It was a photo of a jetty that captured the imagination of Brenda and Eddie Higgins and led them to a waterfront property that once resonated with the sound of a bugle at dawn.
“When the navy was based here, a ship’s chandlery operated from the site,” explains Brenda.
Both lovers of the ocean, the Aucklanders relished memories of summer holidays boating in the Bay of Islands with their young children, now adults. With eight grandchildren to accommodate these days, the land they bought at Russell in 2000 easily fits the whole family and allows them room to moor their trawler at lawn’s edge.
A loft bedroom overlooks a kitchenette and colourful dining/living area; the wallpaper is by New Zealand printmaker Bridey Farrell and son-in-law Malcolm Taylor designed the plywood banister
The historic property came with two dwellings: a prefab cottage up the hillside and a 1950s bach located closer to the sea. “The houses were quaint but the fireplaces leaked and there was no insulation, so that often during the day it was hotter inside than out,” she says.
Happily, help was at hand. Brenda and Eddie commissioned their son-in-law, architect Malcolm Taylor of Xsite Architecture, to design an escape where extended family could come and enjoy the beach. Now, a light-filled beach house and its attendant “love shack” up the hill proudly occupy the site.
“In order to retain the proximity to the waterfront and the existing site coverage, we rebuilt within the original footprint,” explains Malcolm.
By cleverly rearranging the layout, eliminating hallways and bringing the master bedroom on to the ground floor, he has achieved a highly efficient use of space. On the second level, a bunk room that sleeps four comes complete with portholes. “The bottom bunks get the porthole view so there’s no fighting for the top bunk,” says Brenda.
A separate living room and kitchenette give extra flexibility for visiting families.
Before building, the Higgins stayed in the original dwelling during all four seasons, taking note of the property’s different weather conditions.
“We discovered that in winter the site is buffeted by southwesterlies and in summer the setting sun floods into the main living areas, making them exceedingly hot,” says Brenda.
Malcolm’s solution was a U-shaped plan to contain the outdoor north-facing deck and give it shelter from the wind. A louvred roof system offers protection from the sun and rain. The family loves to gather around the outdoor fireplace in the evening, eating the catch of the day.
From the deck, a sliding glass door leads to a kitchen bench just inside – a handy place for kids in wet togs to eat.
“I wanted a kitchen that all the family could be in at once so everyone could help with preparation,” says Brenda. And it was for this reason she opted for plenty of open shelves. “It’s a bit like a restaurant kitchen. You can instantly see where things are.”
The high-stud, mono-pitched roof, clerestory glazing and a skylight in the stairwell flood the home with light. Banks of louvres flush the air through the building and, rather like trimming sails on a yacht, can be articulated to react to the prevailing conditions.
A picture window in the stairwell stops heat escaping to the upper level in winter and frames a view, often of boats at anchor. Brenda says she took her cues for the colour scheme from the opalescent cushions that soften two cube cane chairs. “I enjoy living with blues. I’m interested in real colours, not the fashion of the moment.”
The sparkle of aqua mosaics behind a servery in the dining zone is echoed by walls in Resene ‘Moby’ and ‘Toto’. Shiplap ceilings and the use of wood – a mix of blonded, blackbutt and cypress – further enhance the nautical references.
In the master bedroom, a bedhead designed by Malcolm from custom-wood wedges and squares glued together is an artwork in shadow and light. Sliding doors between this room and the living area are painted in a random arrangement of stripes in Resene ‘Pavlova’, ‘Colin’s Wicket’ and ‘Half Villa White’. “They remind me of a traditional changing shed,” says Brenda.
Furnishings are a mix of design classics, such as the Marcel Breuer ‘Wassily’ chairs in brown, and New Zealand-made pieces like the Bob McDonald concrete outdoor table.
“I like this place sparsely furnished and the pieces light, so air can circulate beneath them. I think that’s important in a holiday home to eliminate mustiness,” says Brenda.
Much of the living is alfresco. Eddie rises at dawn to head out in his trawler, pursuing his passion.
“Fishing feeds his soul,” says Brenda. Often, his catch also feeds the residents of the bay. In time-honoured tradition, he sometimes swaps his haul of snapper for crayfish or scallops. “Fishing gives him an excuse to call on a whole lot of people,” she adds.
On New Year’s Eve, fireworks rain down over the bay in a shower of colour and form – an extravaganza that almost seems staged just for the family.
Where sailors once mustered, children now play racquet games and soccer. Malcolm loves to take a deck chair to the end of the jetty that first captivated him so. “Because we’re out on the point, when the tide comes in it feels almost like you’re on an island.”
Please see the photo gallery for more photos from this story including some web exclusive images.
Story: Claire McCall
Photographs: Matthew Williams