Eyrie twin cabins
Eyrie twin cabins on the Kaipara Harbour by Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects. The winner of HOME magazine’s 2014 New Zealand Home of the Year award. Each have a footprint of just 29 square metres. These little buildings, with their air of thoughtful austerity, are among the few contemporary structures that can boast a genuine lineage to New Zealand’s bach heritage. The cabins are located on a sloping site and are surrounded by the dips and folds of the hillside which shelter them from the wind.
Two friends pooled their resources to buy land beside an inlet on the Kaipara Harbour just over an hour’s drive north of Auckland. They kitted out a small shed on the land with a bed, a gas stove and running water so they could take turns to stay there, but soon decided to ask Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects to design a little cabin for each of them.
“Holiday homes have become this country’s decadence. Our sub-prime estuarine site permitted a 1500m² palace. It forbade two 29m² cabins. At night we talked excitedly about Malevich’s Suprematism; in the morning we got up and wrote legal submissions on visual density and the attrition of driveways. We wanted a different vision for New Zealand’s coastal future.” — Cheshire Architects
The cabins are totally off the grid but are equipped with necessities. They each have a bathroom, kitchen, living space, bedroom and outdoor shower. There are no paths or designated routes leading towards them, instead a boulder becomes your welcome mat and a drop down window covering becomes a ramp for you to ascend.
Each of them is entirely off the grid, with a little bathroom (although both cabins’ showers are outdoors), a kitchen (with a small fridge, gas hob and DishDrawer), a sparsely furnished sitting area and a sleeping loft.
Each has two large windows, one functioning as an entrance, the other framing inlet views, while wooden hatches allow ventilation of the bathroom and sleeping areas. A window in each cabin’s ceiling allows a view of the stars at night. The interior of one of the cabins is covered in honey-coloured ply; the other is inky black.
They are proud to display the beauty that lies in subtraction, and how liveable small spaces can be. They show how designing something elegant needn’t cost a fortune. They show how a small view of a quiet landscape can be as uplifting and alluring as a larger, more glamorous vista. They are tiny, but they possess a sense of enormous calm.
Both cabins have outdoor showers with views of the inlet. Each cabin has two main openings of identical size. One functions as a door, the other as a window overlooking the estuary. The exterior boards were charred before construction.
Cheshire and his clients liked the idea of using touches of luxury to enliven the interiors, to tease out what Cheshire calls “the tension between humble and special”. The cabin with the black interior is lined in form ply, cheap timber panels covered in a dark, polished coating for use in the concrete-casting process. Here, their sheen creates a deep sense of space, rendering the ceiling almost invisible.
The black cabin’s kitchen is a small brass insertion, a jewel-like touch of luxury in the darkness. In the other cabin’s kitchen, the rich grain of oiled jarrah contrasts with the lightness of regular construction ply.
The cabins adopt an entirely different strategy, with each of their single square windows creating a trapezoid of light on the floor as the sun moves through the sky during the day. This makes the cabins a deeply interior experience, a feeling so resonant it makes you realise how uncommon it has become in contemporary New Zealand architecture.
“Small houses offer the possibility of perfection in a way big houses rarely do – they approach the scale of furniture. Right from the outset scale was a subject and a strategy. There’s a responsibility with objects of that scale that someone who is bold enough to commission it deserves to be delighted in every junction. It’s [also] a reaction against the wasteful way we occupy land in this country. And there was a resistance to the idea of indoor outdoor flow and all this real estate vernacular. The cabins are a retreat from the landscape rather than a saturation in it.” – Nat Cheshire
Eyrie comprises two houses near Kaiwaka. Each is barely larger than four sheets of plywood. They are made from wood, are off-grid and autonomous, their outsides burnt black. This project is part polemic, part escape. Holiday homes have become this country’s decadence. Our sub-prime estuarine site permitted a 1500m² palace.
It forbade two 29m² cabins. At night we talked excitedly about Malevich’s Suprematism; in the morning we got up and wrote legal submissions on visual density and the attrition of driveways. We wanted a different vision for New Zealand’s coastal future.
In these houses a history of prismatic abstraction is conflated with a poetic of small boats bobbing in a sea of grass. There are no doors. One climbs up boulders and in through a window instead. We hoped that in subverting the shorthand language of building these little constructions might feel like something other than – and more than – houses.
Project name: Eyrie twin cabins
Location: Kaipara Harbour, Kaiwaka, New Zealand
- Type By Characteristic: Cabin / Hut / Cottage, Green & Sustainable House, Holiday House
- Type By Site: Countryside / Suburb House, River House, Hill House
- Type By Size: Tiny House – (less than 51 sqm)
- Type By Materials: Wooden House
Project Area: 58 – 29+29 sqm
Site Area: 1,500 sqm
Completion Year: 2012
Client / Owner / Developer: Private
Architects: Cheshire Architects – l1/26/28 Hobson St, Auckland 1010, New Zealand
Design Architects: Nat Cheshire, Ian Scott
Engineering: Thorne Dwyer
Structures: Steve Thorne
Building Contractor: Peter Oakden
Text Description: © Courtesy of Cheshire Architects, New Zealand HOME magazine’s Home of the Year award
Images: © Cheshire Architects, Jeremy Toth, Darryl Ward