An ambitious, state-of-the-art design, driven by a committed homeowner, delivers a castle worthy of its magnificent alpine setting.
Following seven moves in six years, Christchurch earthquake refugees Andy Macbeth, his partner Jo Denton and their two daughters Ella and Bydie had had enough of their nomadic lifestyle, yearning for a new, safe home they could finally settle in.
“Since the earthquake, we’ve had a very disruptive life in terms of where we’ve been living,” says Andy. “Clearly, we didn’t want to keep doing that, so that’s why we committed to building in Queenstown — to try to put some stability back into the family.”
The site Andy and Jo chose for their new home comprises 23 acres of paradise that’s right opposite Coronet Peak ski field. The previous owners shared a similar dream of creating a home here for themselves, but it hadn’t worked out for them. Their legacy was a mature Arcadian garden of established trees that included walnuts and chestnuts.
More significantly, from a building point of view, they also left behind substantial foundations of a castle-like structure that had been planned for the site. “We wanted to respect what the previous owners had started, so we decided to keep the stone retaining walls, but put a modern spin on their vision,” says Andy.
The resulting 420-square-metre house, designed by Queenstown-based architects, Kerr Ritchie, sits on top of the existing “stone ruins” — looking not unlike a modern-day castle, with its wedge-shaped form cantilevering out over the existing, crescent-shaped, rock wall foundations.
“Although the site had many great attributes, including aspect and view, the design process was quite intense and took some time to develop,” says project architect, Bronwen Kerr. “The bold stone landscape created by the previous landowner, while being a grand intervention, meant that resolving the access to the proposed building was not straight-forward. We like to integrate each project into the site and give them a strong sense of context. It was a good test for us to manage this together with Andy and Jo’s evolving brief.”
Not only is this house highly engineered, it is also built from state-of-the-art materials sourced from around the world, including triple-glazing from Germany, thermally treated ash cladding from Estonia and super-insulated prefabricated SIPs (structurally insulated panels) from America.
“I’m a risk-taker and I get bored quickly, so I didn’t want to build a conservative home,” says Andy. “I wanted a challenge. That’s why we chose a technically difficult design, then built it from cutting-edge products from around the world that had hardly been used in this country before,” he adds.
The ash cladding Andy chose has been “cooked” in huge ovens for two days, making it resistant to warping and rot and perfect for extreme climates like those found in Queenstown. It came at a price and cost significantly more than many cladding alternatives, however it is superior when it comes to aesthetics, quality and performance.
“Ours was the first home in New Zealand to use this ash cladding, and it came with a unique, invisible fixing system that meant no holes needed to be drilled into the timber, giving the outside of the house a very clean finish,” says Andy. He goes on to say that when his team thermally modelled the German triple-glazing system, it came out at twice the efficiency as the best he could source in New Zealand, and over four times that of the building code.
On top of all this, the castle was also built to incorporate fully passive design principles, whereby the entire home is super insulated and sealed, with an HRV (heat-recovery ventilation) system to help the house breathe. This meant limited additional sources of heat are required to keep the home warm during the
The required heat comes from simply living in the home — cooking, showers, electrical appliances and body temperature. Despite this, Andy decided to install two wood fireplaces — mainly for ambience — plus an ingenious hydronic heated wall system. The design of the castle called for three large tilt-slab panels (up to 9 tonnes each). But these weren’t standard panels. A network of pipes was integrated within them that allowed hot water to flow through, turning the panels into giant radiators. And the idea didn’t stop there; the polished concrete bench in the kitchen was given the same treatment.
Concrete features strongly in both the construction and look of this house, forming the ground-floor garage and two floors above, and also the 70-tonne, 300-millimetre-thick slab that cantilevers out above it.
Metal was another predominant raw material used in the interior. Keen to support his home town and his fellow Cantabrians, Andy says he asked one of his closest friends, Neil Gard of Think Steel, to build a 2-tonne sculptural staircase, designed to sit centre stage in his new home.
Every aspect of this castle is ambitious — its design, scale and the engineering it took to build it. It’s a huge house on a huge site, but Andy relished being actively involved in its evolution.
“It was an incredibly stressful process, but we are delighted with the outcome,” he says. “It’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Partly it’s due to the fact that I was never completely in control of the situation. It was like being on a treadmill that I couldn’t get off — I just had to grit my teeth and carry on.”
Andy admits the budget was stretched significantly, going from $1.5 million to $2.2 million. But he adds it would have been even more stressful for him to have compromised the design or the build quality: “That would have driven me insane.”