Architect's haven among the trees

IN THE TREES: Jon Craig's house in Pinehaven.
IN THE TREES: Jon Craig's house in Pinehaven.

Architect Jon Craig believes homes should accommodate individual and group needs under one roof.

He likes to create rooms for personal time, but also space for coming together. He likes a house to adapt and grow with a family and that is exactly what he has achieved in his home.

It has been the base for raising two children, where he has shared 43 years of marriage to Judy and the home where she died peacefully just months ago.

It was the final step in the cycle of life and the essence of what home is about for this architect.

Judy had just one stipulation when she and husband Jon arrived in Wellington to start life together – the family home needed to be amid trees and nature. For a farm-raised Marlborough woman, the tranquillity of surroundings she knew would be vital to raising a family. It was a tall order, so when Jon heard about a section for sale in Pinehaven, he rushed to look.

"We paid $2850 for the section in 1967. We looked at it and bought it there and then, paid a $5 deposit and I began designing a house."

The initial build was completely budget driven – Jon came up with a two-storeyed plan he describes as a little box.

New Zealand design writer Douglas Lloyd Jenkins referred to it as early cottage forms, using carefully selected references discreetly in a modern vernacular.

"It was 28 feet 8 inches long and 18 feet 10 inches wide, with two bedrooms upstairs and living downstairs. A friend came a round when the concrete slab had been laid and said, `Now you've got the garage slab down, where's the house going?' That's how small it was."

The build lasted untouched for four years. "The first addition was a bedroom and living area. That was in 1971. The house was originally block, cedar weatherboard and Super Six asbestos roofing. That roofing lasted 43 years."

In the 1980s, Jon was back at the drawing board, finding time between projects his company, Craig, Craig, Moller were tasked with on a global scale.

"We did the Auckland Sky Tower, the Wellington airport and as Craig, Craig, Moller Wellington, the Wellington Hospital. The Queenstown airport terminal and Dunedin airport terminal were among many other projects.

"I suppose we designed hundreds of houses."

On the home front, extensions were gradual. The ground-floor living area and kitchen were expanded, then a new garage with a studio on top was built and in 1987 a completely new garage with a shed underneath. Today, the asbestos roofing has been removed, replaced with Austrian coated aluminium panel and batten visually linking what Jon describes as "the mini village".

"The home is surrounded by beech trees," says Jon. "The acid from the beech tree leaves eats at iron, so I had to use aluminium on the roof. The old asbestos roof was as good as gold, but we live in a hysterical world in regard to asbestos, so it needed to be removed. It's funny, because even today in Russia and Siberia they are still making asbestos roofs."

In fact, the balloon had gone up on asbestos in New Zealand in the 80s, so Jon used Colorsteel on his more recent additions. His reroof this year gave him the chance to make the entire roofing uniform, giving an exterior consistency.

It's been a much-loved home for the pair of Craig children. Son David is a third-generation architect, so round-table family discussion about the merits of the build is worth noting.

Jon's colleagues have equally praised the quality of design and layout in the home.

Craig, Craig, Moller won a New Zealand Institute of Architecture national award in 1990 for this "house among the trees".

The award says "a home that has evolved over 20 years. It is an exemplary example of the integration of the built and the bush-clad environment and the lifestyle and interests of its occupants. It is a house that is as comfortable and intimate as the leather patch on a favourite pullover or a well-worn pair of jeans, a truly vernacular home of tranquil qualities."

"It has a lovely and calm interior," says Jon, " the function of the house was to have areas for books, music and a piano. We've used the house in individual ways without getting in the way of each other."

There is much use of timber, exposed beams in locally milled douglas fir, ceilings and flooring in either rimu or matai, oiled with linseed to enhance the grain, colour and texture.

"The walls are lined with bookshelves, there is a designated space for Jon's precious piano, exterior doors are in cedar with totara or rimu framing, and the only interior colour is Resene's Sea Fog.

"The photographs, my daughter Virginia's art, other artwork and the books are the colour inside. Everything else is very light."

As an architect, Jon couldn't resist buying a pair of Frank Lloyd Wright windows in the United States while at a Frank Lloyd Wright symposium. They now hang in the kitchen as snug as an artwork. The house has been built into a steep section in Pinehaven, an area where Jon says the temperature frequently drops to minus 5 degrees Celsius on winter mornings.

"There's electric underfloor heating. In the kitchen, a woodburner and both living rooms have open fires. This is a high rainfall area, so efficient heating is essential."

The home looks down on a grove of old established beech, rimu and kahikatea trees, some on the Craig's section, which flows into the reserve below.

"Our bedroom is 60 centimetres into the ground, so you can lie in bed and look out at the blackbirds busily digging out the worms in the lawn and beech trees towering overhead. From the outside, the built form is of such a scale that you can clean the spouting from the ground and the lean-to roof maximises the sun's penetration to the grassed courtyard."

After more than 50 years in the profession, Jon is happy to speak his mind about today's building regulations and confesses he is in some ways grateful to be away from the minefield of the regulatory confines of today.

"I completely retired four years ago. I do a little design work for some of my good old clients. Right now I'm doing a bookshelf," he says with a smile.

After his wife and best mate, Judy, died at the end of last year, Jon spends increasing amounts of time with his children and grandchildren, talking architecture with son David, art with daughter Virginia, and more important issues with grandchildren Jack, Rachel, Daniel and Hollie.

The Dominion Post