Architect Julie Villard brings French flair and très chic sustainability to her freshly built eco house in the port town of Lyttelton. Interview Josie Steenhart Photos Julie Villard
Having lived in Ōhinehou Lyttelton on the Banks Peninsula since 2016, French architect Julie Villard thought it was time to put down roots, designing an innovative home inspired by the local boat sheds and new Te Ana marina for herself and partner Edward on a small, steep site overlooking the busy port.
For those not lucky enough to pay a visit to the ‘Lyttelton Boat Shed House’ with the bright red door during the excellent Open Christchurch weekend held at the end of April this year, we’ve been granted the opportunity to share more of this very special award-winning compact smart home.
I arrived in New Zealand in 2011 to support my team at the Rugby World Cup. It was three years later that I discovered Lyttelton. I worked in Hamilton for a year, before deciding to visit and establish myself in the South Island.
My partner and I moved to Lyttelton in 2016, we actually lived in a 12m-long Bedford house bus parked on site to save on rent until the house was built. Before that we were flatting in Linwood in Christchurch.
Lyttelton (or ‘little town’ as I like to pronounce it) is a little village on the hills, with a very unique sense of
belonging, something that reminds me of the French Pyrenees, where I’m from.
For me, it was important to establish a base in New Zealand, a house for my “old days’’ as I used to say: a small modern home (two bedroom), as sustainable as it can be and built like I would back in Europe.
My partner wanted the space to be beautiful and subjective, simple, cosy and safe, like a sanctuary. Not all these are easily translated into design. We had regular client-architect type catch-ups and meetings, it was a real team effort.
It was indeed the first home I have ever designed for myself. As a designer, it was a real dilemma, there are probably 400 different homes I would like to see being built, so narrowing it down to one was an interesting exercise. The site and planning rules constraints helped in the decision process.
I also had to share that dream house with my partner’s aspirations. That challenge was equally big.
By its own nature, the house is very airtight (blowdoor tested) and acoustically soundproof. A mechanical
decentralised heat recovery ventilation system brings us fresh air without all the pollutants. You should see the filters after six months!
The smaller scale and efficient layout of the building offsets the increased expense of the modern construction techniques, the innovations and the environmental material – untreated timber, low or no volatile organic compound (VOC) paint, wood fibre insulation etc. That’s our secret! Build smaller but better.
Natural materials and natural colours are the two key components of this design. The solid and cold aspects of the concrete and metal are balanced by the softness and warmth of the natural timber and natural colours. The use of mass timber (cross limited timber or CLT, LVL, wood fibre and cladding) was a fantastic opportunity to build a low carbon building – 64 tonnes of CO2 are stored within these walls!
The complexity of the structure, combined with the simplicity of the shape, always makes me smile. The structure is a hybrid system (CLT panel/steel portal frame) all prefabricated off site. The building is insulated from the outside (over the CLT), minimising the thermal bridges, and allows the house to remain warm with a good heating system in every room.
The foundation system is also hybrid – combining the benefits of shallow timber piles with the efficiency of a fully insulated waffle slab to accommodate a complex and uneven ground. On the contrary, the simple shape and layout counterbalances that complexity, focusing on the essentials: nature (inside and out).
The absence of guttering and downpipe is also one of my favourite features. If you open an architectural book you’ll never see gutters or downpipes, right? So I really wanted a seamless detail for the roof-wall junction, with no gutters. There is no trick, the water falls over the edge of the roof and runs down the side of the steel cladding where it is then collected.
The New Zealand building code requires you to collect the water coming from the roof. You can collect
it at the bottom of the roof or you can collect it at the bottom of the wall with a surface drain and that’s what we’ve got here. It’s my architectural feature, my French touch.
Mostly my partner, he’s a very detailed person. Everything needs to have a purpose, a place, to fit in. The dining table plays an essential role in this house layout – it plays the role of (extra) kitchen bench, it’s also a social bar linear, our dining table, my work area and organises and defines the first floor spaces. A key element!
Absolutely, I love my ’mezzanine’ and I have a wine cellar! Is that French enough? Jokes aside, building a house like I would in Europe was a real challenge, and I was a bit naïve (another French word) at the
time. The construction methodologies and standards I’m used to back in Europe were barely known over here. Recessed windows for example (windows in line with the insulation layer) are a basic in France, but not here, even the concept of changing the location of the windows was likely impossible.
I am indeed, and I Iove my role. It’s all about conscious choices – make every step count. Be realistic. Act now.
Open Christchurch 2023 takes place on May 6 and 7.
The building nominations process (nominating a building you’d like to see included in the programme) will open later this year.