March 3, 2024


Giving your Home a new Option

Bowden House by Belinda George Architects

On a spectacular site near Matapouri in Northland—a subtropical region on the tip of New Zealand’s North Island—architect Belinda George has crafted a retreat for a father and his three daughters. The small bach—a type of holiday home in New Zealand—is a perfect arc that reimagines how interior space relates to the outdoors.

It was essential that the home felt nestled into the landscape, rather than perched on the edge of the dramatic clifftop site. “My client had commissioned a house design that was rejected by members of his family—the formidable force that is his sisters,” says architect Belinda George. “They felt the site deserved a more considered approach. As I had worked for Tom before on more urban projects, he asked me to design a bach for him and his family. He wanted it to feel relaxed and connected to the land.” 

“The client, Tom, has a particular attachment to the land because this is where he grew up,” says George. “He and his five siblings roamed the farmland where this site is for many years, and the land was eventually carved up into sections for the siblings. The rest of the land was returned to native bush, and the family has completed a huge regenerative planting program.”

A shingle roof is “draped” over the curved structure, connecting the interior and covered outdoor spaces. The shingles are crafted from Alaskan yellow cedar, which doesn’t require any treatment. The home operates off the grid, so rainwater is collected from the roof for drinking.

The site is on a cliff edge looking out to the ocean—but also into a beautiful stand of native bush. Tom was insistent that both the bush and the sea view be acknowledged in the design, which led to the distinctive circular form. 

“The curve actually turns its back on the sea and focuses the attention on anchoring the house into the hillside as a counterbalance to the precarious position of inhabiting a clifftop,” says George. “The challenge was to make the house dramatic and memorable, yet sympathetic to the surrounding farmland—particularly from the sea.”

The home features more covered deck space than interior living space, evoking a feeling of living in the landscape. 

The home is crafted primarily from cedar, with Alaskan yellow cedar shingles on the roof and sustainably sourced western cedar exterior weatherboards that have been stained dark. As a result, it almost fades into the surrounding bushland.

The relationship between the house and the circular grass lawn is key to the way the home sits in the landscape. Architect Belinda George gave much consideration to the way the steps lead up to the deck.  

“Tom tells stories of sliding down the hill into the bush as a child, and I immediately felt that the design could respond to this feeling of being wrapped in a nikau palm husk and making the most of the slippery slope,” says George.

Sliding glass doors emphasize the connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, and bring the landscape into the interior.

The bach is divided into separate parts joined by a shingle roof that drapes over the entire home. There is a living wing, with a kitchen, dining, and living room, and a sleeping wing, with three bedrooms, bathrooms, and a utility room. These are connected by a covered courtyard that George describes as an “in-between space.”

The kitchen opens up to a covered courtyard, which features a fireplace that transforms the semi-outdoor space into a cozy living area year round. This courtyard connects to the covered deck, from which the bedrooms can be accessed.

There is no formal front door—instead, guests are greeted in the courtyard or enter directly into the living space—and the circulation space takes the form of a covered deck.

The bedrooms lead directly to the covered outdoor deck, which functions as the home’s circulation space. The vertical orientation of the stained Western cedar weatherboards allows for the curved shape of the home.

The master bedroom is at the end of the sleeping wing. The elliptical frosted glass pendant lamp was designed by British industrial designer Tim Rundle for New Zealand design brand Resident.

“The separation of the living and sleeping wings provokes the feeling of movement and funnels you through to the bush,” says George. “It also promotes a relaxed feeling of camping holidays and was driven by the client’s desire to make the home a relaxed place.”

The ceiling is lined in Meranti plywood with cedar battens, and the interior timber walls are tongue-and-groove cedar planking. The Fifties dining chairs are by Italian brand Calligaris.

A long bench seat is built into the rear wall of the living room, allowing for various seating configurations and a relaxed atmosphere.

While the home is relatively small at 162 square meters, it is surrounded by 235 square meters of deck, making outdoor living a key part of the concept. “There is more deck than house in this project—as it’s located in a very sunny part of New Zealand, much time is spent outdoors,” says George. “I was very fortunate to have a client who was happy to experiment with this slightly unusual layout.”

Like the exterior, the interior is almost entirely constructed from timber. The interior walls are tongue-and-groove cedar planking with an oil finish, and the ceilings are Meranti plywood with cedar battens which conceal the joints and heighten the impression of geometric precision in the home. “When it was under construction, the rafters were put in place attached to a curving steel ridge beam,” says George. “It felt like you were inside the belly of a whale. I was quite sad when they were covered up.”

The colors used in the interior were inspired by the surround
ing landscape. The kitchen island is clad in solid timber fluting crafted from durable plantation-grown iroko with with a granite top. “The green-blue-brown color of the granite benchtops very much reminded me of the colors of the water in the nearby harbor of Tutakaka,” says architect Belinda George.

The bespoke vanity in the guest bathroom echoes the kitchen island in its materiality. The Braziliano granite from Trendstone matches the green tiles used on the walls. 

Key pieces of furniture were designed specifically for the home, creating a holistic vision that brings house, interior, and furnishings together seamlessly. George designed several pieces herself, including the dining table, the bedroom furniture, and the joinery in the kitchen and bathrooms.

The bespoke dining table was designed by architect Belinda George and crafted using totara timber gifted by the client’s brother. It was made by the same furniture maker who was commissioned by the client’s mother to make a dining table many decades ago. 

The bespoke tallboy in the master bedroom was designed by architect Belinda George and crafted by her husband, cabinetmaker David White. It is made from local matai timber. 

Architect Belinda George and her husband also designed and built the wardrobe in the master bedroom. 

“Building a curved house means that everything needs to be curved, including the spouting—and this added a lot of expense,” reveals George. “It is such a strong design feature, though, and a conventional rectilinear shape would not have had a similar impact. The builders took a great deal of pride in their work and had a desire to make this a memorable project—it was such a pleasure to work together toward a common goal.” 

The shingle roof juts out over an ample timber deck adjoining the living area, extending the living space outside. 

Floor plan of Bowden House by Belinda George Architects

Site plan of Bowden House by Belinda George Architects

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