Reef House - SGA | ArchiPro

Reef House

Summer holidays near the coast, any coast, are the right of every New Zealander and loom large in the childhoods of many of us. For some, the reality of a home near the coast is a goal to aspire to; a place where family and friends can build memories that often transcend generations.

For the owner of this house, that was the dream—to provide a holiday home for her three children and their families. One that would ultimately be passed on, becoming, in the process, an indelible embodiment of that dream.

In this instance though, the familial link runs deeper, as the owner commissioned her architect cousin—Dave Strachan of Strachan Group Architects (SGA)—to design the home and two of her children, builders starting out on their own, to build it.

“Reef house is very much a family experience,” says Dave. “Not just because of its intended use but because we will all get to look back on it and see where it was touched by each of us in turn.”

Situated on an elevated section overlooking the rocky beach break of Daniels Reef, the site enjoys extensive sea views from the northeast through to the south and across to Little Barrier Island.

“These views, as well as a fall of seven metres across the site diagonally from west to east, provided the natural context. A vacant site to the northeast, as well as neighbours overlooking from the north, also needed to be considered in the design process.

Dave says that while the site itself was of a good size, council regulations around setbacks and neighbouring sightlines, coupled with topographical considerations, restricted placement of the building site to within a 200m2 building platform.

“From the outset, the goal was to design as complete a council-compliant scheme as possible, including strict adherence to the maximum building footprint. To achieve that, the plan is a split cruciform, providing axial views and cross ventilation in both directions. In section, breaking the form into a twin-roof pavilion allows for ample volumetric shifts across the upper-floor spaces.

“Here, the floorplates are offset and arranged to direct views out to the sea from the entrance and living areas. The kitchen projects through the building envelope and out onto layered and screened outdoor living spaces—helping blur the lines between indoor spaces and outdoor spaces.”

Another design element that blurs the lines is the courtyard garden, which works as a climate modifier and is accessed through a bank of hinged doors, cleverly incorporating the space into the interior while maintaining its exterior designation. A small powder room is accessed off this space.

Crucial to the design aesthetics, was the owner’s desire to include a selection of interesting textures and materials to complement her art collection and the coastal environment. Exterior materials were selected for their longevity and minimal maintenance requirements, including bleached timber elements on the sheltered, roadside facade, filtering through to a more rich interior treatment of oiled timbers.

With a long future spent in the house envisioned, sustainability in design and materials was paramount to the outcome, says Dave.

“This project embodies SGA’s core mantra of ‘form follows climate and landform’. The site required excavation with much of this material ultimately being re-distributed on site.

“A variety of passive solar devices such as eyebrows, recesses, slatted screens, eaves and overhangs deal with summer glare and heat while allowing good solar gain in winter. Similarly, cross ventilation is possible on all sides of the building and the south-facing courtyard garden provides pre-conditioned air flow from the sheltered side to the exposed side in hotter, still weather. Thermally, the walls, floors and roof all have higher-than-code levels of insulation.”

Cladding materials have been selected to be fit for purpose in the coastal environment and include powder coated aluminium cladding, joinery, fences and eyebrows; coastal-grade ColorSteel roofing and spouting; oiled cedar screens and panels; and, natural stone and macrocarpa sleepers for landscaping.

Internal paint systems are all low-VOC, waterbased or natural oil finishes.

Also, a 50,000-litre rainwater storage system with UV filtration provides water for both drinking and irrigation. A natural flow effluent system deals with wastewater and feeds the revegetating landscape while rain gardens deal with stormwater runoff.

Words by Justin Foote.
Photography by Simon Devitt


  • NZIA Local Award Winner - 2020 - Housing
  • Best Awards Finalist - 2020 - Residential Architecture
  • Trends International Design Awards Highly Commended - 2020 - NZ Architect Designed Home
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Reef House | Strachan Group Architects (SGA) | ArchiPro
Located on an elevated section overlooking Daniels Reef north of Auckland, this new house enjoys enjoys extensive sea views across to Little Barrier Island.
As seen from the rear of the property, the split cruciform nature of the design becomes apparent.
The floorplates are offset and arranged to direct views out to the sea from every room.
Architect Dave Strachan wanted to play with the typical notion of indoors and outdoors, turning the lounge into more of a covered terrace, thanks to the full-width sliders that slide back on the outside of the building.
Running roughly north-south, the open-plan living area is bathed in natural light and enjoys ample cross ventilation thanks to the split cruciform design of the building.
An internal courtyard provides cooled air flow, one of the passive environmental initiatives inherent in the home.
Internal doors access the courtyard, which features an open, slatted screen to allow for uninterrupted air flow.
A sliding door between the garden courtyard and guest suite allows for natural ventilation, minimising the use of mechanical cooling.
On the opposite side of the courtyard is a powder room, a quirky treatment of a standard feature.
The main bedroom enjoys enviable views over Omaha Bay.
The kitchen projects through the building envelope and out onto layered and screened outdoor living spaces—helping blur the lines between indoor spaces and outdoor spaces.
A kitchenette services the downstairs lounge and dining patio. Two further bedrooms are also located on the lower level.
The ensuite bathroom continues the pared back materiality of the interior design.
From the front door, the eye is immediately drawn to the stunning views, presented through a variety of 'vignettes'.
At dusk, the structure of the house seems to recede into the hillside, providing glimpses of the spaces inside.
From the front, the design intention of blurring the lines between indoors and out to offer layers of experience is fully exposed.

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