8 June 2016

Seeing the Potential

The original workingman’s cottage at 117 John St, Ponsonby, is small – ‘ridiculously small’, according to Tim Dorrington, the architect that transformed it from a dysfunctional house that had been extended ad hoc, into a well thought out, contemporary home.


It’s a weird little number – a small, square cottage, only 85m² top and bottom.” says the architect.

“I had always liked the house,” says, Tim. "In fact, I had a friend that flatted there when I was at university, so I'd been to plenty of parties there."

When Tim came on board, the owners, Rachel and Ario, had already gone through one design iteration. The initial concept was to build a large extension on the back, in keeping with the heritage of the original cottage, but they decided it was too big and too much for their needs. That’s when they got in contact with Tim.

“My approach was very different. I suggested they just leave the exterior of the existing house alone and build something contemporary off the back.”

“There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the heritage architects at Auckland Council prefer to have a distinction between the old and the new. Secondly, you’re not trying to bastardise the existing house to make it look like something it wasn’t.”

Financially it made more sense, too, because it allowed the architect to investigate a broader range of materials and building techniques. For example, if the home had been extended in keeping with the original, it would have looked out of place to use aluminium joinery. But, because it is designed and built in an entirely new and different way, more efficient, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors could be specified. They look great, they work well and they’re half the price of their timber counterparts, so the financial gains are huge.

“I wanted to keep the new extension low-lying, to allow the top floor of the existing cottage to maintain its view out over the playing fields and to get some valuable light into the master bedroom,” explains, Tim. “It also helps to minimise the scale of the house when looking at it from the side. It kind of makes it go away,” he adds.

Tim also wanted to play with the idea of having a staggered pavilion, thus creating a small courtyard on the north side of the house, opposite the new kitchen. This would give another option for sheltered outdoor living, plus bring more light into the home, something else he was keen to introduce.

“Granted, adding a single, straight box on the back would have given the owners a bigger backyard, but they didn’t need a bigger backyard, as they had access to the high school sports fields at the back and there was a vacant lot on one the side,” says, Tim.

The refurbishment of the old part of the home was an exercise in optimising and customising a very small space. Every single centimetre had to be well considered. For instance, the clever little step-seat in the shower is there because the architect needed the stud height coming up the stairs beneath. Also, removing the existing ceiling to reveal the vaulted shapes of the roofline created an illusion of space in the master bedroom.

“The resulting volumes created within the skin of the original cottage fit tightly together, like a 3-D Tetris puzzle, with spaces being borrowed and lent to make each room more functional,” explains the architect.

If you’re going to take on a project like this, where the old and the new sit side by side, Tim recommends keeping as much of the old as you can, not only to get the juxtaposition just right, but also for the cost benefits. “It’s best to keep apertures (doors and windows) wherever you can, because the cost to replace them with new, often custom joinery is very expensive.”

“Having the two together makes both stronger,”

“When you’re in the new space, where it’s all cleanly detailed, it makes you appreciate the more decorative finishes in the old part of the house, and vice versa.”

The result with Rachel and Ario’s little workingman’s cottage is a kind of Tardis effect. Seen from the outside, it’s diminutive, easy to miss, but as you walk through the charm of the old and into the new, it expands, revealing a large, contemporary living space, with easy access to two outdoor living areas and the schools fields beyond. Perfect fro today’s lifestyle.

This delightful, modern conversion was marketed and successfully sold by Sue Hatton, from Ray White Damerell Group.






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