An architect and designer build an urban cottage in Christchurch CBD
Tobin and Hayley Smith's fascination with the workers' cottages of colonial Christchurch inspired them to design their own – 21st century-style.
"We had lived in rented cottages and been involved in renovating them for clients, and always thought it would be nice to buy one of our own and do it up.
But over the years, our mentality shifted," says Tobin, who is co-director of CoLab Architecture while Hayley is a designer. They began to mull over the whole concept of workers' cottages and how they might translate in a modern urban environment.
When a 10 metre by 20m inner-city back section came on the market, they snapped it up.
A traditional worker's cottage is typically square with a central hallway. Tobin and Hayley have taken the square, split it in half and slid the two rectangles almost completely apart.
This not only creates defined living and bedroom wings, but nearly doubles the amount of external light. One void left by the "slide" has become a sheltered garden; the other is a covered carport reminiscent of a cottage lean-to.
The couple has embraced the limitations imposed by scale and budget. "It's fun having restrictions," says Hayley. Like its colonial forebear, their contemporary urban cottage is simple, functional and constructed from basic materials of the day. The outside is clad in black-stained vertical cedar weatherboard with a corrugated Coloursteel roof, while the interior joinery is birch-faced plywood.
A vestige of hallway has been kept as a central axis between the two wings. "We wanted to retain a sense of entrance," says Tobin. "I don't like it when you come straight into a small house and it's all laid before you."
The low-ceilinged hall makes arrival in the high-pitched white living area all the more dramatic. "We opted for volume over floor size," he says of the lofty ceilings.
The Smiths' vision for their house was, quite literally, black and white. "We spent years piecing together things we love, so when it came to doing this we were on the same page," says Hayley. Like their own wardrobes, their house is monochrome. Black outside, white inside.
The floor, which Tobin laid himself, is recycled rimu painted white. "I deliberately laid it quite loosely so it has that old nostalgic feel. While it's white, we wanted a floor that could scuff and mark and didn't look too precious."
The living area is little more than 4m by 7m but feels spacious and uncluttered. All the kitchen appliances are integrated and although the blond birch plywood has yellowed in the sun since they moved in a year ago, they like the effect. "It gives it warmth," says Hayley. "Initially we wanted to go white, white, white, including the taps and all the fittings, but it would have been too sterile."
Designer pieces and mementoes from their travels line the display wall, while furniture includes an Eames chair and sofas by local designer Campbell Foggo. "We didn't want to clutter the place; we wanted to make sure the pieces we did buy were lovely ones," says Tobin.
They currently share the house with Bella, a (predominantly black) cat, but in two months they will be joined by Baby Smith. His bedroom is already furnished and includes drawers of black and white baby clothes as well as the only white elephant in the house – a designer Eames one in moulded plastic.
Even a baby will be hard-pressed to upset the equilibrium of this carefully conceived cottage. "It's warm, comfortable and we don't hear any street noise. It's a real retreat," says Hayley. "We don't need any more space. It's just space you would have to clean."
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