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A deeply personal home for a couple approaching retirement takes its stylistic cues from the browned-off grass and jagged rocky outcrops of the Port Hills in Christchurch.

Having lived near the Heathcote River, the owners were tired of their home flooding post-earthquakes. A special, elevated Richmond Hill site with sea views gave Michael John of AO Architecture the opportunity to create a place for them to retire to that was as far from rivers as possible.

They wanted a pitched form with the living areas and main bedroom to be located all on the same level, says Michael.

“This was no mean feat on a hilly site and difficult to create with height-to-boundary restrictions. Even though it was gentler than some of the neighbouring sites, it was a large consideration that dictated the overall form of the home.”

However, the gable structure plays well off the jagged hills surrounding the site. The gables were utilised to their full potential, forming high vaulted interior spaces in the living areas and a study above the garage.

The snug and formal lounge take advantage of the pitched roofline, providing spaces with interesting junctions and shapes.

The exposed nature of the site also dictated the rationale behind the U-shape of the house with two wings that offer protection from the prevailing wind. The shape provides a sheltered outdoor area with a fireplace where the owners can enjoy the views while remaining protected from the elements.

A key aspect of the brief was to capture the views out to the ocean in front and the lovely adjacent private reserve. Michael achieved this through large Corten steel-framed windows that encapsulate the views at both ends, from the lounge to the sea and out to the reserve from the master bedroom. Against the black cedar exterior, the rusting Corten steel ties in with the look of the dry grass in this rugged environment.

The home is formed around a central gallery spine which houses some of the owners’ art. This allows access along the house from the entry to an infinity pond with views beyond. Being visually open, it creates a sense of space within the kitchen and dining room. Skylights also keep the central part of the home light and bright.

While Michael provided the overarching design, Zane Tate of Zane Tate Design was the interior designer responsible for the interior palette, which is rich, moody, warm and sumptuous with some glamorous touches in marble bathrooms and lighting. While the living area gets the views, the little snug with the large concrete fireplace is a cosy internal retreat where the owners can hunker down and enjoy a wine together.

“We always incorporate environmental design principles into our homes to make them more comfortable and sustainable. Elements such as large north-facing windows provide for solar gain allowing the floors to act as a heat sink, releasing the warmth during the night. Offsetting this solar gain by limiting the amount of glass on other elevations and with good insulation in the walls, means the house never gets too hot in summer.”

Michael says the layout of the split-level home, with the gallery and all of the living spaces on one floor, works well for the couple as they approach retirement. Yet equally, with the extra bedrooms and the office in the attic, means they can accommodate multiple guests and, when it comes time to sell the house, it will appeal to families, future proofing it for some time to come.

While it is super comfortable, the home also looks impressive in an isolated spot with the big corner windows and solid concrete fireplaces. Though it doesn’t technically relate to anything, the random design of the little patterns in Corten steel on top of the chimney is a nice feature.

The owners feel safe and couldn’t be happier, in the knowledge they’ll stay that way for years to come.

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AO Architecture was founded in 2011 by Michael John and Nicholas Mann.

AO Architecture is a young and innovative architectural practice, aware of the importance of delivering a unique project that is tailored to meet each specific client’s requests.

We are active in the provision of architectural, interior design and project management services. Undertaking projects from simple residential alterations, complex residential housing through to commercial & industrial developments.

We strive to meet client’s budgets and requirements and package this into a workable and environmentally responsible design solution.

AO Architecture’s success is driven by our personable approach and commitment to clients, producing highly successful architectural outcomes.