Ohoka House O'Neil Architecture | ArchiPro CA

New contemporary houses have been popping up throughout the rural areas surrounding Christchurch in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes.

On a large lifestyle block just outside the city, O’Neil Architecture has reinterpreted the familiar rural house form into a modern barn-style home. “I wanted Ohoka House to be quite European and modern, rather than a country house,” explains designer Darren O’Neil. “It’s a simple, clean form that uses honest materials, like raw concrete and cedar, to fit in with the greenery of the surrounding landscape, while the idea of it being black keeps the house looking sharp and modern.”

Being a simple form, it was crucial for the designers to focus heavily on the details of the design. “We spent a lot of time getting the proportions of the house just right,” says Darren. “While it looks extremely simple, it required a lot of thought and consideration to make it feel special because, if you don’t detail a simple form properly, it can look very average. I think it was the late Peter Beaven – who was a well-known Christchurch architect – who said, ‘Simple is the hardest thing to do’.”

With Ohoka House, it was all about getting the positioning and proportions of the gables, the pitch of the roof and the windows, as well as the colour palette just right. “When you look at a sculpture or painting, some look better than others and, often, it’s hard to explain just exactly why they look and feel right,” Darren explains. “It’s about balancing all of those elements.”

The house is laid out within a T-shaped plan with a garage and an outdoor room forming the top of the ‘T’. An elongated reflection pond creates a welcoming entrance for visitors along the front of the house. Here, the landscaping responds to the design, with its carefully sculpted topiary and large, square concrete steps that float up to the front door. At night-time, lights underneath the steps create a striking effect.

The reflection pool is also a clever architectural device to disguise the split-level nature of Ohoka House because, on the other side of the building, on a hump in the land, a swimming pool and landscaping by Henry Blakely is all that remains of the previous structure on the site. The new house, therefore, needed to step up the contours of the land from the existing pool so the designers created split levels to cater for this, adjusting the ceiling heights to disguise this element on the exterior.

Inside, one of the highlights of the design is the old recycled timber beams and trusses that support the ceiling. These were salvaged by the owner from an old building in the city that was also destroyed during the earthquake.

The designer describes Ohoka House as being “black on the outside and white on the inside". Black-stained cedar and black steel roofing form the building’s envelope, which is then dotted with windows that are heavily recessed to assist with solar gain, and the roof is topped off with skylights.

Internally, this monochromatic contrast is created with a pale palette, including white walls, which acts to accentuate the timber structure. “I’m a big fan of these old timbers; they look great,” comments Darren. “I like the textures and layers they create ­­and they fit really well into the rural setting.”

One of the main challenges of the build was creating the large cast-concrete fireplaces – seen in the main gable end of the house and in an outdoor room beside the swimming pool. “They were not that easy to do and the big windows are some of the biggest the manufacturer has ever created for a home,” Darren explains. “The glazing fills up one gable end of the house, opening up the building to the landscape. When you’re inside, it makes you feel connected to the outside – the trees and the sky – and, from the outside, you can see right into the house.”

The glazed end, with its big volume, fills up with sunlight and also helps to heat up the house during the winter. This space is sunken, which means it has a higher stud height than the rest of the house – at approximately five metres high –and also helps to show off the recycled timber trusses. “The gables are a really nice way to frame the views and capture the sun,” says Darren.

“This house is not your classic Kiwi barn aesthetic; it is more European in style,” he adds. “It’s not only a beautiful house, it’s also very practical as well, because it’s designed for a family who love to entertain,” explains Darren. “It was important for us to create balance within the design.”

Words: Justine Harvey

Photography: Stephen Goodenough

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This striking home sits on a lifestyle block on the outskirts of Christchurch.
A cast-concrete fireplace sits centre-stage within a glazed gable end.
Expansive glazing creates stunning views into the home, expecially at night.
At night-time, the front elevation really showcases the monochromatic nature of this contemporary rural home.
The garage joins up with the main entrance of Ohoka House, with its reflective pool stretched along the length of the form.
The front entrance creates a warm welcome for guests, with its reflective pool and floating steps that are underlit at night.
The new house wraps around an existing swimming pool.
Beside the swimming pool, a louvred outdoor room features a large cast-concrete fireplace.
Topiary pot plants and rattan furniture break up the large space.
An extra-wide opening joins the inside to the outside of the house.
A classic white kitchen also acts as an informal dining area.
A comfortable lounge area pays homage to the owners' much-loved collectables contained within a built-in shelving unit.
The dining area has an arty vibe, with paintings on the wall and a feature dining table with a parquet timber top.
The glazed gable end opens the house up to the surrounding landscape.
Brass and marble are elegantly used in the bathrooms.
Large-format marble-veined tiling is a feature of this sumptuous bathroom.
The wine cellar. Photography: Stephen Goodenough.