by Nadezna SiganporiaNov 07, 2022
As wild as it is beautiful—the rugged Omaui, a small coastal village settlement on the south coast of New Zealand that is remote, sparsely populated and steeped in history. Originally inhabited by the Maori people, it was later used as a whaling and sealing base and is a charming snapshot of old New Zealand. Accessed via isolated roads surrounded by native vegetation, the landscape here oscillates between bush, a somewhat rocky coastline, and sand dunes. Due to its location, Omaui beach faces north towards the expanse of Oreti beach, across the bay and on a clear day, one can even see all the way to the dramatic mountains of Fiordland.
It was over a decade ago that Queenstown-based architect Stacey Farrell first experienced the raw beauty of Omaui, eventually buying a small section on which to build. Spending the next 10 years camping on the site helped her explore the land, and understand the nuances of the terrain, helping her decide on the ideal location for the holiday home. For instance, the heavy and tall bush on the northwest part of the site pushed the location of the home to the northern end of the site, and keeping the fierce and windy winter storms in mind, the eventual site purchased was located at around 500 metres away from the beach to provide a buffer between the home and the water. Her team even climbed different trees to work out views from future floors, and it was this intimate knowledge of their surroundings that greatly contributed to a design that evolved over the years. Eventually, Farrell crafted a discreet yet luxurious holiday home within a tight budget, that was purposefully designed to be unassuming from the outside.
Since the site gently descends to the sand dunes and is populated by windswept trees, it encouraged a low and grounded residential design for the holiday home. The resulting residential architecture appears embedded in the landscape, and is wrapped around an impressive windswept native beech tree opening up to reveal views across dunes, the ocean, and snow-capped mountains. Narrating the significance of the location, Farrell explains, "You approach the site via gravel roads that give you glimpses of the coast through trees and paddocks. You enter the site high from the road on the south, and the site drops down toward the sand dunes on the north. There is heavy native bush on the west and east of the site.”
The design is inspired by the traditional architecture of New Zealand's holiday homes referred to as baches or cribs that are woven into the fabric of the country’s culture and are usually located near the sea, lake, river, or forest. These small homes started to gain popularity after the Second World War, as better roads made beautiful remote locations more accessible. As their popularity surged, they started to symbolise a beach holiday lifestyle that became more attainable to the middle class. They started out as small houses usually made of corrugated iron, fibrolite, and used timber construction, furnished with second-hand furniture and odd family heirlooms but today, baches have transformed into stylish holiday homes, replete with all the modern comforts one could want.
Farrell modelled her Coast House on the lines of these iconic homes. Making most of the rural site, Farrell went the extra mile in terms of location of the home, the material palette, and elements to make a sustainable design. During construction, she minimised impact on the land with nominal excavation. Resulting in a home that opens up to panoramic views and abundant wildlife, while creating a negligible footprint with low energy use and low maintenance. The structure hunkers amid native trees which shield it from the wind. The materials and colour palette were also purposefully pared back to blend in with the landscape rather than stand out. The home consists of two converging volumes, with the black one dominating the brown.
As one approaches the entrance located in the volume, clad in brown corrugated metal, a real sense of just how discreet it is can be assessed. With a roof that gradually inclines to a few feet off the ground, it appears to almost emerge from the ground. The exterior façade is also designed to encourage native plants to climb over and eventually conceal it. The volume splits to make way for a paved path surrounded by gravel, leading to the main door and houses the entrance foyer, a guest bedroom, a woodshed, and a storage area in the narrow slice of the wedge. The second linked volume has an exterior cladding of black metal and will be topped with solar panels. “Cladding had to be resilient and low maintenance so I chose colour-coated profiled steel,” Farrell explains.
Entering the second volume, you are greeted by an open-plan living, dining, and kitchen area with the master bedroom sitting at the far end for privacy. This volume is oriented to make the most of the coastal views with large windows allowing sunlight to flood the home. The material palette for the interiors is raw and striped back, yet infuses a sense of warmth to the home. It was constructed using structural insulated panels or SIPs which Farrell hand-stained and chose to leave exposed rather than cover up with plasterboard, to reduce wastage of materials and labour. The home also uses local plywood and is constructed with an insulated timber floor on driven timber piles, which allows the entire structure to be moved if sea levels rise.
The modest-sized home was designed with a passive house ideology to require minimal heating during the cold winter. A wood-burning stove provides heating, and rainwater is collected from the roof for home use. Farrell also created a ventilation system with through wall 'heat exchange' vents, and added locally sourced recycled wool insulation in the ceiling. Another way in which she reduced heat loss was to ensure that the plumbing and electrical fittings were not on external walls. The exterior corrugated cladding requires little maintenance and the slope helps with rainwater collection. The living area opens up to a small deck made of concrete, which eliminates the need for future maintenance unlike staining a wooden deck.
A home that blends in with the rugged terrain, immersing the occupants in the environs yet cocooning them from the harsh climate that comes with it, the Coast House both honours and is inspired by the quintessential baches of New Zealand, showcasing an array of experimentation in design and materiality. Designed to be sustainable with a low environmental impact, while also being portable for relocation purposes should sea levels rise, this warm and discreet getaway makes most of the topography and coastal views on a very small budget—a wonderful testament to the creative freedom that comes with the architect as the client.
Name: Coast House
Location: Omaui, New Zealand
Architect: Stacey Farrell
Site area: 911 square metre
Internal floor area: 97 square metre
Awards: Winner of the Green Home of the Year 2021 Award, Home Magazine, winner of the 2022 Southern Architecture Award, NZIA, winner of the 2022 Resene Colour Award, dinalist at the 2021 COLORSTEEL Awards and finalist at Small Spaces, 2022 WAN Awards (World Architecture Network)