Home by the sea

02:32, Nov 30 2012
The Salmond family bach

It's the season for long, lazy days at a Marlborough Sounds beach, as children emerge from the sea to flop on towels, so the sun licks water from their skin, leaving just the salt behind.

Moments later they're off to create a new fort in the bamboo, while parents sit on a sun drenched deck and watch a vibrant view of sea, distant bush, and the occasional passing boat.

The golden Grove Arm beach is lapped on one side by the sea, and on the other by a lawn, leading to a simple brown bach with white trim, just five years old and already an iconic example of mid-century design.

That scene was 55-years-ago, but life on this beach is much the same today, and the bach's clean lines and simple style have stood the test of time.

Tessa Hope-Williams, one of the salt-crusted kids building forts in the 50s, now sits on the deck of the "Salmond Bach", looks at the view, and remembers a lifetime visiting Rellings Bay.

Her grandparents bought a farmhouse and section here in 1925, on the insistence of her then 12-year-old father, who returned from a "wonderful" holiday in a neighbouring bay determined they needed a place there.


By the time Tessa was born, her family had been visiting for 20 years, and some of her earliest memories are of fortnight long holidays here with cousins.

These days there's a maintenance man, who keeps the lawns mowed, but back then the grass would be thigh high on each visit and the children had the task of clearing the path and putting buckets of sand on it, creating a gritty trail to the house, before getting on with the business of beach life.

"They had this great tent with a wooden floor right down on the beach, and you had the waves lapping up to its edge," she says of halcyon days at her grandparents' place.

"We were completely self-sufficient.

"We were smugglers or pirates and I spent ages building houses and forts in the bamboo."

The farmhouse is still there, owned by Tessa's cousins' family.

The section was split between her father and his siblings, and in the 1950s her parents had their new bach designed by Wellington architect Lewis Martin, and built on the edge of the sea.

The build was in the first year of the architectural practice Porter and Martin, when Lewis was 34 years old.

"I was as well pleased with what I did in Rellings Bay as in any house I ever did," he wrote in his memoirs years later.

He recalled scrambling and slithering down the hill from Queen Charlotte Drive to a spot, almost completely isolated.

"A lovely spot, not far above the high water mark, with bush around and behind on hills."

The South Island had a magical quality for Ian Salmond, "and I was infected by his feelings", he said.

With a simple living area opening out to a wide deck, the bach was a perfect fit with the new wave of New Zealand mid-century architecture, and in 1957 was reportedly singled out by Group Architects' head Bill Wilson, who applauded its modest and unpretentious style. "The Group" was a firm of architects known for their modern houses, often characterised by exposed timbers, open-plan interiors and attention to indoor-outdoor living.

All those factors were captured in this simple bach, where native wooden timber floors, timber walls and exposed beams above, are enclosed within a tar-coated pine exterior.

From the simple living area, a handful of steps lead to an open corridor and the two original bedrooms, as well as a bunk room added in the 1970s for Tessa and husband Dan's children.

Last year, a small sleepout was added outside, its black slatted exterior walls perfectly in keeping with the original building.

Apart from those extensions, and the welcome addition of electricity in the 1960s, nothing much has changed at the bach, where television and cellphone coverage are happily unavailable, and life goes on much as it did when Tessa was a child.