Whakatane House

Beach house in Whakatane.

We’re fortunate to be asked to design homes for our clients in some very special parts of New Zealand. For this project, we designed a beachfront home that will be the permanent residence of a semi-retired couple moving out to Whakatane. For this section that sits a block back from the beach, there were clear requirements and restrictions from the developers that we were asked to comply with. These included the minimum size of the dwelling, the distance or setback from the road, the materials we used, and the overall style that had to be sympathetic to NZ design aesthetic. The developers are trying to prevent people building very large, over-the-top dwellings near the beach that we’ve seen in other beach towns. While we had a long list of rules to work with, it actually made our work more enjoyable because we could focus on design elements and materials that work with the surroundings instead of competing with them. Our clients were also very focused on creating a home that blended in with the beach surroundings, and the look and layout we ended up with fulfils the requirements perfectly.

The Brief

Our clients had a very clear idea of what they wanted their retirement home to include. They were looking for us to design a two-bedroom house with an additional semi-private suite or granny flat that could be used by family members coming to stay.

They wanted it to feel like a permanent home, but to still have the relaxed feel of a beach house. They specified that they’d like a workspace or office nook where they could work from home. And lastly, after doing a lot of research on heat loss and gain, they were interested in having a thermally designed house.
Because the section is north-east facing, not far from the beach, and with guaranteed unobstructed views from most of the section, we had an ideal spot to design for.
The design:

The Design

The home is a two-storey house that faces northeast, out towards the beach. As you enter the front door from the street on the south side of the house, you can either turn right and go down a few steps to the private guest suite, or you can climb the stairs up to the landing above, where you’re greeted by a full-height window that reveals a magnificent view out to the water.

From this top landing, on the right you access the large, northeast-facing master suite. It has a walk-in wardrobe, ensuite bathroom and an office nook which will get beautiful morning sun and unobstructed views to the beach and park. We managed to create a separate workspace here that has wonderful views out to the east, without compromising on privacy.

We were very intentional with our placement of the master bedroom on this side of the house. We wanted the owners to wake up each morning to the beautiful view with the pleasant reminder of where they now live, rather than having to go out to the living room or kitchen to appreciate the view.

On the west side of the house we’ve positioned the living room, kitchen and dining room where the occupants and their visitors can enjoy the afternoon sun and alfresco dining out on that side of the deck. The layout choices here included having this west section of the home jut out a bit further, with the east side set back in a little with full height glazing. This allowed us to create a deck that wraps from the west side of the house, around the front, and then over to the east side – allowing for all-day sun and creating plenty of deck space to use for entertaining or relaxing.

Noting that the owners want the house to feel comfortable for just the two of them as well as for larger groups when family members come to visit, we designed the dining area to accommodate different settings. We have allowed room for a large dining table, yet we have included built-in bench seating under the windows on the west side. This gives them different dining options, depending on whether they want a cosy window-seat nook, a larger dining gathering, or alfresco dining out on the deck on this side.
The third main area of the interior of the house is the guest suite. As you come in the front door, rather than going up the main stairs, you can turn right and go down a few steps to a semi-private suite. This includes a bedroom with a small sitting area, kitchenette and ensuite bathroom. There are doors that open out to the east, giving guests their own little patio area and small garden. This part of the home will get a lot of light and won’t be obstructed by any building beside it as there is a driveway and beach pathway on that side. You can step outside these doors from the guest suite and look down to the beach. It’s a nice balance of creating a cosy space for visitors that allows everyone in the house their own privacy.

Moving around the outside, to the north side of the house, we’ve created the seamless transition from the large deck area to the land below, between the beach to the house. We’ve designed steps down on either side of the deck to meet the natural grass level outside, further drawing the outside in and creating a large flexible indoor/outdoor living zone. After reviewing information about the local wind and rain patterns, we wanted to provide some shelter from the weather over the deck without closing it in too much. So we opted for clear roofing supported by timber battens. The glass is a translucent composite material with UV protection, so it lets in a lot of light while providing protection from the sun.
The other materials we’ve used in the designs follow the uncomplicated material palette and incorporate the theme of bringing the beach to the house. Throughout, we have used vertical timber weatherboards, a timber structure for the deck covers and external shutters that add character to the exterior. The external timber shutters on the south-facing windows also provide additional thermal insulation when closed. The larger framing size allows for greater insulation areas, and together with thermally broken aluminium joinery, we have been able to include elements to create the thermally designed home the clients prefer.
All of the design elements on their own, and working together, draw a direct link to the beach palette. The natural timber has been oiled and, as it weathers, will gradually turn a beautiful silver grey over time, mimicking the look of driftwood.

The street side of the property, on the south, is softened by landscaping and greenery that we’ve proposed in our designs. Because the garage is on the side of the house, there isn’t a large metal garage door or concrete driveway facing you as you approach the house. The delineation between the public and private spaces is created with a gravel footpath leading to the front door and a carefully landscaped front garden. It’s a simple yet elegant response to the traditionally solid south-facing façade of many New Zealand homes.

The Result

We’ve ended up with a beautifully designed home that balances all of the requirements we set out to meet. The design addresses the site’s proximity to the beach, the view to the northeast, makes the most of the orientation and sun from the early morning to the late afternoon, and is a thermally designed home. With open plan living that can expand to suit larger family gatherings when needed, it feels like both a beach house for entertaining and a full-time residence for two. We’ve laid the house out in such a way that it works comfortably for just the two owners when they’re home alone, as well as for larger groups when family members are staying. We’ve brought the natural elements and the beach feeling into the home, while keeping it modern and clean. And we’ve incorporated elements that make it thermally designed with the environment in mind, both functionally and aesthetically.

Similar Projects