Building 8000km away, with borders closed and countries in lockdown, would challenge the most determined of homeowners.
But for a former Dunedin man and his wife, now living in Singapore, the result has been worth it.
Unable to visit their Wānaka site, Chris Stewart and Vicky Windsor found that online meetings and trust in their architect and builders were crucial. Decisions were made with the help of Skype and email.
The couple were last able to visit their holiday home in February last year, when it was not much more than a shell. The following month, as builders began adding its distinctive shingle cladding, New Zealand entered Level 4 lockdown.
“Building materials and building works were delayed due to the lockdown but since we couldn’t travel anyway, it wasn’t something we stressed over,” Mr Stewart says.
“With my grandma living next door and my family visiting regularly, there was no shortage of updates.”
Even now, they are still unsure when they will be able to see their completed home for the first time.
Pre-Covid, the couple and their children visited Wānaka once or twice a year, staying in a house on the site that until recently was home to Mr Stewart’s 91-year-old grandmother. However, they always liked the idea of having their own place and their children maintaining a strong connection with Wānaka.
Sugi House (sugi means ‘cedar’ in Japanese) was built on a part of the 1084m2 section, which previously accommodated a cricket pitch and trampoline.
“We were after a simple, eco-friendly lodge, which would complement the main house but add a modern touch,” they say. “It needed to be something that was cosy in winter, cooling in summer, that would blend into the street and mountain backdrop and be easy to maintain.
“On one of our ski holidays to Japan, we stayed in a little two-bedroom ski lodge for a week. It was very efficiently set out, as only the Japanese could do, and we realised a family of five could comfortably live in a small house if we were smart about making maximum use of the space.”
After seeing Kirimoko Tiny House – a 30m2 home by Condon Scott Architects – the couple engaged Barry Condon to bring the vision for their holiday home to life.
To Condon, delivering on a Japanese aesthetic meant creating something that was simple and unobtrusive.
The 96m2 property is not a ‘tiny house’ but it does contain key elements commonly associated with that style of living, including a simple form, a mezzanine level and clever storage solutions.
The lower floor contains a double-height living and kitchen space, separated from the children’s bathroom and bedroom by a staircase. Upstairs is a double bedroom with en suite, an office and storage.
Condon says there are no walk-in wardrobes, oversize bedrooms or sprawling living spaces (there is also no television).
“Rooms are compact, yet still make for comfortable living. There are shoe racks built into the walls, storage tucked away behind walls, drawers under the stairs. The bathrooms are small, tiled wet-rooms with a shower.”
To increase the feeling of space and continuity, materials were also pared back to a bare minimum.
Interior walls and ceilings are clad in ply, which is broken up by negative detailing, creating a linear design feature out of the joins. On the outside, cedar shingles are used on the roof and walls.
“It’s not a typical cladding in Wānaka, but it does tie in with the style of the house and the alpine environment,” Condon says.
“Over time … you’re going to get variation and it’s going to have this lovely dappled quality to it.”
The house was built by Christie Brothers Building from structural insulated panels (SIPs), which were taped, sealed and wrapped in a secondary layer of building wrap plus plywood to maximise thermal efficiency.
Due to the high level of insulation and the small footprint, a wood fire provides enough heating to cut through even the chilliest of winter days.
The board-marked concrete fireplace is thermally broken from the floor slab and from the windows that seem to rise up through the middle.
The owners say they love the contrast of the cedar shingles against the black window frames and chimney, as well as smaller touches such as their concrete bathroom basin, black sculptural fan and concrete kitchen benchtop. Initially, they budgeted $500,000 to $750,000 for the build, but they quickly realised it would need to be at the top end of that range to get the quality they wanted.
“We tried to make sensible decisions along the way, choosing quality local products and not cutting corners on what we saw was a long-term investment.”
“We are absolutely delighted with the result, although a little sad about not being able to be the first to live in it.”
While they continue to work in Singapore – Mr Stewart for Westpac, and Ms Windsor for German software corporation SAP – a tenant is “babysitting” the house and keeping an eye on the garden. Given current quarantine requirements, they plan to wait until a travel bubble opens with Singapore before heading to Wānaka themselves.
Even then, there is no guarantee that their three children will choose to stay in the home that was more than a year in the making, they joke.
“The kids seem more than happy to stay in the big house next door with their cousins – and a TV.”