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With its low profile and weathered cedar slats over plywood, this clifftop house hunkers down in the rugged landscape, creating an unobtrusive presence


Sometimes it's not what you add to a site, but what you leave untouched that makes the biggest design statement.

It's a philosophy put into practice by local authorities in areas where landscape values are paramount, such as the picturesque Wakatipu Basin near Queenstown.

The design of this house, for example, was heavily influenced by restrictions on the building envelope. The house is near a cliff edge on the Crown Terrace, which overlooks the basin and the snow-capped Remarkables mountain range beyond.

Architect Nick Karlovsky says the original rectangular 500m2 building platform that was approved was restricted to a 4.5m height.

"The restrictions would have dictated a simple flat roofed box in the landscape – I wanted to get away from that, in order to embrace the landscape and create opportunities for sheltered outdoor living. Fortunately, we were able to secure an L-shaped building platform, which was excavated to provide space for a large garage-basement. This also enabled the house to nestle into the contours of the site, and together with the natural landform, embrace a sheltered courtyard."


Karlovsky says the owners, Colleen Flemmer and David Stretch, wanted a contemporary house with a set number of bedrooms and living spaces, but did not specify a particular style. Consequently, the architect took his cue from the natural landscape, which has its own raw beauty, and the local rural architecture.

"The land has been farmed for many years and is dotted with rural buildings," he says. "Most of these have gabled rooflines, which didn't fit with the need for a low profile, so we took our inspiration from the stockyards and their long timber fences."

Cedar slats over timber battens, which are reminiscent of a closely boarded fence, were secured to weathertight plywood cladding to form the house exterior. In several places, the plywood is replaced by glazing and the cedar slats form bifolding shutters or large sliding screens.

"The cladding gives the house a very restrained look," says Karlovsky. "The windows are either hidden behind slats or recessed in the shadows.

"The slats provide privacy while bringing a wonderful filtered light into the house. Yet they can be peeled back to open up the entire interior to the view."

Weathered timber is also a key feature of the landscape design by Creation Green. This includes a floating timber platform and framed box-like element that serves as an alfresco dining area on one side of the three-sided, north-facing courtyard.

"The climate is good for outdoor entertaining for many months of the year," he says.

The wings of the house form two sides of the courtyard, while a third side is protected from wind by a wall and the contours of the land.

The family living area, kitchen, games room and study all open out to the courtyard. A second, more formal living room looks out in the other direction. Both this room and the family room can be opened up to the entry hallway to create one large flowing space, ensuring the house is ideal for entertaining.

Karlovsky says the family living area appears more elevated, as it looks out over the cutting that provides access to the garage underneath. It gives the sense of being closer to the Crown Face cliff edge.

"The other living area facing west features a mill steel fireplace surround with a natural black patina, and built-in cabinets. The colour palette and key furnishings were designed by Grant Bulling of Ivan Bulling Ltd in conjunction with the owners."

Other prominent materials include polished concrete flooring and European beech plywood ceiling panels. These line the ceiling in the family living room, providing a link to the natural environment and helping to warm the space visually.

The galley-style kitchen teams white and chocolate brown lacquered cabinets with stainless steel benchtops for a crisp aesthetic. Contemporary lines also define the bathrooms, and bathtubs are positioned to maximise the great views.

First published date: 07 February 2012

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Credit List

Architect Nick Karlovsky (Whangarei)
Architectural documentation The Design Studio
Interior designer Grant Bulling, Ivan Bulling Ltd
Structural engineer Stephen MacNight
Builder Stephen Gillan, Q Construction
Kitchen designer and manufacturer Des McMaster, McMaster Joinery
Lighting engineer Jane Purdue
Landscape designer Creation Green
Roofing Skellerup
Cladding and louvres Cedar
Doors and windows Aitken Joinery
Flooring Polished concrete by Stone Heritage
Lighting Redpaths
Drapes and furniture Ivan Bulling Ltd
Fireplace Jetmaster; Yunca
Audiovisual equipment and home automation Selectrix
Kitchen cabinetry Lacquered
Splashback Coloured glass
Benchtops Stainless steel
Oven, cooktop and ventilation Miele
Refrigerator Bosch
Bathroom vanity, tub and tapware Edward Gibbon