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Just enough of this property's bush-clad land was cleared to fit in the house

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Many designs may claim to have been influenced by the landscape but most of these still make quite an impact on their surroundings. On occasion, though, a house will slip into its site almost unnoticed, barely making a mark on its environment.

This low-impact approach was part of the brief for architect André Hodgskin when he designed a new home on an isolated, bush-clad site. The well travelled owner was seeking a retreat in the true sense of the word, somewhere to escape to that was designed around the surroundings rather than apart from them.

To start with, Hodgskin looked to have a minimal amount of clearance work done, making just enough space in the bush for the structure and an access way.

"With a space cleared that was just big enough for the footprint of the building, steel portals were marched along the site to form the structure of the house," he says.

Finished in the same colour as the bark of the trees that mass around the site, the structure is braced at either end by steel stays. The roof has been slung from this framework, and the floor too is supported by this network of steel.

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Both the roof and floor are solid elements in a house that demonstrates a high degree of transparency.

"The house is a very honest structure," says Hodgskin, "with the details of its form being fully expressed."

Other surfaces are dominated by glazing ensuring that the interior spaces are as transparent and open to the site as possible. A series of uplights are set into the slim interior columns to provide a gentle ambient light at night.

On one wall, a more solid stretch houses the kitchen appliances and storage, and a fireplace. Known as the seasonal wall, the intention isto re-colour the wall inside and out to match thefoliage of the trees through the changes of season.

This same wall also has a series of sliding doors leading to the deck. On the southern side of the home and contoured to suit the encroaching bush, the deck receives protection from too much sun thanks to the shadow of the house itself.

An outdoor fireplace is set into the bold lime-green of the seasonal wall's spring incarnation. Two other decks, effectively extensions of the floor, sit at either end of the home, one by the entrance, the other running out from the master bedroom.

Opposite the seasonal wall is one constructed entirely of glass and aluminium framing. To provide some degree of shelter from the sun, a lattice screens the open-plan living, kitchen and dining space while still allowing light in and a view out. The lattice also works to cool the air between it and the windows before it enters the house.

Set into this lattice is an area Hodgskin refers to as the eyelid – a cutout from the lattice, hinged at the top and lifted by steel stays. This exposes a large chunk of the glazing to provide a better view of the bush and the coast in the distance, while the lifted lattice still shades the area from direct sun.

The long run of the open-plan space ends at a set of cupboards, beyond the kitchen area, that conceals a study and other day-to-day trappings. On either side of this hidden study are sets of stairs, leading up to the master bedroom and down to the guest room. These bedroom areas are each divided by a wall of closet space that screens the sleeping areas from the adjoining bathrooms.

The master bathroom features a terrazzo counter, like that in the kitchen, and a shower that can be opened to the outdoors, while the guest bathroom incorporates a more pragmatic element: the laundry.

First published date: 14 October 2003

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Credit List

Architect André Hodgskin Architects (Auckland)
Engineer PK Engineering
Main contractor John Nicholas Builders
Steel portals Mark Fell Engineering
Fireplaces Warmington Fires
Cabinetry and bench tops John Nicholas Builders
Lighting Lighting Direct
Joinery Fairview Joinery
Flooring and lattice screen Northland kauri timber
Dining table Designed by architect and manufactured by Mark Fell Engineering
Dining chairs Philippe Starck
Chaises Adapted from sofas by Apartmento
Beds Designed by architect