It took a week for designer George Hilgeholt to decide to buy the steep, narrow section overlooking Nelson’s estuary and famed Boulder Bank. It took just 20 minutes to decide on an overall design for the new house. "As an architectural designer you have an immediate response to a location," says Hilgeholt, looking out over expansive views of the sea and Alps.
"As we walked up the drive and looked at the contours and saw the views, we knew it was demanding but do-able. From the original sketch plans to the building consent, it didn’t really change that much."
Trained in the Netherlands, George Hilgeholt returned to New Zealand with his family in 1981, living first in Christchurch then in Auckland where he established his architectural business AWE (Architecture Without Ego).
Four years ago George and his wife started thinking about retirement and where they would want to live. For the former triathlete, now coach, the Tasman region with its slower pace of life, proximity to the sea and outdoor opportunities was a logical choice. But the site, with its five-metre bank, an easement on one side and "height to boundary issues" was not so straightforward. The resulting design he describes as a modernist, three-storey "sculptural box", elegant in its simplicity and carefully adapted to give space to the constantly changing views and the physicality of the materials used.
The rigid core of the 8.7m tall building is dominated by concrete block and folded steel plate stairs winding around an electric stand alone Swedish lift. On each level this industrial heart opens on to more refined spaces. The main living-kitchen areas on the second floor are defined by natural timbers (including floating tongue-in-groove Scandinavian ash flooring) and a neutral, uncluttered palette allow the views, the art works and splashes of black and burnt orange.
Upstairs, timber panel ceilings and flooring of recycled car tyres and cork chips, add warmth and graphic interest to the bedrooms and large study. Windows sized and sited to maximise the views and balconies of fibre glass reinforced plastic grating, used in the farming industry, filter the changing light of the estuary.
While the ground floor follows the simple geometry of a rectangle, the two upper levels swing out about 30 degrees, adding architectural interest while also making the most of the panoramic views of the bay and Alps.
Such an outlook will not be given up easily. The home is well-equipped with design features to ensure it is future proofed for a couple entering retirement.