A home to share

A home to share

The views, the weather, and the fishing were all factors in the creation of this steadfast and comforting coastal home designed by RW Design, but making a place for the family to enjoy was at the heart of the process.

words Anna Scaife photography Johnny Knopp


“I spent time exploring the site and the house began to design itself at that point,” says architectural designer, Robin White, of RW Design. “The south-east views and northerly access were pivotal and the shape of the home started to form from that. I made some quick sketches and we took it from there.”

For longstanding clients of RW Design, Richard and Julie Brown, the process of working with Robin to design this home away from home in coastal North Canterbury, was a collaboration built on trust. “We would have discussions with Robin about various aspects of the design and he would go to the sketch pad and come back with something that was pretty close to the mark.” The couple’s son Mitch, of Mitch Brown Construction, completed the build and Robin was impressed with the results saying, “Mitch did an exceptional job of realising the vision his parents had for the Motunau site.”


RW Design is an established presence in the New Zealand design industry, and principal architectural designer, Robin White, has operated in North Canterbury for over 30 years. He leads the boutique office alongside practice manager Rachel Horan and a passionate design team whose priority is to provide outstanding and practical design. Robin has carved a niche working on rural properties and holiday homes and believes in the importance of creating the home to fit the surrounding landscape. “I love working in rural settings because you are free from some of the restrictions that exist in town; allowing you the freedom to maximise the natural features of the site. We were certainly able to do that with the Motunau house,” says Robin. 

At the heart of the small community of Motunau is the boat ramp, at times deserted and at others a busy hub encircled by a cluster of traditional baches and larger modern homes perched on the road that winds steeply up into rolling farmland. It is a favourite spot for fishermen and divers to head out over the bar towards Motunau Island looking for blue cod, crayfish, and paua. Richard’s connection to the site was born out of childhood fishing trips and visits with his own children and when he and wife Julie decided to build a second home to use for family holidays and weekends away, they knew this was the spot.


The clifftop site affords the home extraordinary views out to sea and the island and back to Pegasus Bay and Banks Peninsula on a clear day. Along with the outlook and the access to the ocean comes exposure to the extremes of weather and the harsh coastal environment; Richard says the storms can be spectacular. This vulnerability to the elements informed many of the decisions around the design and the materials used in the house.

Lewis and Barrow were the consultant engineers for the project and their brief included geotechnical site testing and foundation recommendations, structural design and site observation of the structure during construction. Nigel Hogg of Lewis and Barrow says, “The cliff top location makes it very exposed to the wind. Most of Lewis and Barrow’s effort went into the living and dining areas to keep the space as open plan as possible while providing enough bracing for the high wind loads.”

Cedar, Waiau stone, and copper are combined to form the cohesive and handsome exterior, materials robust enough to withstand the conditions while continuing to look good over time. The roofing material is asphalt shingles, a non-corrosive product that performs well in salt-laden air. Steven from Southern Superior Roofing installed Pabco premier shingles in antique black, confident they would do the job as they come with a 200kph wind rating. The product is installed on 15mm plywood which helps to brace the roof and also provides venting and air flow, keeping the home warm or cool depending on the time of year.

The use of the Waiau stone continues seamlessly from the outside into the expansive open plan living area which centres around a huge open fire, a feature that was important to the Browns and is used at every opportunity. The mantelpiece has been crafted from an old, weathered piece of hardwood, salvaged from a dredge on the West Coast, and that had lived unused at a friend’s bach in Motunau before being put to perfect use above the hearth.


The home has five double bedrooms and three bathrooms and Robin says of planning the internal layout, “Family is extremely important to Richard and Julie and it was critical there was room for all the family to stay and feel comfortable. They wanted each of the bedrooms to enjoy the views either out to sea or back to the hills and to feel private while still being connected to the communal spaces. It is the layout of the spaces that determines the success of a home.” The use of robust natural materials in the interior was a conscious choice of the owners who worked with Karen Smith of Casabella Interiors to select the interior finishes. "Karen made it so easy for us, she would bring two or three choices that would work in the space."

The galley-style kitchen has an impressively proportioned island topped with a large benchtop formed by a tapered slab of textured black granite. The space is simply designed to be supremely functional. Julie enthuses that it is her favourite part of the house. Again, the motivation for the design was informality and to create communal areas that work as well with large groups as they do when the couple is there on their own. “That was the challenge with scaling the spaces, to cater for both of those scenarios,” says Robin.


Careful planning was required when considering the outdoor spaces due to the challenges of the site. The garden needed to be easy care with planting that would happily grow on the coast, and it was vital that the design would afford them unobstructed views while providing protection from the prevailing winds. Richard and Julie requested off street parking, a BBQ and outdoor dining area, space for a spa and a small amount of lawn. They sought the expert help of Hayden from Xteriorscapes Landscape Architecture to create the landscape plan.

The owners wanted to use local, natural materials in the design that complemented the materials used in the house. This was achieved by using Waiau stone to construct seating and raised planters as well as the boulders in the garden beds, native plants, gravel paths, and recycled sleepers. The decking is built from Garapa, a hardwood timber. “The landscaping integrates the house and the outdoor spaces and reinforces the flow and connection between house and garden, nestling the house into the surroundings,” says Hayden.


The motivation behind building this beautiful, solid home on the hill was to create a place for the Brown’s close family to spend time together and having their son Mitch do the build added to their strong connection to the place. “We are so proud of him and his attention to detail, and he was up here in some very trying conditions too,” says Richard.

In the beginning the couple lived at their home in Rangiora and would head out to the Motunau house for weekends away, but say now that has crept up to spending around half their time at the coast, “We just love being in this house, we love the stonework, the fire, the view. It gets harder and harder for us to leave each time.” A house that is loved by its owners and will continue to be treasured by the extended family is a sure sign that the work of the owners, designer and builder have achieved all that they set out to do.


Involved in this project

Architectural Design
RW Design
03 312 2502

Mitch Brown Construction Limited
022 088 2532

Landscape Design
Xteriorscapes Landscape Architects
021 433 418

Lewis and Barrow Ltd"
03 366 4320

Southern Superior Roofing Ltd
027 241 1894

Plumbing Supplies
Oakley’s Plumbing Supplies
03 379 4750

Interior Design
Casabella Interiors
021 304 301

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