House of the week: Aro Valley

Last updated 12:15 20/06/2013

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The dust has settled, so to speak, around the contemporary Aro Valley three-level build that at one time caused much angst in the community.

Like any good thing, most opponents of the design have revisited their concerns, and now acknowledge the quality of design, appreciate the architecture, and are proud to have the house in the neighbourhood.

It’s ironic, therefore, that owners Francesca Brice and Kate Jason-Smith were always intent on building something that fitted the environment, but remained contemporary in form.

After all, they chose the Valley because of its variation, both of structure and people. Modernity was essential, however they also envisaged their house being another chapter in the history of architecture within Aro Valley.

They chose architect John Mills because of the way he considers every space in a structure, ensuring there are no dead areas.

“Maybe that ability,” surmises Francesca, “ is because he has six children, and he’s fantastic with colour.”

The brief was simple - to work to a tight budget.

“He gave us a questionnaire, asking us to describe how we lived and our individual dreams.”

His response is a contemporary design over three levels with four bedrooms, a work space, and open plan light and spacious living. Kitchen space, garaging and decking of sufficient size allow for barbeques. Roof space gives room to hang out washing and for kids to dance in the sunlight.

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“John’s done a fabulous job with the positioning of windows. I get the late sun in my bedroom, there are different views, we can look out over Mount Victoria, down the Valley and there are little spaces where people can read or write.”

“We believed John would do something beautiful, that he’d consider the surrounds and neighbourhood, and what he’s created is just beautiful architecture.”

In giving the home a local award for Architecture, the NZIA jury said “breaking away from the surrounding traditional Epuni Street villas, this house creates a dramatic contrast in the streetscape.

“Raw materials are expressed as finished surfaces throughout. The clients’ unique artefacts are thoughtfully integrated into the building fabric, offering richness in colour and texture to dramatic effect.”


Architect: John Mills, Michael Melville at John Mills Architects

Builder: Steve Oliver, Seismic Construction

Size: 165sq.m

Build Cost: Under $500,000 (2005)

Materials: Aluminium Alucobond cladding, Nuralite roof, concrete flooring, aluminium windows and doors.

Energy Efficiency: Solar heating hot water heating, underfloor heating (ineffective).

Done Right: The light - a combination of windows provides a stunning view, you can see the tops of trees, down the valley and off into a distance.

Done Wrong: The underfloor heating - "it has never been successful or worked for us. The company proved difficult to work with, then went bust. It never worked enough and has never been warm enough, and is just a nightmare - disappointing."

Unexpected: "The warmth of the top floor in summer is like being in Hawaii. It captures all the sun, we have individual work spaces which are warm and light, it's lovely."

Recommend: "John Mills, absolutely, he’s wonderful. I recommend using an architect, they save you money by helping you make good decisions, and John is so easygoing and accessible - he opened his office to the neighbourhood so they could see the plans."

Next time: A tree house. "It's possible to build in and around trees, some even extend to the ground. I'd like to do that - to realise that dream on a Pacific Island would be wonderful."

- © Fairfax NZ News


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