A tale of two houses in Titahi Bay

23:33, Oct 19 2012
Titahi house
Jennifer Bush-Daumec's Titahi Bay home shares a small plot of land with a one-bedroom house she rents out.

When Jennifer Bush-Daumec decided to build two houses in place of the 1924 concrete home she had been living in, it took a dedicated team of four to make her vision a reality.

She worked closely with architect Matthew ter Borg and her builder and joiner to create two compact little houses - a two-bedroom house for her and a one-bedroom that she rents out - on a 506-square-metre section in Porirua's Titahi Bay.

She wanted to make better use of the available land in a cost-effective way that would have low impact on the environment and also provide bed and breakfast or longer-term accommodation and additional income for her retirement. What she hadn't bargained on was the extra cost of building two separate houses instead of one. On top of charges for water, stormwater and wastewater was a $12,000 development and recreation charge, which was reduced by $2000 after she wrote to Porirua City Council.

Ter Borg was delighted to work on a project that intensified use of the land. "I think intensification is the way for the future because you're not going to get big sites in residential areas."

The challenge was to design two houses that would be private, and make the most of sun, views and internal space. Ter Borg also likes to use recycled and natural materials, any available labour (that included Bush-Daumec and friends) and do work by hand rather than machine.

"In the limited space, I've tried to create a composition that's attractive in 3-D and takes advantage of the site," he says.


The two houses sit quite naturally on the site; the slanting roofs echo the contours of the land and the macrocarpa cladding is starting to silver. The houses are separated by a garage and a carport.

Mosaic paving that Bush-Daumec and ter Borg did together leads to the front door, then you pull a beaded rope and a sonorous school bell announces visitors.

Inside, Bush-Daumec's house is compact, with alcoves of various sizes in walls for books, television and other household objects. There is plenty of natural light; views of garden, street, trees and the sea; and at the same time a real sense of privacy: lots of windows but none look into those of neighbouring houses.

Space is designed to be flexible. The downstairs guest room could double as an office. Bush-Daumec's bedroom has a walk-in wardrobe that could become an ensuite. A skylit stairwell rises up the middle. Bush-Daumec pulls out the bottom step - and surprise! - several pairs of her shoes. The stairwell is also a library - alcoves and shelves are filled with books, with lots of storage underneath.

Upstairs, recycled matai covers the floor and there are wood details around the stairs and kitchen suggested by the builder and joiner.

Space is at a premium. The kitchen kickboard has cupboards; there are cupboards on both sides of the bench unit and storage in the window seat of the dining room's bay window. The kitchen splashboard tiles were painted by everyone who contributed to the making of the house.

A corner window in the living room/office looks out to sea; opposite the window a television slides out of another alcove.

The house is warm, insulated with wool between 140-millimetre external wall framing, instead of the usual 90mm. Another sustainable feature are the water tanks. A roof tank for the one-bedroom house provides water for the garden, and two tanks for the main house fuel the toilet cisterns and the garden.

The intensified use of the small site has required a fair amount of juggling, discussion and, above all, planning.

"Half the project is identifying the factors and criteria well ahead of designing," ter Borg says. "I always try to get all the factors and planning regulations listed and then start designing. It's terrible if you find out something is not allowed to be done halfway though a project."

Bush-Daumec is delighted with the houses.

She recommends people ask councils a lot of questions before embarking on projects that involve building two houses rather than the usual single dwelling on a site.

"I think some authorities need to recognise that there are individuals who simply want to build a very nice house and are not into making enormous amounts of money," she says. "They really need to look at what the house is going to be used for."

The Dominion Post