Modern Vintage

Modern Vintage add

Perhaps the most disrupting aspect of the Echo Valley Villa is that the villa - as in the pure Victorian type so well known in New Zealand - has been so radically re-interpreted that it's almost not there.

Thorne Group Architecture's Jon McAlpine has developed a modern take on the villa's distinctive gable and verandah forms and, on the inside, the occasional nod - pressed tin ceiling, dado rail and panelling in the entry hall, recessed ceiling in the lounge - to a bygone era. Set on a large section close to the Wairoa River at the more rural outskirts of Bethlehem, Tauranga, the house, encircled by verandahs at the front beside the gable entry and to the north feels more rambling grand farmhouse than villa. The verandah posts are chunky and the balustrade plain. Yes, says McAlpine, they might have put in traditional villa fretwork, ornate corbels and other fiddly bits, but decided not to. "The house is doing enough. We really didn't need it," he says. "That's where it could go wrong from a design point of view. It's all about the form of it rather than the stick-on things."

The brief was usual. Having lived in a modern minimalist beach front house, the client wanted something completely opposite, described as a classic weatherboard villa. But as the design developed, it also became clear the house was very much about expressing the owner's tastes and personality. That predominately comes through in the choice of antique and ornate light fittings and furniture, plus some feature items requiring special placement such as a cast iron sculptural fountain, the limestone fireplace surround, and a huge ornate gilded mirror. McAlpine says much of the ornamental, eclectic dressing of the house developed as the design progressed, with the client often saying: "I know what I want there."

How did he find designing in such a collaborative way with his client and on a design with such a vintage element? McAlpine says the project was "a bit of fresh air" in the opportunity to be released from a strict modernist tradition. The most significant twist on traditional villa design is the circulation. Yes, there's a central hallway, but it runs perpendicular to the entrance and is expanded - in effect two hallways for two wings of the house. Organised in a "U" plan the two wings of the house run adjacent to a long hall-like verandah courtyard that leads out to a large garden and swimming pool.

It's here at the centre that McAlpine gives the house its heart and some villa volume with a 5.5m ridge beam and gable ceiling. The spaces work together in a grand processional axis - first the kitchen with its long island sink bench and generous breakfast bar seating, then a family space of two couches which, via glass sliders, proceeds to an outside sitting and brick fireplace (reclaimed from a demolished hotel following the Christchurch earthquake). Beyond is more deck with an outdoor dining table framed by the two wings of the house, the pool and the expansive lawns of the garden. Surprisingly there's no separate dining room in the house, but McAlpine says the idea of congregating around the kitchen, which gets extra light from a couple of skylights in the pitched ceiling, fits with the casual atmosphere.

For the full read check out issue five of defign magazine, now available at Countdown and Paper Plus.