A Place to Stand
Designed for her parents and generations to come, Amanda Yates’s seaside New Zealand house is „somewhere between architecture and landscape” but firmly rooted in family life.
David and Christine Yates’s house on New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula is a family home in the truest sense of the word. It was designed by their architect daughter, Amanda, for their retirement, with the knowledge that future generations of the extended family—including Amanda, her partner, Adam Rose, and their one-year-old son, Awa—will see it as their place now and for decades down the line.
Inspired by her academic research into precolonial Maori structures that were partly dug into the land, Amanda, who is also a lecturer at Wellington’s Massey University, set out to create a building “somewhere between architecture and landscape.” This may not sound like your average retirement pad, but David and Christine were willing guinea pigs in their daughter’s architectural experiment. In fact, after the trio purchased the land and set the budget for the house (about US $330,000), David and Christine let Amanda call the shots entirely.
The concrete wall mimics the slope of the hill outside as a reference to early Maori structures that were dug into the land. The simple kitchen has strandboard cabinetry and an MDF island that conceals a fireplace at one end. The ceramic works on the built-in seat at right are by Raewyn Atkinson and Robyn Lewis.
Amanda—an only child—knew well that her mild-mannered parents had an adventurous streak that meant they would embrace her unorthodox design: a compact two-bedroom house that blends a cavelike quality at one end with a surprising openness at the other. “Because there were only three of us [when I was] growing up we’re a pretty tight crew—good friends as well as family,” she says.
The home she grew up in was radical for its time. Located in the city of Hastings, a few hours’ drive south of the Coromandel Peninsula, it was designed in 1904 by William Rush and featured innovative open-plan spaces, verandas and rooms where people could sleep outdoors in summer. Christine decorated it with flair. “She put some seriously cool stuff in it,” Amanda remembers. “We had horrifically expensive French wallpaper with orange-and-brown poppies on it in one room, turquoise walls in another, and a yellow ceiling in the kitchen.”
The north-facing doors slide completely away to open the house to the outdoors, offering an uninterrupted view of the water. The pendant lights over the table are from Iko Iko.
A pop of color in the kitchen cabinets refers to the native greenery outside.
Builder Ross Percival helped finesse the finely tuned detailing that separates the internal slope from the rock outside (opposite). The Pedro wire stool is by Craig Bond for Candywhistle.
Another of Amanda’s canny tricks was to care-fully control views from the house to create a feeling of blissful isolation. In reality the location is deceptively convenient: It’s just a five-minute walk and a two-minute ferry ride to the small town of Whitianga, while three magnificent beaches are an easy stroll away. “It’s a walking neighborhood, which is fantastic because it’s so social,” Amanda says. There are also hiking trails tinged with history that still bear the contours of precolonial Maori settlements. Nearby hilltops look out to the bay where the English explorer Captain James Cook spent a few days at anchor on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769.
Before they moved to the Coromandel Peninsula full-time, David and Christine had vacationed in the area for almost 40 years. Nowadays they happily stay put while the holidaymakers come and go, among them David’s sister Aroha, her partner, and their three children, who have a vacation home nearby, and Amanda’s oldest friend, Gail, who purchased land down the road and has asked Amanda to design a house for it. Sometime soon, Amanda and Adam will travel up from their home in Wellington to bury Awa’s placenta on the property (it’s currently in their freezer), a Maori tradition that reinforces the idea of this being a family home for the ages.
For now, one-year-old Awa is small enough to sleep in the hammock that hangs from the ceiling.
There’s a Maori word for this sort of permanence: turangawaewae (pronounced “too-rung-a-why-why”), commonly translated as “a place to stand.” It describes the belief that if a community stays connected to the land it comes from, it will always know its place in the world. The term is normally ascribed to ancestral lands in communal ownership, but Amanda hopes her parents’ house will become a contemporary version of this, a place where now, and in the future, all the extended family can continue to gather.
Last January, more than 20 family members met for a summer meal to celebrate the new year. While the adults were bemused by the sloping internal concrete wall, the kids intuitively understood its designer’s intention to blur the interior with the rock outside. “They ran up and down it and had a great time,” Amanda says. Future generations are at home here already.