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Under the mountain from New Home Trends volume 2206
Majestic high-country landscapes are best left untamed – their beauty lies in the rugged grandeur and intimidating scale of their mountain peaks and valleys.
To live in such an environment is to take a back seat to nature, which is precisely the approach taken by architect Michael Wyatt, who was commissioned to design this country retreat.
"The house needed to nestle into the land, rather than sit awkwardly on top of it," Wyatt says. "Sensitivity to the surroundings was essential for the design, the choice of materials and the siting of the house within the 40ha block."
The owners' desire for an artificial lake also helped determine the site.
"We chose a location that would virtually hide the house from view," says Wyatt. "And with the existing land forms, we could see there wasn't going to be a need for a vast amount of earthworks to create a dam."
In keeping with the need to link the house to the landscape, the main building materials were limited to stone, wood, and raw concrete.
"These materials are in tune with the surroundings. Even though concrete is man made, in a philosophical sense it is very similar to rock."
The design of the long, low-lying house also takes its cue from the landscape, with the shape of the roof echoing the lie of the land.
"There is a sense that the roof flows down hill, like the rocky outcrops," says Wyatt. "The roof plates tilt in two directions, which is a reference to the fractured rockscape."
Wyatt says the 5° tilt was also designed to ensure the high eaves at the front wouldn't obstruct the view from within the house, and that the height at the back would not make the house too visible from a distance. In addition, the roof design was planned to provide deep eaves for summer shade.
"We also kept the roof edges as slim as possible, so the overall impression is one of lightness," says the architect.
From a distance, the roof appears to hover above the glass walls, while solid schist dividing walls help to visually anchor the house to the landscape. A long wooden jetty extending into the lake further connects the house with its surroundings. Similarly, there are cantilevered kwila-edged terraces that appear to float like rafts on the water.
"Every room has a connection to the water," says Wyatt.
The use of similar materials inside as well as out, helps cement this link. Polished concrete floors, which are tinted grey with dark chips, feature on the terraces as well as inside.
To define the edge of the formal living room, part of the flooring is schist, which appears as a continuation of a solid schist wall.
"The schist that appears to divide the rooms on the exterior, becomes a solid mass behind the fireplaces," says Wyatt. "Schist walls also feature on the other side of the house, ensuring the house isn't simply perceived as a glass box."
All other walls in the house are raw concrete, which was both an aesthetic and an environmental choice, says Wyatt.
"The thermal mass of the concrete floors and walls ensures the house is well insulated against the temperature extremes in this part of the country. There are further energy savings gained by having the house set deeply into the ground – the depth ranges from 1.5 to 3.5m."
The low foundations also provide for an underground wine cellar, which is directly beneath a small, internal tasting room. This room is on a floor level half a metre higher than the floor of the main living area, enabling the owners to see through the house to the windows beyond. They can also look down, through a glass floor, to the cellar below.
As the mountain peaks are behind the house, there is a series of high, narrow windows that allow glimpses of this dramatic skyline from different parts of the house.
Some of these windows are in the wide passage in the bedroom wing, which has been designed as a gallery to display part of the owners' extensive art collection.
"Making the hallway wider than usual means there is room to stand back and appreciate the art," says Wyatt.
Floor-to-ceiling glazing in the bedrooms ensures there is a direct link with the lake and the views. Wyatt says continuing the colour of the acoustic ceiling tiles under the eaves was another way to blur the line between inside and out.
There is also a visual connection to the view from the master ensuite, which is elevated half a metre above the bedroom, and separated by a glass wall.
Tucked beneath the mountains, this new house was designed to camouflage with its surroundings. Both the materials and the architecture borrow from the landscape.
Michael Wyatt, Michael Wyatt Architect (Queenstown)
D&M Builders Queenstown
Baxter Design Group
Central Otago schist, cedar weatherboards
Rainheads and spouting
Precast concrete walls
External aluminium doors and windows
Polished, tinted concrete. Ceramic tiles from The Tile Shoppe
Custom fire surround designed by Michael Wyatt
Honed basalt from The Tile Shoppe
Range and hood
Home theatre system
Glass mosaics from The Tile Shoppe
Honed basalt from
The Tile Shoppe
Ceramic tiles from The Tile Shoppe
Photography by Doc Ross