Outside his client work as a designer and builder, Paul Davidson always has his own projects on the go.
Designing personal projects allows for a more experimental process than those created for clients, as seen in Paul’s own family home created from scratch over five years. ‘You get to try some things that you probably wouldn’t do on a client’s house,’ he explains.
The design of Paul’s family house responds to its site located on five acres of forest in Anawhata, along Auckland’s west coast. ‘It was cleared for farming before WWII and returned to native bush afterwards, so the forest is now about 80 years old,’ Paul says.
‘When we bought the section it was untouched without any clearings to speak of. It’s zoned as a significant ecological area, so we couldn’t clear any of the land until we had planning approval, which made designing quite difficult.’
Paul’s design aims to touch the land lightly and capture its forest outlook. Standing in the home should feel reminiscent of being in nature when hiking or camping. ‘We wanted to recreate that feeling of awe and exhilaration you get in the outdoors—that connection to the natural environment,’ he says, ‘I guess we wanted it to feel like we’re on holiday when we’re at home.’
The home’s built form draws on the New Zealand architectural vernacular—including wharenui (meeting house) and backcountry huts—with modernist-inspired detailing within. The plan comprises the ground floor with a mezzanine above.
The building form was driven by the financial considerations, both now and into the future, without requiring sacrificing on quality materials. ‘A simple envelope means less issues long term,’ says Paul.
Dark stained cedar and a dark roof help the building sink into the forest, while a contrasting back lit screen of polycarbonate illuminates the entrance.
Inside the house, honey-toned birch plywood envelopes the interior ceiling and walls. The framing is made from locally-sourced macrocarpa, with reclaimed black maire on the floor.
Paul built much of the home himself to further cut costs (with the assistance from a builder and friend Simon Spierer on the structure), including the design and fabrication of the cabinetry and most of the furniture.
It operates off-grid with passive cooling in summer, and a Pyro Mini wood burner that provides warmth in winter. Potable water supply is collected off the roof and stored, and wastewater is treated on site.
This house is just as spectacular at night as it is during the day, thanks to a lighting scheme that illuminates the trees after dark. ‘We light up the forest in front of the large living room window, so instead of having a large black wall of glass, we have an amazing deep green nighttime scene,’ says Paul.
‘We often have native ruru (Morepork) flying past on the hunt for insects, which is pretty magical. My favourite thing is to put my feet up in front of the fire with a nice glass of whiskey.’