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From the tree-lined avenue to the shuttered windows, every element of this country retreat is planned to frame a dramatic view


Design inspiration can come from many sources, far and wide. For a holiday home, some designers take their cue from the surrounding landscape, while others look to international trends.

John and Nina Hancock, the architect and interior designer of this country house, found their inspiration right across the road – in a tumbledown stone ruin.

"The building, which looked like it had been there for 200 years, was made from local schist and built in the barn-style vernacular, with deep recessed windows and doors," says John Hancock. "The design of this old farmhouse, which is similar to others in the area, and the materials used, influenced the design philosophy for the new house."

Hancock says the house was designed to resemble an old barn that had been converted into a modern home – a solid schist structure with weatherboard additions that could have been added over time.

"We wanted to convey the feeling, when you walked in, that the original barn wall had been knocked down and replaced with glass, providing an expansive view down the valley to the barley fields."


Hancock says the use of local schist both inside and out was an intrinsic element of the design. It was also a way to link the house to its surroundings – there are many old stone walls in the district.

"Dark–stained cedar weatherboards and reclaimed slate roofing help create the look of a building that is aging gracefully. Over time the cedar, schist and slate will develop a patina of their own."

The house, built by Peter and Paul Rogers of RBJ Builders, has both an east-west and a north-south axis, aligning it with the driveway and the valley views.

The interior features a double-height, open-plan living area. Exposed trusses and a timber board ceiling enhance the barn-like feel. Along with a large schist fireplace and chimney, they introduce a strong textural element, in keeping with the rustic, country look.

"For this reason, also, we added shutters to the interior," says Nina Hancock. "They add texture to the walls and help avoid a look that is too contemporary."

The shutters also help frame the dramatic views. Every window and doorway has been positioned to capture a glimpse of a particular slice of the view – either up to the mountains, down the valley or across the small lake in front of the house.

Nina Hancock says the design reflects the owners' love of entertaining. The living area provides a seamless flow between the kitchen, dining and family areas and to the outdoors.

"The kitchen is designed so the owners can socialise with family and friends while preparing meals, or even enlist their help. They wanted everyone to be able to participate," she says. "It's a very casual, relaxed environment."

Furniture groups help define the different areas within the open-plan area. A central staircase, which creates a strong sculptural element, also provides visual separation between the more casual and formal seating areas.

The staircase, like the American oak flooring, shutters and wood trim, is stained a very dark brown. The dark palette anchors the space visually, and helps create an intimate feeling.

"We wanted the interior to have a modern feel, but didn't want to go to extremes with a pristine, minimalist look," says Nina Hancock. "The American oak has a lot of grain showing through, and the dark colour helps to warm the space."

Furnishings were also chosen to convey a feeling of comfortable sophistication.

"We have used very earthy, neutral tones, rust, and accents of orange to create elements of warmth. The furniture is also very substantial as it needed to fit the scale of the space. For example, a large, modular sofa in the family room creates a very inviting and cosy setting."

The living area is overlooked by a mezzanine catwalk that leads to the master bedroom suite. The landing offers extensive views in two directions through a rhythm of windows set high on the walls.

The master suite is at the south end of the landing. To the north is a home office and a small, mezzanine reading area.

"This is a desirable spot to curl up with a book," says Nina Hancock. "Creating this space also meant we could have a lowered ceiling in the kitchen below. As well as making the kitchen a more intimate space, the lowered ceiling provides a bulkhead for the lighting."

The spacious master suite is enhanced by the high gabled ceiling. Here, a series of stepped-down soffits conceal the barn trusses. As well as providing a study room, the suite features his-and-hers dressing rooms and a large bathroom.

Two separate self-contained guest suites are positioned on the ground floor beneath the master suite. These suites each open to a private courtyard.

Several other outdoor seating areas are placed to provide shelter from prevailing winds. One of these features a large fireplace that doubles as a barbecue.

The owners say the success of the challenging project is a reflection of the strong partnership between the architects and the builders – and the talents and skills of a very select group of craftspeople.

First published date: 17 August 2006

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Credit List

Architect John Hancock, Eric Mersmann AIA, Hancock + Hancock Inc (Chicago, Illinois)
Interior designer Nina Hancock, Associate AIA, Susan Lisowski, Hancock + Hancock Inc
Builder Peter and Paul Rogers, RBJ Builders (Queenstown)
Structural engineer Holmes Consulting Group
Electrical engineer Pedersen Read
Mechanical engineer David Poulson Consulting
Lighting designer Jane Purdue; Hancock + Hancock
Project manager Douglas Consultants
Kitchen manufacturer, interior joinery and shutters Coronet Woodware
Roofing Reclaimed roof slates from Meriton
Exterior joinery Cavalier windows from Lewis Windows
Hardware FSB Hardware from Halliday & Baillie
Blinds Silent Gliss solar shades from Active Furnishers; wood blinds from Sallee
Flooring Stained American white oak
Tiling Cotte D'Este Buxy porcelain from Spazio Casa
Lighting Bega; Artemide; ECC Lighting; Gamma; Hunza
Home automation Vantage
Heating Radiant heated floor by Southern Heat
Paints Dulux Paints
Furniture Donghia; Holly Hunt; Knoll; Golden Triangle; ECC Lighting; Wayne Wright Antiques; French Trading Company; OGZ; Merkel Woodworking; Coronet Woodware; beds, dressers, night tables from Hancock + Hancock
Audiovisual equipment Strawberry Sound
Living room artwork Vivian Van Blerk
Kitchen benchtops Antique Brown granite from Trethewey Granite and Marble
Splashback Corian from Coronet Woodware
Oven Bosch
Rangehood Gaggenau
Refrigerator Liebherr
Dishwasher Asko
Appliance supplier Lifestyle Appliances