The award-winning house three rookies built

19:16, Nov 30 2012
Whanganui house
SHOW HOME: The two-bedroom, 88 square-metre house three young Victoria University architecture graduates built in Whanganui.

They bought the cheapest scrap of land they could find, lived on beans and eggs, and borrowed power from their neighbour to build an award-winning house.

Victoria University graduates Ben Mitchell-Anyon, Sally Ogle and Tim Gittos gave up their jobs at Wellington architecture firms last year to buy a $18,000 strip of steep land in Whanganui.

A year later, and their "agricultural chic", two-bedroom house crawling up the side of a hill is valued at more than $300,000 and has bagged an Unbuilt Architecture award.

Mr Mitchell-Anyon, whose building experience was limited to knocking together a fence, recalls quitting his office job, securing a $160,000 mortgage, buying a tool belt and rolling up his sleeves.

"If you're in an office, you're not really making a name for yourself, you're just helping whoever you're working for.

"We had to take a kind of leap and take that risk to get out there on our own."


The house is a sun-trap, but has just 88 square metres indoors, with a large outdoor verandah and a stunning view of the city. They named it the Dogbox, illustrating their temporary life of poverty between commuting to and from their partners in Wellington.

Only a portion of the 607m2 land was chiselled flat. But it was a far better bargain than a steep, gorse-covered piece of land in Wainuiomata they almost bought for $35,000 and other cheap plots in the upper East Cape, Mr Mitchell-Anyon said.

The 29-year-olds escaped the new Building Act rules, which say you have to be a licensed builder to construct a house, by a month, and relied on their architecture training, the internet and the help of friendly tradesmen.

"We made it up as we went along."

"The three of us were all experienced through the theory of building. We knew how it should be and should look."

But they had plenty of mishaps along the way, including Mr Mitchell-Anyon dropping a hammer on Ms Ogle's head from the roof as he was nailing cladding. "She bled quite a bit."

He lost a fingernail and Mr Gittos lost a toenail to a sledgehammer, but it was all worth it.

Mr Gittos's partner, Caroline Robertson, also helped along the way, until she had a baby mid-build.

While they were on holiday celebrating New Year's Eve, a neighbour called to say he was watching their land slide down the hill.

All their new plants and landscaping work ended up on the road. "My heart just sank," Mr Mitchell-Anyon said. So they taught themselves how to build a retaining wall.

During the build, they relied on other cash jobs to keep afloat. They lived in a cheap rental nearby, eating beans and cheap meals every day.

"I'm like really over egg sandwiches," he said.

Their neighbours let them hook up to their power through an extension cord for six months, in return for them keeping an eye out for their large, black dog, Cruz.

"It was great. It kind of took longer than any of us anticipated, but the great thing was there's so many parts of building a house that it was so varied."

Although they are showing good profit on the two-bedroom home, it was about the experience, not the money, he said.

They hoped to hold on to it as a future bach, but for now they rely on Mr Mitchell-Anyon's sister renting it to cover the mortgage payments.

The three hoped to work together on future projects under the name Patchwork Architecture.


Built on a small area of flat land cut out of a steep 607 square metre section.

Long, thin and tall to catch the sun in a passive solar design.

Just 88m2 indoor area.

Compulsory indoor-outdoor flow, as the hallway is outside.

Uses simple, cheap materials coupled with new, highly polished materials.

A verandah as wide as the interior.

Recycled elements, including steel roof trusses from a paddock in Te Awamutu.

The Dominion Post