No frills bach in the Marlborough Sounds
The voice of experience
David Kepes makes his living building dream houses for other people. His company, Timbercraft Construction, has been responsible for luxurious Marlborough baches with complex plans and vast sea views. But when he and his wife Lynda wanted a getaway on the edge of the Pelorus Sound they went for a minimalist design, then surrounded it with bush, offering only glimpses of the moody tidal waters beyond.
“We’re not really interested in bells and whistles,” says David. “We’re more interested in the experience than the frills.”
The bach is a tribute to wood, with five walls of glass contained within a “cacophony of timbers”, which David compares to the souvenir New Zealand timber rulers he loved as a boy. Beautiful mullions of macrocarpa flitches – wide pieces of timber the full width of a log – dissect the northern panes, the curved caramel timber making a perfect contrast to sleek glass.
Elm saved from a neighbour’s axe was milled for the ceiling and for the front of the kitchen and bathroom cabinets, which release the subtle scent of their Lawson cypress interiors when opened. There’s also matai, kahikatea, rimu, larch, Douglas fir and radiata pine, much of it from the Kepes’ Rai Valley forestry block. Growing a tree for its potential as a drawer or door in 40 years time makes it easy to tend with love, says David.
In this bach and other high-profile builds, such as cinematographer Michael Seresin’s stunning Waterfall Bay house, David used wood with other materials that develop a patina with age, including stone, concrete, copper and brass.
“Their beauty is enhanced with age,” says David, “as opposed to materials that deteriorate from the day you put them up.”
Contained within the bach’s 110sqm are an open-plan living area, a master bedroom, a single bathroom and a bunk room to “stack” their five children, now aged from 13 to 28. It could well be described as modest, and that’s the way they like it. David is the son of Hungarian holocaust survivors who found refuge in New Zealand “and I think that has rubbed off on us kids”.
Time spent in an Israeli kibbutz in his late teens and in a house truck built during a hippie sojourn in Marlborough only deepened his hearty disrespect for consumerism. Lynda is of the same bent. “Having a bach at all seems weird,” she says.
The couple met and married in Plimmerton in 1989, after David took his house truck across Cook Strait to study for a New Zealand Certificate in Architectural Draughting. Later the house part of the house truck was unbolted and craned up to the hillside section they had bought in Plimmerton, 95 steps above the road. In time a rambling home was built around it.
Two of their three sons were born there before the family moved, first to a lifestyle block in Golden Bay and then to their present Marlborough home in 1999. From there it’s just a 45-minute drive to the Mahakipawa Arm section where they plan to build again when their youngest son finishes college.
Though he’s in demand for his craftsmanship, David points out that his attitude to design isn’t always in tune with the trends. “I don’t go for those hermetically sealed homes where someone sneezes and people three rooms away get sick.”
As for his take on the ubiquitous modern en suite, David’s preference is for the Burt Munro model (as seen in The World’s Fastest Indian, the film about the Invercargill motorcycle racer). There are few places in the world where you have the space to “discreetly pee” on your own citrus trees, David reckons. “Sixty years ago we were content with long drops. Now you don’t build a house without at least one en suite. The next stage will be automatic catheterisation at age 40.”
After 28 years in the building industry, he remains frustrated with what he sees as the “mediocrity” of mainstream housing. “In New Zealand we are really under-designed in terms of our built environment. You walk around our suburbs and the houses have no soul. They have no context.”
He describes his family bach as an example of a healthy, “soothing” structure built from sustainably harvested timber at a relatively low cost. As well as a productive orchard, David and Lynda have planted thousands of native trees on mounds of soil around the house, creating a contoured wilderness. Eventually the trees will grow up, allowing more snapshots of the sea, but the pair want to maintain a “Zen” aesthetic, where views are all the more impressive for being elusive.
“I would rather take a few steps and appreciate the view and be surprised by it than have it in my face,” says David.
When the doors are all opened, the house becomes a “canopy” in the bush, a sheltered spot that Lynda describes as an oasis. “The ultimate is building something for my family,” says David. “When you build for yourself you have so much freedom.”
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|Story: Sophie Preece|
Photographer: Paul McCredie