Compact and crafted
Taking cues from Japanese architecture, Condon Scott Architects crafted a compact small-footprint home in Wanaka, New Zealand, with a tight and considered floor plan and lots of smart storage.
Traditional Japanese architecture is greatly admired for being beautifully crafted and cleverly compact. Having stayed in ski chalets in Japan, the owners of Sugi House in Wanaka, New Zealand, developed an appreciation for the warm, minimalist design and efficient use of space. They engaged Condon Scott Architects for their project, which successfully merges these borrowed ideas with learnings from an earlier CSA project, the 30-square-metre footprint Kirimoko Tiny House (see Sanctuary 43 for more).
“They wanted what they termed a smarter home,” says architect Barry Condon of the clients. “We kept the floor plate limited to 60 square metres and then used every millimetre of space as smartly as we could. The aim was for a refined, precise and crafted aesthetic.” The house also needed to be energy efficient and thermally comfortable year-round in Wanaka’s climate, which can range from minus 10 degrees Celsius in winter to 35 degrees in summer. “Our clients understood the importance of investing at the initial stage of the project to achieve a high-performance, low-energy home,” Barry says.
The gabled two-bedroom house is designed to accommodate the family of five, and is a secondary dwelling on the same site as a house owned by the client’s extended family, increasing urban density. The location of the existing house dictated the position and size of the new structure, resulting in a small rectangular footprint on the edge of the block, with a carport between the dwellings for extra privacy. Sugi House’s kitchen and living area are on the ground floor, facing north-west and opening onto a terrace to extend the sense of space. The children’s bunkroom and a bathroom are tucked in behind the kitchen, and the main bedroom, ensuite and a flexible office space/play area occupy a mezzanine level. “The rooms aren’t massive, but they are as large as they need to be,” says Barry. With this tight but considered floor plan, the total floor space is 96 square metres over two levels.
Built using Passive House construction techniques, the house requires only minimal active heating and cooling. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) form the core structure and are taped, sealed and wrapped in a layer of building wrap plus plywood to maximise thermal efficiency and airtightness. Extensive glazing to the living area ensures passive solar gain, with electronically controlled roller blinds to filter the sun in summer. The remaining windows are kept small to maintain the thermal envelope and to ensure privacy for the bedrooms and upper level. A double-height ceiling above the living area enhances the sense of space, and operable skylights purge hot air and bring in natural light from above.
The material palette is warm and textured, with materials used on multiple surfaces to blur transitions. “The aim was to create beauty through simplicity and to create flow between the exterior and interior,” says Barry. Low-maintenance textured cedar cladding on the exterior walls and roof accentuates the gabled, compact form and imparts the crafted Japanese aesthetic. “The cedar cladding works well on this smaller form. As designers we don’t often get an opportunity to use shingles and they were just perfect for this house,” he goes on.
Plywood is used internally to line the walls and ceilings and for joinery. The warmth and softness of the timber contrasts with the roughness of the board-marked concrete hearth and chimney, which forms the focal point of the living area. In the bathroom, floor-to-ceiling stone-look tiles create a wet room reminiscent of a Japanese ‘onsen’ bathhouse.
The polished concrete kitchen bench doubles as the dining area. “We used little tricks like this to save space where we could,” Barry says. Other tricks include making the most of every opportunity for built-in storage, with shoe racks, hidden cupboards and under-bed storage. There are drawers within the steps of the stairs and shelving in the mezzanine wall. Flush cabinetry uses every millimetre of space and enhances continuity, and black fittings and detailing contrast with the timber linings.
The clients currently live in Singapore and the house was built during the pandemic; as New Zealand’s borders have been closed, they are yet to enjoy it. For the moment, the home is being rented by a local Wanaka family, who have been loving the well-designed space and beautifully crafted interior. “Living in a cosy space naturally brings our family closer together. The open plan design creates an inviting shared living area that still feels generous in size, and I love the relaxing spaces we can retreat to for quieter moments,” says tenant Mel. “The materials have been well considered, and it’s efficient and low maintenance. It’s an easy and very enjoyable space to come home to.”