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Robust design sits firmly at the heart of Brent and June Sullivan’s contemporary family home above McCormacks Bay.
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The lower floor of concrete block construction is securely anchored in place by giant concrete poles tying the building back to its hill site. Floating above is the steel portal framed upper floor, cantilevered out to maximise stunning bay and estuary views. The basic design principle is that of a ply-wrapped braced box, clad in a zinc metal skin.
Having lost their former Mt Pleasant home of 30 years in the February 2011 earthquake, Brent and June prioritised permanence and security in their design brief. The final design was put together by their son, Christchurch architect Daniel Sullivan.
“It was an honour to be able to put my profession to use for my parents to create spaces that would suit their lifestyle and make life easier for them,” Daniel, who set up Architects’ Creative with wife Kate, also a registered architect, in 2011, says.
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The home’s 900sqm site, chosen for its private elevated position, looks across to the couple’s old address in Mt Pleasant. Construction of their new home began in March 2013 and it was completed late in 2014. After February 2011, Brent and June lived in a succession of temporary dwellings until moving into their Redcliffs haven just over a year ago.
“I’ve always lived on the hill,” Brent says. “We looked at many sites around here before we settled on this one. It is a good sheltered position that didn’t have too many restrictions and it’s not too steep.”
With its precast concrete panels and steel portal frames, the Sullivans’ new home is reassuringly solid and secure. Steel details are celebrated rather than hidden away. For example, a giant truss across the front of the house has been left exposed. Obvious to the eye, this sturdy feature is a visual reminder of the home’s strength. In the entry lobby, vertically shaped precast concrete has been left in its raw form, another cue to permanence.
“In the Valentine’s Day shake nothing fell over here, so the house is performing really well,” June says.
Earthquakes are now felt as passing judders, easily withstood.
“For us, having that sense of security is very important,” says Brent.
“This house is also sunny and warm. Its orientation means we are very wind-protected, so we can open everything up, even in an easterly.
“We have got a much more modern home, too – something really liveable. We mostly live upstairs and it’s like having your own penthouse. It is easy living – easier than you would ever imagine. We had a lot of maintenance in our old house, but we have cut that to a minimum here.”
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Extensive modelling work, computer-assisted design and on-site investigation underpinned the placement of the house to minimise wind exposure while ensuring unobstructed views and maximising solar gain.
“Two to five degrees either way can make a huge impact,” Brent says.
It is a sunny home from morning to evening, but stays temperately warm inside. It is double glazed with low-emissivity and argon gas glass and is well insulated with polyester-blend wall insulation.
The upper level, covering 242sqm, has the ambience of an exclusive apartment. A staircase lined with cedar tongue and groove leads from the front lobby to a spacious garage on one side and the couple’s main bedroom with ensuite and walk-in wardrobe on the other. Straight ahead is the main living/kitchen/dining area, finished with sloping high ceilings and opening out to spectacular floor-to-ceiling views of the estuary, the Southern Alps and Pegasus Bay.
An invigorating part of the design is being able to throw open glass sliders along the front of the living space. It creates a slightly dizzying feeling having the doors open with a big drop below, but glass balustrades ensure safety for those within.
It is one of many bespoke elements that June and Brent embraced, with Daniel’s guidance.
“We worked well together,” says June, who chose many of the home’s decor highlights, including the large pear-shaped David Trubridge lighting feature at the top of the stairs.
She also chose the luxurious freestanding stone bath in the ensuite, along with its high-quality Hansgrohe shower fittings. Spanish porcelain tiles and a skylight are other notable features here.
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Frosted glass has been used throughout the home where privacy is required, but not at the expense of natural light.
Other special touches include the use of steel caps to finish the stairs’ timber balustrade. June oiled all the ceiling sheets of meranti plywood that give a feeling of warmth to the main living area. Meranti sheets were an economical choice and a sensible one, too, because they flex in earthquakes without opening up any obvious cracks.
Plywood was also used to create a spatial divider, finished with steel, between the kitchen/dining area and the lounge. This divider houses the couple’s home entertainment system.
Floors of American oak, selected for their distinctive grain and knots, add interest throughout and a light reflective feel.
White joinery of ply laminate in the kitchen complements the natural timber tones. The large kitchen island is topped with a one-off slab of grey Macaubus stone from Brazil. The soft grey tones are echoed elsewhere, for example in the linen drapes and loop-pile carpet June chose for the lounge. Here, an Escea gas fire provides extra heating for winter. Tiled areas also have underfloor heating.
In front of the kitchen island, there is room to relax and comfortable chairs from which to take in the sea-to-mountain view.
With its well-ordered pantry, spacious cupboards and double oven, the kitchen is practical and convenient. The glass splashback reflects the gorgeous view, so the kitchen feels fully connected to the wider living space.
“People congregate around the island,” June says. “We had a big family gathering here at Christmas. It all just works so very easily.”
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Brent loves the home’s large garage, which includes toilet and shower facilities.
“I wanted a big garage and I have that here. I can do what I want to in it. Having been an electrician, I think it is quite important having a toilet and shower in there, so you can drive in and clean up before you come inside. It’s great having the shower there, too, if you’ve just come in from the garden.”
Downstairs has 114sqm of self-contained accommodation for family members or guests. It includes a study nook, spacious built-in storage, two bedrooms with a shared bathroom, a kitchen/laundry and a living area. A clever design feature in the bedrooms is having bed heads doubling as wardrobe units to maximise space.
“Our daughter, Olivia, lives just out of Melbourne on Mornington Peninsula,” June says. “She is a mum with a baby and another on the way. Our other son, Christopher, who lives in Christchurch, has a daughter and has another child on the way. Dan and his wife, Kate, have a son. So we have three grandchildren now and another two due by May. It is great to have everyone here and to have the space downstairs.”
Outdoor living areas have been sited to be protected from passing easterlies and southerlies. Decks have been built at the most sheltered ends of the house, with an eastern breakfast deck and a western deck that comes into its own in the evening. Downstairs bedrooms also open out on to a spacious private deck.
The garden is very easy to maintain, consisting mostly of wind grasses and enclosed by a hedge. It enhances the property’s peaceful, quiet feel.
“The hedge was the first thing we put in,” Brent says. “I researched what would do well here and chose a type of pittosporum called Wrinkled Blue.”
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While June and Brent would change nothing about their new home, they say it has taken a while to adjust to life in a spacious, modern home after all the upheavals of recent years. They certainly have no regrets, though, about having had their son as their architect.
“Working with Daniel, an architect who works with you and supports you, has been fantastic,” Brent says. “This is a very clever, very technical design.”
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