House of the Week: A Waikato architectural gem nestled in the woods
A magical clearing in the woods has been central to untold works of fiction. Kate and John Clarkson and their children have been living such stories for a decade.
Their contemporary home sits lightly in a grove of slender-trunked trees, looking out onto a green clearing where the Clarksons can watch the seasons unfold. Spring is John's favourite: "The oaks take on a wonderful luminous lime colour." Kate loves summer, when the house opens up to the outdoors.
The Clarksons' home is at Tamahere, on the outskirts of Hamilton. They built it when twins Grace and Edward were six years old and Richie was four.
"It's been a good place to grow kids," says Kate. "It's pastoral and serene, there's space for us to have animals and for the children to be noisy country kids."
A guest room off the garage has been tweaked to become a den with a big-screen TV; this was popular with the children and their friends, as was the later addition of the swimming pool.
Kate says they've never lived anywhere like this before. John is a medical specialist and his training had prompted a number of family moves in New Zealand and overseas. The tally was 10 houses in 10 years, all but one of them being rentals.
After a period in John's home town of Hamilton, Kate decided she liked the place and wanted to raise her family there.
So they found a slice of land, planted 20 years earlier with pin oaks, English oaks, black walnuts and Tasmanian blackwoods, and enlisted their friends Nicola and Lance Herbst, an award-winning Auckland architect team, to design them a home.
There was a big clear space amid the planting that seemed the obvious site for the house but the architects suggested the opposite: build in the trees and look out to the clearing.
The outcome, an elegant, boldly angled black-and-silver structure stretched along a slim footprint, prompted Kate to declare: "This is it, I'm not moving any time soon."
Simple building materials of rough bandsawn timber, irregularly spaced battens, bold steel beams and wooden flooring are in harmony with the surroundings. "It feels like a flash bach, it doesn't feel like a grown-up home."
Kate's background is in visual arts. She is a graduate of Canterbury University's School of Fine Arts, has undertaken various curatorial and management roles, and currently freelances on projects that interest her. She enjoyed working with Lance and Nicola on the house: "It was like working with artists, like curating an exhibition."
The architects named the Clarksons' place the Bark House. There are two box-shaped pavilions – one for living, one for sleeping – connected by a glass-walled indoor bridge that is also the entrance to the house.
The north-facing double-height living pavilion is the heart of the home, encompassing the kitchen, eating and seating areas. John says this was another idea from the architects: to create a generous space where the family can be together, otherwise everyone disappears to various corners of the building.
Glass sliding doors frame the views; there's almost a feeling of being on an outdoor verandah yet snugly enclosed by glass and the extended roof line. The living room also has a bank of south-facing clerestory windows that provide gentle light and glimpses of the treetops.
There are comfy couches and chairs, a fireplace, and a possum throw that serendipitously matches the colour of Burmese cats Lara and Podge. Contemporary art hangs throughout the house. Among the pieces in the living area are a black and white acrylic by Aboriginal artist Dorothy Napangardi, a black and white photograph from Fiona Pardington's Hei Tiki series, and a bleach-bottle light installation by Bill Culbert.
The children's bedrooms and shared study space are across the bridge in the sleeping pavilion, and Kate and John's spacious loft-style quarters are upstairs amid the trees.
No matter where you are in the house, there are vistas to the green outdoors and the ready-made forest that drew the Clarksons here a decade ago. Kate says they'll still be enjoying it when the kids have grown up and left home.
WE HAD TO HAVE: Walls for art.
TIPS FOR OTHER HOME BUILDERS: Make sure you have an architect and a builder you trust; remember there is no such thing as a perfect house; and, finally, enjoy the creative process.
THE FAMILY'S FAVOURITE GATHERING PLACE: Around a fire, inside or out.
THE GARDEN IS A PLEASURE BECAUSE: It's so peaceful. After gardening I always feel restored, calm and that I've had a complete workout.
BOLDEST DECISION: In retrospect I guess it was to build an architectural house, because it's unlike any around us. But honestly at the time it just seemed a very natural thing to do. The architects were friends, we admired their work and we didn't think much beyond that.
- NZ House & Garden