Far horizons

Nestled into the hillside high above the sea, this family retreat references small clifftop villages in the Mediterranean
Story by: Colleen Hawkes Photography by: Jamie Cobeldick
Exterior view of Mediterranean styled house which is apartment, architecture, estate, home, house, property, real estate, residential area, resort, sky, swimming pool, villa, blue
Exterior view of Mediterranean styled house which is clad in plaster and features a pool that cantilevers over the edge.

Take one spectacular view and a building site of 1148ha and you have the key ingredients for a family compound with a difference.

This property, in the picturesque Bay of Islands, has a particularly steep terrain with a building site on a ridge overlooking a sandy beach. The clifftop position of the house, which was designed by architect Neville H Price, meant the views could be maximised and the building tucked within the natural contours of the hillside.

The main contractor, Eddie Cooney of Black Watch Construction, says the owners wanted to incorporate similar materials to the architect's own home on a nearby lot. This features time-honoured materials and finishes, such as coloured plaster walls, stone floors, and antique clay roofing tiles.

To create a sense of permanence and solidity, the new house is built from Polyblock reinforced with concrete. This provides the deep reveals that define traditional European buildings.

But the Mediterranean influence extends even further. The massing of the architecture is reminiscent of a hillside village in the South of Italy, France or Greece. Designed as a series of linked elements, the house spreads out below the ridge, the more horizontal forms balanced by symmetrical tower elements.


Interior view of stairway at Mediterranean styled home architecture, ceiling, daylighting, floor, flooring, handrail, home, house, interior design, stairs, structure, gray
Interior view of stairway at Mediterranean styled home which features glass balustrade and stainless steel handrail.

"Both the house and the landscaping have a strong symmetry," says Cooney. "The layout of the rooms in the main house is very symmetrical as they spread out from the central stairwell and lobby. And the two guest wings, one on the east side of the house and one on the west, are mirror images of each other."

Cooney says at the request of the owners, the house was precisely aligned to orientate true north. This precision meant there was no margin for error, and new technology was incorporated to ensure measurements were exact for perfect alignment.

To accommodate the gradient, the house sits on two levels, with the main living area on the upper level. The architect designed the house to go through the ridge of the hill, rather than sit on top of it, so the building appears one level from the driveway. While the house was always designed to nestle into the ridge, now that the extensive landscaping is taking shape, the house is beginning to grow back into the land, which helps disguise its size.

The house, although large, needed to be flexible enough to accommodate a crowd of 14, or sufficiently intimate for just one person in residence. Consequently, it is designed for formal gatherings as well as casual beach house family living.

The centrepiece of the living room, or great room, is a fireplace made from local stone, which soars 7m to the vaulted ceiling beneath the pitched roof. Natural materials also feature on the ceiling, and all overhangs, which are lined with island kauri.

View of kitchen which features island, bar stools, cabinetry, countertop, cuisine classique, estate, interior design, kitchen, property, real estate, gray, white
View of kitchen which features island, bar stools, tiled floors, granite cabinets, teak cabinetry, appliances.

All the main rooms, including family living areas on the lower level, open to large terraces and stairs leading to a cantilevered infinity-edge pool. The great room has an 8m-wide opening for an easy indoor-outdoor flow.

Cooney says access constrictions meant elements of the landscaping large palms, boulders and pohutukawa trees needed to be craned in place before the upper level of the house was built.

"The sheer size of the house and the weight of the roof meant it needed to be engineered and constructed like a commercial building, with concrete beams and posts cast in situ."

Dec 15, 2010

Credit list

Builder
Eddie Cooney, Black Watch Construction Ltd (Auckland and Northland)
Geotechnical engineers
Tonkin Taylor
Landscaping
Mike Price Landscapes
Exterior cladding
Sika plaster system; timber stained with Resene Woodsman; by Stonecraft Construction
Flooring
Limestone tumbled tiles from Turkey, sourced by architect
Main fireplace
Rumford, sourced from USA by architect; installed by Stonecraft Construction
Lighting
ECC Lighting
Air conditioning
Theatre and wine cellar, installed by Clarkson Electrical
Benchtops
Brazilian granite sourced by architect; fabricated by SCE Stone & Design
Shutters
Weathermaster
Structural and civil engineers
CPG
Interior designer
Andi Wheeler
Pool and spa design and construction
Stonecraft Construction
Roofing
Antique Italian tiles sourced by architect
Feature tiles
North medallion from RTK Studios California; sourced by architect; installation by Northland Tile
Stone masonry
Stonecraft Construction
Heating system
Warmfloor Heating Systems
Kitchen cabinetry
Italy & Kitchens
Interior doors
Rustica South American teak, sourced by architect
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