Piha Beach – a beautiful surf shack - C–Architecture | ArchiPro

Piha Beach – a beautiful surf shack

A modest home at the iconic Piha Beach is designed to capture views of the sea, bush and sky, complete with a captain’s nest lookout for keeping an eye on the surf. This refurbishment of an old Kiwi bach on a small footprint is cleverly arranged to create a light-filled voluminous space with great connections for the architect owner and her family.

 A large site at Piha Beach on Auckland’s west coast is the home of a modest yet seemingly spacious dwelling designed by an architect for her young family. “For five years, my husband and I lived permanently in a run-down old beach bach on the site,” explains architect Carolyn Gundy of C-Architecture, who previously worked for Crosson Clarke Carnachan Architects before starting her own practice.

“At first it was just us living in the bach, then two babies came along, which was a bit crazy but it was still a great place to live,” she says. “It also gave me an understanding of how the sun moved around the property and how the neighbouring trees could influence the design.”

Located on a beautiful little road close to the beach, the large 2,365m² site is set back high on a steep ridge, among pohutukawa and nikau palms, with a stream running through the middle of the property. “To the west, you can see the sea and the beach above the treetops,” she explains. “It’s an incredible spot but even though the property is large, the footprint was limited.”

Carolyn’s original concept was to build a brand-new, L-shaped curved house that would channel the different aspects of the surrounding environment. However, her vision came in over budget so, to limit the scope, she designed an alteration to the existing bach and extruded the existing footprint up to create a second storey, resulting in a more simple form. Working with the existing 45m² footprint, the bach was extended by 40m² and a mezzanine was added to create a total area of 130m², plus timber decks facing east and west.

The family needed three bedrooms but, most importantly, they wanted to create the same sense of connection, closeness and communication that you gain from living in a small space. “This house is all about quality over quantity,” she says. “What I really wanted to do was capture and embrace the beautiful elements of the site, the light and the immediacy of the bush. One of the delightful aspects was capturing the morning light on the nikau palms and bringing that experience into the home. The idea was to create little experiences like that in different parts of the house at different times of the day.”

“Capturing the views of the bush, the ridgeline and the sea/surf to the west was also important, as was letting in light to enhance the high volume of the living area, so we elevated the windows up to the ceiling so it always maintains light and accentuate the views. We also extended the eaves to control solar gain and to create privacy from the neighbours to the north.”

This maximisation of light has also had the effect of playing off the timber plywood interior walls. “I wanted the walls to glow when they capture the sunlight in different parts of the house,” Carolyn explains. “The light is designed to move from the dining area at midday around to the living area by the afternoon. The big high wall of plywood in the living space especially glows in certain lights, as well as being strong, durable and adding warmth to make a really lovely space while the high volume of glass windows, including the louvred windows and full-height sliding doors, enable interesting shadows to move around the spaces..”

The home is arranged with the main living area on the ground floor, and bedrooms, office/bunkroom and lookout on the mezzanine level above. “We are super-keen surfers so the lookout on the mezzanine level was designed so we could easily go and check the condition of the surf without entering the upper-level bedrooms. It’s a small space with just a seat and a desk but, from here, the best views of the surrounding landscape are found, looking both east and west, and it also creates a nice connection between the two levels.”

Practical multi-functional spaces are key in this home. “The design was actually originally conceived as a holiday home, but it equally works well as a permanent home as well,” she explains. The kitchen divides the open-plan living area, creating two defined spaces within one room so the occupants can enjoy different zones in the one space. Here, Carolyn has designed bespoke plywood cabinetry, which was constructed by cabinetmaker Kirsty Winter. A built-in bench seat in the dining area, along with bookshelves, bedside tables and drawers in the bedrooms, were created by local Piha cabinet maker Eric Davis. Dark kwila flooring throughout the home ties in with the lighter tropical meranti plywood walls, while additional white-painted Gib walls add a crisp contrast against the timber.

Outside, there is an undercroft tucked under the second storey, which faces south-west to provide shelter out of the sun and in the event of a westerly wind. “Dark-stained shiplap cedar weatherboards, with shadowclad cladding at the back, help to blend the home into the bush,” says Carolyn. “We’ve used simple passive design measures to create a well-performing house, such as good orientation for solar gain, super-insulated wall and roof structures, and careful management of opening windows through the use of louvres to allow for cross-ventilation through the double-height space, so cool air can be sucked in from below and travel up the building to be released above.”

Keeping the scope of the design under control was the most challenging aspect of the build, Carolyn suggests. “We chose to work with the existing footprint as much as possible, pushing spaces out where the site conditions allowed. This home was really all about trying to maximise space and create quality experiences within them.” While it’s one thing to build a stunning house with a large budget, Carolyn has managed to design a modest home that still has beautiful-quality spaces.

Carolyn and her family have since sold the house and bought a site even closer to the beach where she is planning to build a new home.


Words by Justine Harvey

Photography by Emma Smales.

House build by Joshua Ross of Mastertrade Services Ltd in collaboration with Jacob Horgan.   

Framed Piha wave photograph by Craig Levers.  


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This modest home at the iconic Piha Beach is designed to capture views of bush and sky.
The main entrance from the north-western corner of the property.
The entrance into the dining area from the west-facing deck.
Reflective glass provides a sense of volume to the house, and displays the surrounding fauna, while sympathetic colour use ensures the house ‘sits’ within the environment.  
A high ceiling due to the mezzanine design creates a sense of space within the small footprint of the home. Extensive use of high-grade plywood compliments the bush environment the house exists in.
The kitchen/dining area maximises space with built-in bench seating and high ceilings.
The captain's nest on the mezzanine level floats out into the kitchen.
The kitchen opens straight out onto a deck and a cluster of nikau palms.
A close-up of the kitchen reveals the bespoke locally built plywood cabinetry.
The high ceilings comfortably provide several living spaces within the small footprint, promoting social closeness that larger houses may not.
By capitalising on the north orientation of the house, large windows provide year-round warmth and light.  
Mid-to-late afternoon sun provides warmth and light due to the large window areas.
Framed Piha wave photograph by Craig Levers.  
The use of plywood in the construction allows for clean, complimentary in-built furniture.
Floor-to-ceiling windows provide light and a healthy environment in bedrooms, while the plywood walls can be matched with relatively clean, simple furniture.  
Use of green tiles connects the bathroom spaces with the outside environment, bringing the ‘outside’ to the ‘inside’.  
The shower is semi-enclosed behind an olive-green subway tiled wall.
This plan shows the original small bach in the context of the new renovation footprint.  
The ground level floor incorporates the original bach footprint (which has now become kitchen, dining and a living spaces), and extends it into a providing a downstairs bedroom, utilities and storage, and extensive outdoor decking and entertaining areas.
The upper level provides extensive coastal views from the main bedroom, and internal views over the ground level due to the open mezzanine design.