This Clever Petone Home Is A Marvel In Small-Space Living

Known affectionately as The Cube, this striking Wellington home has a 36 sqm footprint — and awards to boot


The home's insulating concrete slab has a natural wax finish. Photo / Andy Spain

In an exemplar of modern domesticity, Mands Valentine and Jem Ramsden have moved out of their home of 20 years and into the garage, creating income by renting out the larger villa and allowing them to keep it should one of their children choose to use the home for their family in the future.

Mands bats off any heroics, saying: “We didn’t need a big house anymore and were looking around at Petone apartments when we realised that we could achieve the same thing, only better, in our own backyard. Not having to buy more land and being near the villa had clear benefits and utilising the garage space in a better way had been on our minds for some time.”

The beat-up double garage, used only for storage and parties, was demolished to make way for a striking architectural dwelling that provides Mands and Jem with everything they need in a home for two.

Their budget wasn’t large, and neither was the 36 sqm footprint they had to build on, but their foresight to spend money on an architect has well and truly paid off. Ben Jagersma of First Light Studio has nailed it and the experts agree.

Bifold doors open up the kitchen and dining space to a landscaped yard with a sauna. Photo / Andy Spain

The house is a 2021 Wellington Architecture Awards winner and is shortlisted in the 2021 Te Kahui Whaihanga New Zealand Architecture Awards.

Working within the budget, Ben designed a house of corrugated steel and timber, including recycled macrocarpa from the couple’s own forest block and deodar from the family farmhouse in Kumeroa.

The 55 sqm home sits on an insulated concrete slab that has been left exposed with a natural wax finish. Untreated pine plywood and painted gib complete the interior.

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The Cube, as the home has been called since the original drawings revealed what was basically a 6 x 6 x 6m cube, has been specifically designed for Mands and Jem with, says Ben proudly, “everything you will find in a larger house”.

An alcove inside the front door is a place to sit, take shoes off and hang coats. The sitting room allows someone to break away from the kitchen/dining area and provides space for guests to sleep. There is a full kitchen with a built-in seat to perch with a coffee or chat to the cook over a glass of wine.

A garage has been transformed into a home made of corrugated steel and timber, on the same site as the original villa. Photo / Andy Spain

Storage is plentiful and there’s a study nook in the dining area which doubles as a classroom for Mands’ private tutoring — a large blackboard slides across to define the area.

The lovely little bathroom, which comprises shower, toilet and vanity with a washer and dryer underneath, has a high ceiling where washing can be pulled up on a drying rack out of the way.

It’s an easy climb up a proper set of stairs to the mezzanine bedroom which is open on two sides above the kitchen and living areas, giving more light and height to these spaces.

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Bifold glass doors open the kitchen/dining area to a small deck and yard with a sauna which Mands says is a huge part of their joy of living in The Cube. “We’re outside people and the whole property — the villa and The Cube — are fully landscaped with rock, concrete, stones, grass and native trees shown off with lighting that also captures the wood exteriors.”

Both architect and clients adore the slim steel canopy that wraps around two sides of the house, connecting the front door to the bifolds at the side. There are no posts and Ben says it was a feat of engineering. “They are very long, heavy, specially fabricated sheets that are supported by the mezzanine-level structure. It took a bit of figuring.”

The home allows for living and working, with a sliding blackboard to delineate the space. Photo / Andy Spain

The roof height also had Ben calculating, the soaring pitch part height-to-boundary regulations, part spatial. The angle provides generous height to the mezzanine bedroom which Mands says is their favourite space. “From the bed, we are able to look out windows and skylights in four directions to hills and sky, but not our neighbours’ backyards.”

It wouldn’t be a modern home without sustainable aspects and The Cube has many — locally abundant, durable and recyclable materials and a higher-than-code thermal envelope among them. But it’s the lifestyle this home provides that resonates most.

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The team were quick to act on the Hutt City Council’s district plan changes that promoted densification, and by building on-site they have increased the residential capacity of the property, which in turn contributes to the sustainable development of Lower Hutt as a whole.

Negating travel requirements, this small and efficient home accommodates work-from-home activities and Mands and Jem remain located near the beach and services of central Petone.

Of Cube life, Mands says that this is their ideal way of living. “We first experienced small-space living in Seoul and couldn’t believe how easy it was to live in 40 sqm, and how much time it freed up — less housework means more time for fun stuff. Work-wise, Covid taught us how to work online and in close quarters."

The lounge benefits from built-in furniture that also provides a spot for guests to sleep. Photo / Andy Spain

"We take turns making calls or one of us goes outside or into the bathroom where we can close the door. We’ve reduced a lot of our creative work mess to trays and files that can be boxed away under the stairs or into drawers when not in use or we have visitors."

“There are so many details that we enjoy about the house, and we continue to discover more. We are delighted by the cosy and calm vibe created by the warmth of the plywood linings, space management, and the light from and outlook through windows and doors of varying heights on all sides."

"It all comes down to Ben’s design skills and understanding of our aspirations for a home. Working with high-quality builders, he has created a low-maintenance and functional home that exceeds our expectations.”

Downsizing has had a positive effect on those garage parties too, The Cube providing the perfect indoor/outdoor location for a large group of people to celebrate daughter Jax’s 21st birthday.

Originally published in Viva Magazine – Volume Five

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