Bach to the future

23:10, Nov 26 2011
Raumati beach retreat 1
Bach a beauty: The Raumati beach retreat that won a national award.
Raumati beach retreat 2
Superb style: Builder Nick Robbers says "the simplicity of the design created by Geoff Fletcher and Carolyn Walker is what makes the Raumati beach house elegant without being opulent".
Raumati beach retreat 3
Hideaway: Behind the slatted screen is a beach house retreat.
Raumati beach retreat 4
Light side: Cedar slats create an ever-changing play of light.
Raumati beach retreat 5
Sunbathing: The glass-roof bathroom has a sunny feel.
Raumati beach retreat 6
Linked up: The entranceway and path that connects the two houses.
Raumati beach retreat 7
Sun of a bach: The expansive views are reflected in the huge glass sea frontage windows and doors.

When Wellington architects Geoff Fletcher and Carolyn Walker were approached by a couple keen to develop a Raumati beach site, they were clear on their brief. Privacy was paramount and they had a strict deadline for completion - to many, a timeframe that seemed impossible.

But Geoff loves a challenge and he immediately turned to a young Kapiti Coast builder he had been told would produce the quality required and within the tight timeframe.

"The clients were clear on their brief," says Geoff, "to create a discreet and private low-rise small beach house, additional to the existing bach on the site, which maximised great views, sun and outdoor living, with entertainment of guests as a priority."

And the build needed to be completed for use shortly after Christmas, in just 10 weeks.

Geoff says the design concept is a glass and cedar enclosure revealing to passers-by on the beach a shuttered box, but also a build suited to maximise views but simultaneously weather coastal storms.

"With an inverse hip roof and glazed entry porch, we have achieved a welcoming feel."

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The east-facing entry porch provides an excellent morning spot, and the cantilevered beam and glass roof adds excitement to the area, Geoff says.

From the outside, the roof line appears flat, but on the inside the inverse hip design "reveals itself", he says, resulting in an intimate space.

The cedar exterior cladding has been chosen specifically to silver off, so it blends in with the surrounding dunes and flax bushes. And to ensure the build merged into its surrounds quickly, established flaxes were carefully removed, preserved and reinstated once the build was complete. In a delicate balance between privacy, sun and views, vertical timber slat screens have been used along the west, setting sun, beach side of the house, enabling control of heat in the summer and a fascinating play of light on the inside.

"The screens are adjustable to privacy requirements and can be retracted to reveal the views or to fully cloak the glass wall behind," Carolyn says.

"The new house was designed to go with the old by creating a garden entry between the two with sheltered outdoor deck areas linked by matching steps and on-site trees were preserved," Geoff explains.

"Entry is through the garage to preserve privacy from the street and to surprise guests with the new beach house.

"The interior is quiet and calm - a foil to the view."

But that tranquil ambience belies the work carried out by builder Nick Robbers and his team from Haarlem Developments in a determined effort to meet the deadline.

"We had just 10 weeks to build the house, that was the initial contract and we lost one week on weather, so while it wasn't a massive house it was tricky."

For the team nothing was easy, least of all access. From the street they had to wind up a path, edging past the garage street side. The alternative was to have materials delivered to the beachfront, stacked on the old coach road, today somewhat of a misnomer for a gravel track that hangs to the sand dunes above the sea.

"We then had the materials craned up on to site from the old coach road," explains Nick.

The access difficulties were no surprise, Nick was well aware of the situation but he says it made getting materials on site laborious and time consuming. The project was the first time architect Geoff and builder Nick had worked together.

"I was recommended by another architect, but Geoff didn't know me so at the beginning his site visits were quite frequent, that was until he saw our work, built a trust and relaxed."

For Nick, tricky and challenging aspects to the build were the ratio of windows and glass to walls.

"Usually you have more walls than windows but in this there was a lot of glass with not much wall and the cantilevered roof was interesting."

But, for 34-year-old Nick, a challenging design is nothing short of an opportunity to test his skills and show off his talents.

"My grandfather was an architect and I think from an early age I was always interested in design. As I grew older I realised I was more interested in the practical side than the theoretical, but these days I quite enjoy planning a build."

The initial hope from the property owners was to enjoy Christmas in their new beach retreat but with a tight 10 weeks to build the house it meant completion was at the end of January, still plenty of time for the couple and their friends to enjoy the summer beach side.

Because of the tight timeframe we had to start the interior before the windows were in. There was a delay in their delivery, but we just had to get on with the interior to meet the deadline."

Nick says the lack of glass created problems on the beachside site with an onshore breeze that blew much of the time during construction creating a gusty experience, particularly while installing the insulation.

But it was the interior ply lining of colour-washed okoume ply cladding that proved time- consuming and fiddly.

"Of course, the sheets are never the same. They are maybe two- millimetres thick veneer and there were times when I spent an hour fitting one sheet only to find at the end it would chip and I would have to bin it and start again. The interior lining has nothing covering the joins so it had to be perfect, but that's the detail that makes the house interesting and unique."

For Nick, the simplicity of design created by Geoff and Carolyn is what makes the Raumati beach house elegant without being opulent.

"It's your quintessential bach. It doesn't have all the trimmings of home but you don't feel you are missing out on anything either."

Geoff's colleagues concurred with Nick's praise of the design. The 70-square-metre bach won a New Zealand Institute of Architecture Award this year in the Small Project Category.

The citation states:

"A building reduced to its essence, this little beach house is testament to the virtue of sufficiency. Simple and pleasurable, it has everything one needs, and no more. Perched on its wooden piles, and cleverly engineered, the house offers comfort on the inside - the warm bathroom is especially welcome - and two enjoyable spaces on the outside. The bright light from the western sun is well controlled, the palette of materials and colours, especially the bleached ply and light blues, complements the site, and the building has a high degree of adjustability and responsiveness. Occupying it, one feels immersed in the coastal environment."

The Dominion Post