Large house on difficult steep slope is partly dug into the hillside to create a basement platform for the upper levels

This multi-level house by Mason & Wales transforms into a glass and steel pavilion on the top levels, optimising its stunning views of Queenstown
Story by: John Williams Photography by: Jamie Cobel
Steel columns and roof edges in this home building, cottage, elevation, estate, facade, home, house, mountain, mountain range, property, real estate, sky, villa, teal, brown
Steel columns and roof edges in this home are encased in a black Alucabond cladding system.

The view from the top of Queenstown Hill is truly breathtaking. However, its extremely steep gradient was certainly an issue for the architect who conceived this multi-level holiday home.

On his first visit to the site, architect Francis Whitaker says it wasn't clear how he was ever going to build a house there.

"It's an exceptionally difficult site extremely steep," he says. "It's the uppermost section of the highest subdivision in Queenstown, so it can never be built out. However, there was a problem we had no flat land to build on."

Whitaker's solution was to design a long narrow form, just one room wide, and partially submerge it into the hillside following the contours of the land.

"We had no brief from our clients for the look of the house, but because of the spatial requirements and the large number of rooms, the house simply became a series of narrow layers emerging out of the ground," the architect says. "The building actually generated itself. It's the only way it could exist."

The initial phase of the project was to cut a huge notch out of the hillside to create a flat and stable platform for the house. Peter Campbell, from local construction company Triple Star, explains the lengths they had to go to just to secure the site.

"We excavated a long, 15m-deep cut into solid rock, then inserted 150 rock anchors 14m into the exposed rock," says Campbell. "From here, we poured a huge concrete slab and two significant concrete chimneys that, with other elements, would act as bracing for the building."


In this new home by Mason & Wales, home, house, interior design, living room, real estate, gray
In this new home by Mason & Wales, the kitchen is positioned on the hill-facing side of the great room letting the living and dining areas take pride of place. The long island provides a casual seating hub while the timber surfaces connect with the use of wood throughout the interior. Much of the furniture for the project was imported from Australia by interior designer Di Henshall.

This ground level forms a large basement where owners and guests park their cars, and is the main entry point to the home effectively creating a large, subterranean porte cochére.

"This level also houses a climate-controlled wine cellar, bar, and a dedicated home theatre. The garage itself is like no other it's fully tiled and lined in oak, with art on the walls. Very James Bond," Campbell says.

The architect envisaged the garage as a large car showroom, built to very high specification.

"When the homeowners are in residence, the garage door is left open and people drive directly into the bottom of the building," says Whitaker. "From here, they enter the house via a suspended glass door system into a timber-lined lobby that contains the cantilevered staircase and lift that both access the two floors above."

The next level is dedicated to the owners' children, and contains three bedrooms, a large rumpus room, the laundry, and a self-contained maid's suite. Above that, the topmost floor is effectively a one-bedroom, glass-fronted house, with huge indoor and outdoor living areas, and an even more expansive view.

This upper level is visually much lighter than the floors below, which give it the effect of floating in the sky above Queenstown. The large eaves that extend out from the pavilion reflect and accentuate the layered nature of the design.

"Overall, it's a planar design, with enormous concrete floor plates, supported by stone-clad concrete walls and chimneys that break through the floors, creating an extremely forceful composition," says Whitaker. "The top floor is a steel and glass pavilion again punctuated by the schist columns with a pop-up roof. The raised roof contributes to a high four-metre stud in this area and admits more light thanks to the clerestory windows directly underneath it."

A feature timber ceiling, wood-finished walls and  ceiling, interior design, living room, real estate, gray
A feature timber ceiling, wood-finished walls and wood floors, together with the stone fireplace, all connect with Queenstowns pristine natural environment in this contemporary home with rustic touches. The combined living and dining environment is formed beneath a raised roof section that the architect says enhances the light, airy, and uplifting quality of the space.

For the home's interiors, the owner engaged Di Henshall, a specialist interior designer whom he'd worked with on three previous projects.

"The owner is a perfectionist, and was very clear from the outset what he wanted," Henshall says. "It was key that I didn't compromise the architect's vision, yet still satisfy the owner's expectations for it as a home, not as a building."

"The interiors also had to be in synergy with the landscape and the climate," she says. "Everything we did, we did to complement the naturalness of New Zealand. It is such a beautiful location that we didn't want to put anything into the house that took away from the natural beauty of the outside environment. What we added was supportive rather than obstructive."

Because the structure of the building is so powerful essentially concrete, stone and steel the interiors were softened using butt-jointed timber on the walls and ceilings.

"The timber was stained to a sophisticated grey-brown for a softened, weathered look," Henshall says. "This took time, but it was an essential part of the project, because the timber formed the main palette for the whole interior."

The designer says this was one of the biggest residential projects she'd ever undertaken.

"Because of the scale of the house, all of the furniture had to be custom made," she says.

Apr 26, 2017

Credit list

Francis Whitaker,
Triple Star
Nuralite watertight system
Oak linings from Herman Pacific
Estaurio by Neolith with American Walnut timber end panels and stainless steel on perimeter bench
Oven, steam oven, cooktop, warming drawer
Sub-Zero, integrated
Diesel boiler; underfloor from Peak Plumbing
Vanguard from Southern Spas & Pools
Interior designer and kitchen designer
Di Henshall Interiors
Alucobond from Cudoclad
Timber from CTC Flooring
Grey back-painted glass
Kitchen sink
Stainless steel
Wine fridge
AV & Automation
Trends International Design Awards (TIDA)





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