Cheshire Architects Sensitively Updates an Icon – Brake House by Ron Sang
Titirangi, New Zealand

Photography Simon Devitt
Architecture Ron Sang & Cheshire Architects
Words Rose Onans
On The Market With Wall Real Estate

The Brake House needs almost no introduction. An icon of New Zealand architecture, the home designed by Ron Sang in 1976 for photographer Brian Brake has long been a touchstone and exemplar of architecture in Aotearoa that is deeply responsive to place. A recent kitchen renovation by Cheshire Architects is a seamless insertion that, while it does not seek to replicate, deftly continues the language of the original.

The house consists of a series of timber and glass pavilions that sit suspended among the treetops in Titirangi, Auckland, on the southern end of the Waitākere Ranges. Immersed in the bush that offers a sense of protection even as the building orients itself towards the expansive views of the city beyond, the Brake House “was a catalyst of beauty and clarity in New Zealand modernism,” reflects Aiden Thornhill of Cheshire Architects. “It remains an architectural reference for the synthesising of the traditional and the modern. The formation of architectural identity, the weaving and floating of form and a disciplined, organic palette is a unique response to Titirangi.”

The house consists of a series of timber and glass pavilions that sit suspended among the treetops in Titirangi, Auckland, on the southern end of the Waitākere Ranges.

Updating the kitchen, Cheshire Architects offers a solution to that honours the language of the original.

Despite its importance, the Brake House has not been set aside as a museum but rather been consistently occupied as a home. Its current owners consider themselves the house’s custodians and were drawn to the home for the extraordinary unity between architecture and the environment that the design achieves. “The approach encourages one to engage simultaneously with the native landscape and the house,” Aiden describes. “They are woven together from the outset. The tūi and kereru fluttering overhead with the gentle trickle and reflection of the stream below always caused me to pause. That pause creates a kind of mental break, where the memory of the city is sloughed off and our presence in this place floods in.”

When it came time to update the kitchen, which had been replaced in the past 20 years with little sensitivity to the original architecture, the clients called on Cheshire Architects to create a humble, honourable solution. The project’s significance far outweighed its scale and reflected the studio’s approach of partnering with clients “based on their appetite for the extraordinary, not the size of their project,” Aiden explains. “We design kitchens and city blocks with equal care.” The new kitchen does not replicate the original, “the way we cook and entertain has changed too much,” he says, but draws from the language of the nearby elements to shape and detail an insertion that feels as though it might always have been there.

Its current owners consider themselves the house’s custodians and were drawn to the home for the extraordinary unity between architecture and the environment that the design achieves.

The kitchen is made suitable for contemporary living and entertaining thanks to appliances by Fisher & Paykel and carefully matched rimu cabinetry.

The clients’ brief focused on replacing all the appliances and maximising storage and contemporary functionality whilst keeping the integrity of the original home. But “beyond that, they just trusted us,” Aiden says. Cheshire Architects achieved this brief by “reducing our presence and amplifying the presence of the original,” he reflects. Throughout initial visits, the architects paused to both listen to and observe the house before embarking on their own contribution. One of the greatest challenges was matching the original rimu cabinetry from 1976. Selecting the sheets of rimu with a subtlety of colour and consistent grain that stretched the full height or width of the kitchen required a level of care that“already defined the existing house,” says Aiden.“I think this layer of beauty within the interior of the Brake House is something you quietly realise the more time you spend there. Everything has been considered and that heightens your sense of presence.”

The appliance specification was key to both maintaining the integrity of the original and simultaneously achieving the level of performance required by a contemporary kitchen. As an iconic New Zealand brand, Fisher & Paykel complemented the project on a meta level, but more important was the combination of the alignment between the aesthetic of the appliances and the kitchen, the premium design, and the high degree of functionality and integration that Fisher & Paykel offered. “The team at Fisher & Paykel worked with us from the beginning. They provided us the information and detail we needed for the specific requirements of the home,” Aiden says. “They were incredibly focused on ensuring their products could mechanically function in a way that didn’t compromise the proposed design.”

Altering the fabric of such an iconic building without impeding its original intent is a balance as delicate as that between the restraint and confidence required to achieve it.

Fisher & Paykel’s gas on glass cooktop and induction cooktop, all-black touchscreen ovens, integrated Column refrigerator and freezer, and integrated Tall DishDrawers complement the Cheshire Architects’ new kitchen design.

The Tall Integrated DishDrawers and Series 9 Integrated Column Refrigerator and Freezer hide within the rimu cabinetry, with the additional height offered by the Columns ensuring the timber panels extend full height the DishDrawersare positioned ergonomically and allow the cabinetry to sit floating above the floor. A black gas on glass cooktop is paired with an induction cooktop, offering the benefits of both modes of cooking, and two black minimal touchscreen ovens. As neither cooktops nor ovens can be integrated, these black minimal products were chosen for their ability to visually recede and complement the matt black granite benchtops that Cheshire Architects continued from the original drinks cabinet into the kitchen.

Reflecting on the choice of appliances, Aiden says: “The benefit of the integrated appliances meant that they were no longer the main feature of the kitchen, and the exposed all-black appliances resonated with the black stone. As a consequence, the space feels quieter, simpler and less technologised.” The outcome is that the clients “love that sense of peace and focus. When they mentioned that friends visiting the house thought the kitchen had always been there, we understood this as successful,” he recalls.

“The team at Fisher & Paykel worked with us from the beginning. They provided us the information and detail we needed for the specific requirements of the home.”

Altering the fabric of such an iconic building without impeding its original intent is a balance as delicate as that between the restraint and confidence required to achieve it. With characteristic subtlety and precision, Cheshire Architects offers a contemporary contribution to the Brake House that will ensure it remains not only celebrated for its legacy but continue to be lived in, shared and appreciated as a functional, relevant and, above all, inspiring home.

For the first time in almost a decade, Brake House by Ron Sang and Cheshire Architects is on the market. Head to Wall Real Estate’s website if you are interested in owning this architectural masterpiece. 

“The benefit of the integrated appliances meant that they were no longer the main feature of the kitchen, and the exposed all-black appliances resonated with the black stone. As a consequence, the space feels quieter, simpler and less technologised.”

Published 24 November, 2020
Photography  Simon Devitt
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