Clients' brief: respect nature

Turning its back on a neighbour's driveway, the home is oriented for maximum sun and views....
Turning its back on a neighbour's driveway, the home is oriented for maximum sun and views. Mature fruit trees surround the house.
House sizes might have steadily expanded over the years but when an Arrowtown couple were planning their new home, they were determined that it be small.

The couple knew a large house would have a bigger environmental impact and didn't see any reason to have a more spacious one than they needed.

The small site dotted with mature fruit trees was also a consideration - they needed to fit an energy-efficient house within an established orchard and residential neighbourhood.

As a result, their home measures 135sq m.

Kerr Ritchie Architects welcomed the brief.

"We've done quite a few small houses," says architect Bronwen Kerr, who works with landscape architect Pete Ritchie.

"We really enjoy doing things that are efficient and make good use of space, rather than just making big spaces that don't necessarily feel that great."

The modest home is on the edge of the historic precinct in Arrowtown, putting it within easy walking distance of the town centre for the owners - one a librarian, the other a surveyor who works from a small cottage that was already on the property.

Built-in shelving divides the kitchen from the living room. Photos by Paul McCredie.
Built-in shelving divides the kitchen from the living room. Photos by Paul McCredie.
The site slopes in two directions, has height restrictions and is subject to local heritage guidelines that require the house to reference the small size and simple forms of the surrounding historic sheds and buildings.

All of these factors meant it made sense to break the house into smaller elements - three interconnected pavilions or shed-like structures - that step down the landscape.

Sitting below the road, the house turns its back on an adjacent driveway to a neighbouring property and faces north for sun and views.

From the living areas, the owners can look through the orchard up wooded river valleys to the back of the Cardrona ski field.

Stairs from the main entry lead to the kitchen and dining area.

Bedrooms are tucked away on the lowest level.

The cottage, built in the 1970s, is used as a home office and guest accommodation. The owners and their teenage daughter squeezed in there for a year while the house was being built.

Only one fruit tree had to be shifted to make way for the house. Replanted a few metres away, it and the others produce apricots, apples and quince.

Kerr says, in most projects, they try to use passive solar principles such as lots of glazing to the north, small, high windows to the south for natural ventilation and hard flooring (in this case, concrete).

The home has generous insulation and also uses more sophisticated principles such as thermally broken windows and ground-source heat.

The windows have a cavity not only between the glass panes but between the inner and outer aluminium frames, preventing heat loss and condensation.

The ground-sourced heatpump uses two bores and takes advantage of warmth underground, which is more consistent than that in the air.

The weatherboard-clad home was a winner in the recent Southern Architecture Awards, the judges describing it as a compact, responsible dwelling that represents a skilful response to a challenging site and strict district plan: "Cedar, ply, concrete and flashes of bright yellow are expertly handled in this warm, enchanting and distinctly modern family home."

Floor area: 135sq m.
Exterior: Dark-stained cedar weatherboards.
Interior: Polished concrete floors and plywood ceilings.
Bedrooms: Two plus an exercise room.
Bathrooms: One.
Heating: Ground-sourced heatpump.
Architects: Kerr Ritchie Architecture, Queenstown.
Builder: Roy Bagley, Arrowtown.

Home, sweet ever-larger home the trend

Small can be beautiful but it goes against the trends. Over the past 36 years, the average new-house size has increased 80%, from 108sq m in 1974 to 195sq m in 2009.

Experts put this down to home owners opting for features such as attached garages and ensuite bedrooms. They also point to an increase in land costs and in developers wanting to maximise their profit margins by building larger, higher-end dwellings.

The most common house in New Zealand still has three bedrooms, but the proportion of one, two and three-bedroom houses fell 4.8% in the 10 years to 2006, while the proportion of four, five and six-bedroom houses increased 5.3%.

Architect Bronwen Kerr has also noticed the shift.

"Think of New Zealand houses in the 1950s. They've just got bigger and bigger over the years," she says, adding that, with families being smaller, fewer people are living in them.

"Many people are concerned about resale value rather than what they really need. Our attitude is if you do something that's personal and that you love, there will be someone else out there who will love it too."


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