Modern Comforts Simplified

By Graham Hepburn.

It’s not always easy to make a virtue out of necessity but architect Graham Pitts has achieved that with the striking steel portal frame home that he designed at Puawai Bay for Marlene and Robin Welch.

With a narrow, sloping site to contend with and a tight budget, Graham came up with the idea of an external portal frame to create interest and cut costs.

As Graham explains, “It was the easiest way to avoid having continuous strip foundations and huge amounts of scaffolding all over the place, which would be another cost. Continuous foundations with a blockwork wall was just not going to be economical. The design solution is essentially that of an extruded house on one level hung within a row of exposed portal frames.

“If the scaffold could be part of the building that would be one less cost to consider and if the cladding could be an economical pre-finished material coated for weather protection, maintenance costs would be minimal. The solution to these issues is the steel portal frames protected with an engineered coating system and the colour-coated corrugated ZINCALUME®.”

Graham says the Colorsteel Maxx will not only withstand the rigours of a coastal environment but is also aesthetically pleasing. “It’s a very appropriate cladding for a Kiwi bach situation but also sits well with the portal frame,” he says. Graham says this is the first home he has designed with an external steel portal frame.

“It’s essentially commercial warehouse technology; I just domesticated the design,” he says. “It’s very quick to put up; we had the frames craned in and bolted in place in one day.”

Marlene Welch says having removed the original fibrolite bach from the site, she and Robin were looking for a home with presence but also one that would cater for visits from their son and his family who are based overseas. It also had to embrace the north-facing coastal views.

“Graham designed a house before for us in Devonport so we knew him and he knew us,” says Marlene.

“We started off with the idea of a long, thin house and we wanted a lot of glass in it. Then Graham came up with the steel portal frame and we loved it.”

Graham adds, “The brief was different from the first home which required a gallery to display challenging and interesting furniture designed and made by Robin, a studio for interior designer Marlene, and one bedroom. When questioned about saleability the answer was, “Not our problem; the estate executors will deal with that!” The same attitude applied with respect to this house.

Unexpected and challenging design was important. However, two bedrooms were included for family and grandchildren visits. And underlying the wish list was a limited budget.”

A concrete driveway leads down to the house from the road and forms a “motor court” for parking and ease of turning outside the garage. A level wooden footpath runs down the side of the garage to the front door, which opens into a foyer that links with the open plan main living area.

“The layout of the building meant that if they needed to they could wheelchair straight into the main floor and main bedroom,” says Graham. “All their living is on that level so when they don’t have guests they could just ignore the fact that they had a basement.”

Graham adds, “An earthquake rift offset the garage and main bedroom from the living areas and in so doing defined the entry and created a northern aspect and view for this area. Living and dining are within one long space subtly defined with walls, full height doors, windows, decks and the stairs to the basement all fitting to the regular portal module. The very simple kitchen, which runs along one interior wall, is separated from this area by the stair. The other wall is full height glass overlooking the garden.”

Downstairs there are two bedrooms, a shower room and laundry. The downstairs bedrooms have full height double glazed windows that mirror the full height windows upstairs and the doors that open to a deck with sea views. A glass front door was a part of the original design allowing visitors to see though the house and out to sea. This feature was later discarded for a more traditional wooden door.

Marlene says while the home has all the modern comforts, it has been “simplified to a minimalist extreme”. Graham adds, “All other design elements such as the balustrade to decks and the polished concrete kitchen counter are generated from and are consistent with these decisions.

Using a steel portal frame made the construction process – including laying the floor joists and framing up the house - a lot easier and quicker. So much so that the builder got through the initial stages of construction so quickly that he had to wait for subcontractors to arrive at their pre-arranged times.”

Graham Pitts

Clients: Marlene and Robin Welch.

Architect: Graham Pitts,
Telephone: 09 446 1070

Main contractor: Harbour City Homes,
Telephone: 027 478 2855

Engineer: MSC Consulting Group,
Telephone: 09 486 2210.

Geotechnical engineer: Ormiston Associates,
Telephone: 09 302 2193

Cladding: COLORSTEEL ®Maxx®

Colour: Ironsand corrugate.

Cladding installer: Slater Roofing & Spouting,
Telephone: 09 407 4036