on two sides. An operable shutter roof provides shelter from the rain.

This element also performs a key role on the interior, the architect says. On the top floor, the recess separates the master suite on one side from children's bedrooms and a guest suite on the other.

Although set on high, in an exposed position, the house has been built to maximise warmth and comfort. Insulation has been applied on the outside of the concrete block support walls. This means the thermal mass of the blockwork can readily absorb and store heat during the day and release it into the interior at night when temperatures drop. The house is also served by solar hot water heating.

A deep roof overhang, electronically operated louvres and clerestory windows, together with motorised internal shades, help control sunlight and heat.

There is a small courtyard to the rear of the house, accessed from the kitchen. This provides an open-air retreat when the sun is hot or the prevailing winds are on shore. A swimming pool at the side of the house offers another sheltered spot. This features a retractable pool cover that extends out from a slot in one side of the surround, at the touch of a button.

A sculpture by New Zealand artist Graham Bennett stands on the front deck, which had to be reinforced to take its weight. Shaped in laser-cut steel, this piece moves with the wind and is called Overlook, Overview, Oversee.

First published date: 18 September 2014

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Credit List

Architect Chris Wilson, Jane Rooney, Wilson & Hill Architects (Christchurch)
Kitchen designer Jane Rooney
Builder Duncan Taylors Builders
Cladding Rockcote Plaster System
Roof Longrun metal roofing by Calder Stewart with Protea Duo membrane; operable louvre roof by Louvretec
Window and door joinery Vantage by APL Architectural Series from Hagley Aluminium
Window and door hardware Sopers
Flooring Oak by Swinard
Paints Resene
Lighting Access Lighting
Heating HPAC by Hartnell Coolheat
Pool Niveau Construction
Kitchen cabinets Stained American white oak timber veneer
Benchtops Caesarstone in Nougat
Splashback Backpainted glass
Sink Mercer Stainless
Taps Kludi Bozz
Ovens Bosch
Cooktop Brandt induction
Ventilation Asko
Waste unit Parmco
Bathroom vanity Caesarstone Organic White vanity top with spray-lacquered joinery
Shower fittings Hansgrohe Raindance
Shower stall Bette ceramic shower tray
Bath VCBC by Smails
Basin Catalano Sistema Zero+
Hot water systems Solar hot water heating by Azzuro
Wall tiles GranitoGres Thassos and Ramora Brown from SpazioCasa