Sugi House

A Delightful Tiny Home that Delivers on Good Design and Relaxed Living


A petite holiday house that sits peacefully in a picturesque alpine ski town is a perfect place to escape from the maddening crowd for this family of five.

Wanaka is the gateway to the picturesque alps and wilderness, beech forests and snow-capped mountains of New Zealand’s South Island. The tiny house design was inspired by a trip to Japan by the owners, who appreciated the efficiency of compact living. Once back, they saw a tiny home designed by the architect and wanted to emulate the concept.

Barry Condon from Condon Scott Architects says the aim of the project was to deliver a refined, precise and crafted aesthetic. “We have used this mindset throughout, allocating only as much space as is required to each function,” he says. Its location is a stone’s throw from the lake and it’s tucked away from the busy tourist centre. There is a second original home on the 1084sqm site that was built in the mid ’90s by extended family. It is located in the centre of the block, while Sugi House is on a corner of the block.

Sugi House offers the Singapore-based family a comfortable home to reconnect with their loved ones during their holidays, while also affording them some space and privacy. Barry says the fact it was a second dwelling on the block weighed heavily into the design aesthetic. “We needed to ensure the house would balance with the existing house in size and position, while allowing for extra features such as the stand-alone carport and landscaping,” he explains.

The tiny home might be small in size, but it makes a visual impact. The house is clad in beautiful organic materials, there are cedar shingles externally with interiors lined in ply, contrasted against board-form concrete elements. Taking its cue from Japanese architecture and design, Sugi House is simple and discrete, with space efficiency at the very heart of the design.

As you enter the lower floor, a double-height living and kitchen space offers enough room for the family to connect and share meals. There’s also the kids’ bedroom and bathroom. The staircase takes you to the double bedroom with ensuite, as well as an office and storage area. With coveted storage space at a premium, there are clever solutions such as hidden cupboards, shoe racks and drawers within the steps of the stairs, as well as built-in shelving in the upstairs loft.

Staying true to the home’s Japanese-inspired design, Barry says the aim was to create beauty through simplicity and flow between the exterior and interior. “The wraparound cedar cladding is a continuation of materiality between the roof and exterior walls,” he says. “We have taken a traditional gable form and given it a contemporary twist through the use of textured cedar cladding, creating richness and warmth.”Strong materiality permeates the design. The more you explore this tiny home, the more you realise just how much it delivers on the Japanese minimalist aesthetic. With the black fittings and joinery contrasting against the warm timber linings, the flush cabinetry visually extends the space, too. The wet-room-style compact bathroom cleverly echoes the feel and look of a Japanese spa, with floor-to-ceiling stone-look tiles.

Liveability and comfort have all been addressed in this project, as well as plenty of aesthetic appeal. “Large glazed openings on the lower-level living area create a cantilevered appearance to the upper portion of the gabled form for further visual appeal,” says Barry. Even with its small size, there is ample room to move around the living spaces, which offer a sense of connectivity and warmth, a place where the family can gather after a day exploring the mountains and lakes or spending time with their extended family.

Designing and constructing a home subject to climatic extremes is no easy feat. In this area, the temperatures vary from a chilly minus 10°C in winter to a sweltering 35°C in the heat of summer. But with clever design and the right materials, Barry says the home required minimal heating and cooling. “SIPs are taped, sealed and wrapped in a secondary layer of building wrap plus plywood to maximise thermal efficiency,” he points out. “The house and the areas of glazing are oriented to maximise solar gain, with minimal openings on the remaining sides of the house to preserve the thermal envelope. Windows are double-glazed low-e glass, argon filled and thermally broken to prevent moisture retention and heat loss.”

This high-performance low-input home will serve the family well for many years to come.

This article originally appeared in Grand Designs volume 11.1