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The Rainbow House by Editor Jes Magill

The Rainbow House by Editor Jes Magill

This visit will especially interest those looking to build a home on a tricky site, with eco-features such as water conservation an important aspect of the completed design. Architect and owner Les Dykstra believes such designs can help alleviate Auckland’s current land squeeze. By creating appealing, sensitively constructed townhouses – or vertical houses – in the inner city, these homes can cleverly enhance the built environment rather than detract from it. And this home also honours the natural landscape that surrounds it. 
The inspiration for the design and philosophy of Les and wife Tracey’s new three level compact, eco-friendly townhouse came from the creek at the bottom of their garden.
They bought the 1093sqm irregularly shaped section on Remuera’s northern slopes 20 years ago and lived in the small house at the top of the section near the road. The section tumbled down the gully towards the creek, which if followed, will take a paddler in a kayak right through to the Orakei Basin. The section was hard to maintain, though, and the garden ran a little wild but it did have some lovely feature trees.
The council eventually piped the creek, and the precious water that flowed past the Dykstra’s home now flowed by in concrete pipes. In one way this felt like a tragedy to these urban greenies but the upside was the drainage work allowed them to build on the lower part of the section and design a future-proof home. Particular thought was given to securing private view shafts – for them and their neighbours – and retaining those precious feature trees.
The Dykstras fully understand the importance of shared landscapes and the pleasure everyone gains when a project is handled sensitively, and they had an inclusive, consultative approach to the build regarding their neighbours. They asked them what type of cladding they’d like to see on the exterior walls facing their own homes, and even what kind of landscape planting they’d like to view in the Dykstra’s garden. And in summer, when seclusion is most appreciated, the leaves on the trees give even more privacy to the residents in the leafy enclave. 
This build was the perfect opportunity for the architect to use his favoured materials, humble materials that others might dismiss, whereas Les’s designs elevate them to enviro-star status. Baby zincalume clads several exterior walls, with battened cedar ply on others. Australian hoop pine – more refined than New Zealand pine according to Les – covers most interior walls, with the pine’s subtle pattern appearing as accidental artwork. Baby zincalume was used for the atrium ceiling too and the effect is stunning – it’s an elevated band of silver shining in the light-filled space.   
With Les a specialist in water conservation, the house has some great eco-aqua features. Rainwater is harvested in tanks for irrigation and washing exterior surfaces, as well as washing and laundry purposes; grey water is recycled too with all water from the shower used to flush the loo.
The home measures 200sqm. The driveway is reasonably steep and cars descend, and with a nifty left turn over a suspended bridge fit neatly into the two-car garage which forms the top level of the three level home. The design is in part open plan featuring a two level atrium which links the space, but there are private spaces to retreat to as well.   
The main entrance is down the steps to the right, with an outlook over the Japanese garden, and internal access is through the garage, where a door links through to the walk bridge. This has fantastic views through the atrium and out across the private tree-lined valley. The walk bridge also leads to the main bedroom on the left, and an open-plan library for Tracey where she can relax, read, and soak up the sun.      
The bespoke staircase made from pinus radiata is formed from dove-tailed joins and features a steel balustrade, the only steel in the house, and leads down to the second level. Viewed from the lounge, the stairs appear beautifully sculptural-like.  
The main living space includes kitchen, dining (with access to a sheltered, sunny northwest facing deck), lounge, guest bathroom and guest bedroom that could also be an office, with exterior access near the main entrance. 
Strand board, a now almost forgotten product, covers the stairs and leads down to the lower level, which is Les and Tracey’s shared studio office space. An exercycle sitting proud in the middle of the room denotes this as “gym” space as well. This area was designed to convert to two extra bedrooms if required, making it a four bedroom home, and through the north facing door there’s a building platform waiting for development as an extra living space. There’s certainly plenty of space in this compact design.
A stunning feature of the home is the colour, and inspiration for the palette goes back to the meandering creek. Les says he thought of the droplets of precious water flow through the property, analysed their colour, qualities and shape, and embraced these to form the essence of the home and its main aesthetic theme – the colours of the rainbow.
This colour theme follows a neutral palette with bursts of intense colour throughout. Bands of Mondrian-like intensity cover glass louvres and appear above the cove lighting in the dining room. Les often uses colour as a dominant feature in the homes he designs for his clients, features that often become the most talked about aspect of the designs.   
A philosophy of recycling and conservation has guided the garden and landscape design as well. Concrete paths broken up for the build now form the crazy paving in the Japanese garden, the new deck was built from recycled kwila, and with the home built to capture the sun and release heat through thermal mass, only some rooms needed double glazing. 
This vertical house is a healthy home too in more ways than one. Its three levels require a certain level of fitness, but there’s room to install a lift if required. That’s a way off though, because Les and Tracey fully intend to start paddling down to the Orakei Basin any day now, and that will keep them fit for a good few years yet.  
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