Most are familiar with the luggage of living—the countless bits and pieces that we inevitably collect over a lifetime. And, these days, it’s something that many are trying to minimize.
New Zealand–based couple Will and Jen realized that they didn’t need a lot of possessions to be happy after living out of pannier bags on months-long cycling tours. While looking for a site to build a new home, they moved several times before making the decision to downsize their lives into a 30-square-meter footprint.
“I think there is a growing appetite to live at a smaller scale without it having to be a ‘frugal’ statement,” says Will. “Every time we opened our storage boxes [after moving], we’d ask, ‘why bother keeping all this stuff?” So, they engaged the services of their good friend and neighbor, Barry Condon of Condon Scott Architects to design their compact, one-bedroom home.
“The clients’ cycling trips made them realize that they could live a comfortable life with very little extraneous ‘stuff,’ and they were motivated by the freedom of living with less,” says Condon. “The brief was for a 30-square-meter footprint and a volume that didn’t feel tight or frugal—and the client was resolute that the design had to meet this criteria. At first, I thought it was a bit ambitious, and I actually tried a few times to make it a little bit bigger—but the client would always push back. It was interesting for me, because normally with clients I’m the one trying to reduce size!”
Located on a quiet, suburban street in Wanaka, a small alpine resort town on New Zealand’s South Island, the resulting home is defined by a simple, gabled form with a striking silhouette. The restrained and functional external cladding—a combination of asphalt shingles and larch weatherboards—emphasizes the archetypal form. “Given the relatively small size of the house, a simple gabled form was considered to be the most striking and effective form to contain the design,” says Condon.
The suburban site is bounded by streets on two sides, so privacy was a key consideration that informed the dramatically contrasting facades. The south, east, and west facades are almost entirely blank, while the north facade is entirely glazed. The glazed facade brings a feeling of lightness and airiness to the small home. Minimizing the number of openings on three sides also has the added benefit of making the home as thermally efficient as possible.
“In the southern hemisphere, the North is where the sun comes from—so it made sense to glaze this facade and invite in as much passive solar gain as possible,” says Condon. “Overheating is tempered by the deep eaves, which cut out the worst of the hot summer sun.”
The home is accessed via a large wooden deck, which doubles as an outdoor living space during warmer months. The glazed entry door leads directly to the main double-height living space, from which the entire home is visible—the kitchen/dining space is to the right, the bathroom and storage are at the rear of the space, and a bedroom on a mezzanine level overlooks the ground-floor living space.
In such a small space, it was essential to build in enough storage to avoid clutter. “The design concept was envisioned as a crafted joinery box with not a morsel of space wasted,” says Condon. “Spring-back drawers pull out of each step tread, and more storage is concealed under the kitchen joinery in the toe space.”
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The budget for the couple’s home, excluding the carport and the landscaping, was approximately $250,000 NZ (about $155,000 USD). “The most expensive part of the build was the structural insulated panels, from which the home is constructed,” reveals Condon. “They were worth it though, as the increased insulation value means that ongoing running costs for heating and cooling are very low.”
A BIM model with a precise cutting pattern was produced for the panel fabricator, which allowed for accurate pricing of the home’s superstructure—which was a major factor in ensuring the house came in on budget.
“Trying to pack all the essentials of a larger home into a tight space so there is no compromise on comfort was challenging,” says Condon. “But there is room for artwork, a full-sized fridge, two large couches, and a coffee table—and the client loves the home!”
Unsurprisingly, so do others—the project has received a number of awards, including the New Zealand Institute of Architects 2019 Southern Architecture Award and a bronze award at the 2019 Designers Institute of New Zealand Best Awards.