Modern Residence: the suburban monolith in Christchurch’s leafy St Albans

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15 January 2023


5 min read

From the street, this monolithic home appears quite classical. However, as you move through the building, its modern nature gradually appears, welcoming you with the comforts of contemporary living.

Christchurch’s central landscape is defined by an eclectic assemblage of architectural styles, all of which are gently woven together by the city’s abundant nature. Modern Residence is situated in St Albans, an established suburb decorated with Edwardian villas, mid-century homes, and contemporary builds. The property’s entrance faces south while the back garden captures the northern sun — an important element for achieving the expansive outdoor living area that the clients desired.

Architect Regan Johnston from Johnston Architects was approached by the clients to design a comfortable four-bedroom home with spaces for private retreat and a beautiful entertaining area interlaced with the backyard.

“The owners are a lovely couple who have a young daughter,” shares Regan. “As part-owners of a construction company, they were highly receptive to new ideas and a delight to work with. Both the clients and I have an appreciation for Christchurch’s rich history of modernist architecture, so this project was a bit of an homage to that legacy.”

The timeless front elevation of Modern Residence, designed with a clean monolithic profile and classical brick cladding. | Photographer: Jamie Cobel

From the property’s entrance, the home appears as a collection of three rectangular monolithic volumes with minimal apertures other than the clearly defined entryway that opens via a large pivot door. The exterior is clad in artisanal handmade brick from Stellaria, which looks particularly striking in its totality. Meanwhile, the forecourt is kept simple, framed by an elegant selection of plantings.

As you step into the home’s entry lobby, you’re able to look directly out to the backyard. This quality of visibility was an integral aspect of Regan’s design. He explains, “Canterbury is a vast plain with wide horizons fringed by the Southern Alps and Port Hills, but once you’re within the leafy inner-city suburbs, you tend to lose a sense of this openness. We wanted to design a home that reconnects with the broader landscape and big skies.”

On the ground level, the home’s theatre and office are located to the left, the master suite to the right, and the kitchen, dining, and lounge are positioned at the back where the building’s double-height volume is revealed. The huge northern wall in this main living area is fully glazed to capture extraordinary views of the skyline and features large sliding doors that open onto the spacious verandah. This transition between indoors and out is visually seamless, as the verandah is merely an extension of the home’s horizontal planes, amplified by the continuation of the interior’s timber ceiling.

“As a nation, we have a love of the outdoors, fresh air, and alfresco entertaining,” says Regan. “So, wherever possible, we like to design outdoor rooms for our clients to comfortably enjoy their connection with nature year-round.”

The fully glazed northern side of Modern Residence, a striking contrast to the brick-clad front elevation. | Photographer: Jamie Cobel
The verandah: an elegant extension of the Modern Residence’s main living area. | Photographer: Jamie Cobel

The back of the building’s exterior is outlined by an exposed black steel frame that draws attention to the verandah — an ultramodern outdoor lounge fully equipped for year-round comfort. A louvre system situated on the east side creates privacy between the neighbouring property while offering ventilation when using the barbeque. Wind and sun blinds are hidden within concealed pockets around the verandah for complete shelter from the elements. And for the cooler months, infrared outdoor heaters have been strategically placed around the seating areas to keep everyone warm.

As for the warmer periods, the home is well prepared for hosting long evenings in the sun. Just a few steps down from the verandah sits the formal lawn, swimming pool, and spa. The backyard is designed to be low-maintenance while appearing carefully manicured, utilising large concrete pavers and board-marked concrete planters to define the section.

“We raised the ground floor in order for the double-height living area and verandah to sit elevated above the formal lawn and neighbouring properties,” adds Regan. “This allowed for a beautiful visual connection to the landscape beyond the backyard and created a light and airy interior that’s not typical in such a close-knit suburban setting.”

The minimalist backyard, seamlessly interlaced with the verandah. | Photographer: Jamie Cobel
The main living area, designed with a striking feature wall and integrated fireplace made of blackened steel. | Photographer: Jamie Cobel

The rest of the home’s bedrooms are located across the first floor, receiving maximum privacy and exceptional views across the skyline. And as with the ground floor of Modern Residence’s interior, a muted material palette has been carried throughout the top level.

While there’s much to admire about the home, many of its significant contemporary features aren’t immediately visible. Regan explains, “One major component of the build is the membrane-covered warm roof system. It was used to provide great thermal performance and to ensure that the building envelope is well insulated to cope with the extremity of Christchurch’s climate.”

When asked about his favourite room, Regan notes the verandah is the obvious choice. “It’s a really special place to sit with friends and family, or just curl up with a good book and a glass of wine. However, there are other elements throughout the house that I enjoy equally, such as the bridge above the entry gallery with its large operable skylight and huge picture window, framing views of the southern Port Hills… Modern Residence is just a delightful space to move through.”

Explore more projects by Johnston Architects.