Back to the future
Influenced by the modernist simplicity of Frank Lloyd Wright, Cymon Allfrey Architects joined forces with Jim The Builder to create a modern masterpiece that transcends time.
Just a stone’s throw from Hagley Park and minutes from the city centre, Russell and Jenny McLay have enjoyed claiming this charmed nook of Christchurch as their own for the past thirty years. So, when the quakes struck seven years ago, they were determined to hold onto it.
Having enlisted the expertise of Cymon Allfrey Architects and Jim The Builder, for what would initially be a repair and restoration job, the second quake, in February 2011, determined that the project would in fact be a rebuild. With all hope of restoring their beloved Arts and Crafts-style family home well and truly buried beneath the rubble, the couple bravely embraced the daunting task.
In agreement that it would have been somewhat ‘inappropriate to replicate the original design’, the couple instead opted for a bold contemporary design that pushed the envelope on convention.
With the practical, ‘hands-on approach’ of Jim The Builder Co-Directors, Jim Stenberg and Andrew Clark, combined with the deft design touch of lead architect, Craig South from Cymon Allfrey Architects, an exciting new future beckoned.
Influenced by the modernist simplicity of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Craig points to the large overhangs and flat plane roofs, which bear all the hallmarks of this particular architectural era and are just as timeless eight decades on.
Offering the full architectural service, Craig was involved in all aspects of the design – from the initial feasibility study and subsequent development opportunities, to the design of form and interior elements, and throughout the construction phase. Craig says this comprehensive approach ensures ‘a well-considered result that responds to the clients’ needs, site conditions and the surrounding environment’.
Working in close collaboration with Craig, Jim was onsite daily with site foreman Lloyd Jennings to manage timelines and budgets, oversee the quality of workmanship, and provide practical solutions to design challenges encountered during construction.
One such challenge, Jim shares, involved the positioning of the windows that run between the first and second storeys. This design feature called for the utmost precision when it came to setting weld plates into the foundation slab with rebates in perfect alignment with the second storey – before it was even built.
Although Jim admits this particular project presented a myriad of challenges due to the very nature of the high-end architectural design, he insists the rewards of ‘working to such a level of precise detail, where there is little margin for error, is immensely gratifying’.
As with every successful build, communication between architect, builder and client is paramount – but even more so when the clients are based overseas, as was the case here. This ‘workable challenge’ meant Craig’s involvement extended to encompass key decision-making aspects, which required implicit trust and open communication with regular phone calls and emails.
Russell also attributes the availability of Jim, and the way he shared information and ideas, as a ‘significant factor’ in the success of the build: ‘he treated the project as if it was his own’, he says, ‘and the constant flow of communication made for a transparent and relatively stress-free process’.
Contracted to excavate, level and prepare the site for installation of the complex ground beam foundations and rib-raft floor, Complete Earthworks found that they had to excavate deeper than usual when they discovered unexpectedly an old well. A technically challenging, yet rewarding piece of engineering work, capping was required to contain the area and prevent water from infiltrating the rest of the site.
Used to stunning effect on the building’s façade and on select internal walls, black basalt makes a striking statement. Giving ‘an edge’ to its modernist aesthetic, the plaster finish perfectly offsets the granite and cedar elements.
Working with Jim The Builder over the past decade, Glenn Munro of Properly Plastered installed the Rockcote Integra plaster façade system with an acrylic Classico texture finish and Resene X200 paint. For a premium finish at the junction between the two different claddings in the middle of the garage doors, a redesign of the reveals delivered a 'particularly satisfying outcome', Glenn shares.
Responsible for the structural design of the building, from foundations right through to construction monitoring for the whole site, Engineering Design Consultants’ greatest, and most rewarding, challenge was the design, fabrication and installation of the staircase.
As Sam Polson explains, careful planning was required in order to fabricate a sound structure that also looked good. Put together in a very particular order – like ‘giant lego’ – they were able to create a seamless, contemporary aesthetic.
As the original house was extremely cold in winter, the McLays were keen to increase warmth and insulation in the new design. So, Craig cleverly incorporated the latest innovations in technology in order to harness the heat and allow for adequate ventilation.
And, in order to optimise solar energy and the views of the garden, the home was ‘purposefully repositioned’ within a separable portion of the site – which also allows for future subdivision.
Determined to ‘future-proof’ the home where possible, Craig integrated an elevator into the two-storey home. Accessible off the main thoroughfares on the first and second floors, the Homelift by Phoenix Elevators is especially designed for home use. Consuming the same amount of power as a refrigerator, and operating as quietly, this added touch of luxury is ideal for modern residential dwellings due to its compact size and simple installation.
Chosen for its durability, comfort and warmth throughout hallways and bedrooms, Cavalier Bremworth Charmeuse carpet is an extra heavy-duty pure-wool carpet, and was supplied by Nextdore. For outdoor areas, like the courtyard and patios, and high traffic areas inside, like the foyer and the landing leading to the master suite, Deck Crystal Silver tiles were used for practicality and a high quality finish.
The exquisite handcrafted bespoke joinery lends a hotel-like luxury, while offering ample storage solutions in just about every room. Designed by Craig, and crafted by Sydenham Joinery, the reconstituted Tasmanian oak veneer gives a richness to the cabinet fronts, which is offset by white lacquered MDF cabinetry in the kitchen, media room, office, master suite, bathrooms, and under the staircase – where Russell’s book collection resides.
Giving a flawless finish to the interior walls, Paul Lally of Broomfield Quality Stoppers says all materials used by their team of experienced plasterers are ‘the best money can buy’. Given the nature of high-end architectural builds, Paul explains that due to the way the light reflects off surfaces, this type of work calls for entire areas to be plastered, not just the joins.
Impressed with Jim and Craig’s combined efforts, Russell and Jenny are ‘extremely happy’ with the final result – where ‘even the smallest of details are exceptional’.
With the city blossoming and their new home complete, the McLays intend to spend less time overseas and more time at home. And, with the arrival of spring, they are looking forward to spending time outdoors revitalising the garden, and adding the finishing interior flourishes that make a house a home.
Words: Majka Kaiser
Styling: Comber and Comber
Photography: Stephen Goodenough