Warm Minimalism – Franklin Road House by Jack McKinney Architects and Katie Lockhart Studio
Ponsonby, New Zealand
Franklin Road, from which the project takes its name, is a well-known road in Ponsonby, Auckland, famous for its displays of Christmas lights during the festive season. The heritage regulations that govern the Edwardian houses lining the street informed the project from the outset. Yet within the constraints set by the heritage rules, the small 300m² site, and presence of immediate neighbours to both boundaries, opportunities were found to explore form, light and space in a new addition whose compact nature belies its soaring volume and whose simplicity channels a heightened emotional impact.
“We could have extended in the same language as the original villa, but we saw an opportunity to create a small, perfect sculptural form. It is intended to be read as a free-standing element that complements the villa,” says Jack McKinney. From the front, the heritage identity of the villa remains intact; in contrast, the new addition was conceived to appear as if carved from a block of stone. The walls and room are clad in a marbled porcelain tile, creating a monolithic effect as the detailing removes all other elements, so that “the form and the materiality are all you experience,” he explains. While there is a clearly apparent distinction between this reductivist approach and the traditional villa, the light tones of the tile relate to the villa’s white-painted cladding, and the proportions and geometry of the form gesture to the most fundamental aspects of the original house.
Franklin Road, from which the project takes its name, is a well-known road in Ponsonby, Auckland, famous for its displays of Christmas lights during the festive season.
Though the site imposed significant constraints, the clients’ brief did not. “They were very open-minded; they work in a creative field and as such wanted to give me the freedom to express my ideas for their house,” Jack says. “Their primary brief was therefore spatial (number of bedrooms, etc.) rather than aesthetic. They wanted a family house that focused on the essentials of their lives, not on responding to the aspirations of the real estate market. One stylistic inspiration, however, had subsequently emerged in the brief by the time that Katie Lockhart Studio embarked on the interior design. “I feel really lucky that the clients had just been to Sri Lanka, and they referenced the work of Geoffrey Bawa,” Katie Lockhart recalls. “This is such an unusual starting point for a New Zealand client, which made it really exciting.”
Though the distinction between the original cottage and the new addition is articulated clearly externally, once inside, the transition between the two is more ambiguous. Moving from the old into the new, “the addition is experienced as a surprising conclusion to a familiar beginning,” Jacks says. While it seizes the opportunity presented by the natural fall of the site, the full extent of this is not made immediately clear. Arriving at the original entry and moving through the traditional central corridor, one encounters a wide stair that descends into the kitchen-living space in the new addition. A direct line of sight is established through the new addition to the pool beyond courtesy of a low-slung window. But the change in level means that the entire space is not visible until, on descent, one enters a space that suddenly expands, as the faceted, double-height ceiling sweeps dramatically upward to a sculptural skylight.
“We could have extended in the same language as the original villa, but we saw an opportunity to create a small, perfect sculptural form. It is intended to be read as a free-standing element that complements the villa.”
“Only when you get into the living space does a vista open up towards the garden and courtyard,” Jack says. “This sequence is quite unusual, even for us – often we are wanting immediately counteract the sense of enclosure at the back of a villa, here we were prepared to create a more mysterious sequence.” Lit from above by the skylight, the unexpected sense of volume is dramatic and further enhanced by the pared-back, minimalist interiors. Yet it is a warm minimalism, with a sense of familiarity and tactility imparted by the trowel-polished plaster, terracotta floor tiles and timber joinery.
“I wanted the interior to feel considered and to enhance the sculptural nature of the space,” says Katie. In the indoor garden, designed in conjunction with Jared Lockhart, Katie’s brother, and the warm palette, the homage to Geoffrey Bawa is clear. And, while the contrast between the new and old is deliberate, the interior design and furnishings impart a sense that they have their own history. Katie explains that it was important for the space to “feel like it had existed for a while. The furniture selected is a combination of vintage Japanese pieces, contemporary pieces and custom-made pieces. Once the material palette was selected, the key piece for me was the finding of the vintage Tuareg rug for the living space.”
“This sequence is quite unusual, even for us – often we are wanting immediately counteract the sense of enclosure at the back of a villa, here we were prepared to create a more mysterious sequence.”
The kitchen joinery complements these furnishings and itself reads more like a piece of furniture than a traditional kitchen. “The client didn’t want to overstate the kitchen, and it had to feel like part of the space as a whole,” Jack says. The typical island bench was forgone in place of a round dining table, allowing the space to feel more open and generous, while one long run of joinery continues from the kitchen and along the wall to become part of the living area. As a result, “this one piece of cabinetry had to work really hard in terms of what our clients needed in the kitchen, then also audio-wise, [and in terms of] the TV, storage and so forth,” says Katie.
This approach to the kitchen also meant that the appliance selection, always a critical choice, was even more significant. “While we wanted great appliances, we didn’t want these becoming a ‘feature’ of the kitchen,” Jack remarks. “The whole design is about a unified experience, not a series of features. The integration of the appliances and their minimalist design allowed us to keep a contemplative mood in the room.” On this basis, Katie specified Fisher & Paykel appliances, and “working with Daniel Varcoe of Fisher & Paykel was great,” she recalls. “He suggested the French door fridge for the larder as it could be integrated and hold the volume of food that a family of five needed, had an inbuilt ice machine that was also a client request, and wasn’t too deep for the space.”
While the fridge and much of the storage is accommodated by the pantry adjoining the kitchen, the oven and cooktop are set within the main space. As the only two exposed appliances, it was key that they contributed holistically to the interior. “The black oven is minimal in look and really works well to not add too much visual noise in that space whilst offering the best technology for our clients,” Katie says. As a family of five, the performance was also an important consideration for the clients. “They are really happy with how easy to use the oven and cooktop are – with a busy household it makes cooking really straightforward for whoever is on dinner!”
The holistic treatment of the kitchen, living and dining space exemplifies how Franklin Road House embraces minimalism, but not as an end in itself. For Jack McKinney Architects and Katie Lockhart Studio, minimalism becomes a means of distilling the qualities of light, space, form and materials within a compact envelope, lending the new addition a presence as equally significant as the heritage villa it sits discreetly behind.