An 1887 Wellington Cottage Is Given A Sensitive & Sustainably Minded Update

Architects Judi Keith-Brown (Judi Keith-Brown Architects) and Ewan Brown (Tennent Brown Architects) have revamped their home with an extension akin to magic


Judi Keith-Brown and and Ewan Brown's updated Wellington cottage. Photo / Andy Spain

Where is the house?
Judi Keith-Brown: It’s at the southern end of Mt Victoria, close to the Green Belt, on a north-facing, relatively wide site, with great views over Te Aro flat and out to the harbour.

What attracted you to the house when you bought it 24 years ago?
Everything from the simple lines of the cottage to the closeness of the Mt Vic community, and walking in for the first time with bare feet and feeling the matai floorboards, warm from the sun flooding in.

Can you tell us about its history, and what it looked like when you bought it?
The house was built in approximately 1887, as one of three identical cottages for the adjacent quarry. It had four rooms, with a lean-to along the east side of the site. The entrance to the house changed from the north to the south when a new road was built, and then a number of the windows were changed to a bungalow style in the 1930s.

How long did you live in the home before you started making changes?
We started drawing sketch plans early on, and then lived in the house for four years before making the first major change. This included excavating part of the basement and building two bedrooms, a family room and a bathroom. We also changed the plan of the main level, taking out a wall between a north-facing bedroom and the living room to form a wide, open plan living/dining room. At that stage we added solar water heating. A couple of years after that we installed a new kitchen and study joinery.

The south side of the home is now the entrance, with a revamped veranda, windows and door. Photo / Andy Spain

You’re both architects. How does that dynamic work for and against you when it comes to renovating your own home?
Ewan and I have always clicked when it has come to the changes we have made to the house. Because we couldn’t afford to do the work straight away, we got to know the house and the site really well: where the sun came in, how the wind affected the site, how best to use the rooms.

Ewan was also working on more and more sustainable projects and so his learnings in this area helped us make decisions around embodied carbon (the amount of carbon emitted creating all the products in the building, installing them, maintaining them through the building lifecycle and end of life disposal) and operational carbon (the amount of carbon emitted during the operational life of a building; it consists of all the water use and energy use through the life of the building).

READ: How Martina Blanchard Transformed Her Queenstown Home Into A Modern Alpine Retreat

The latest round of changes, which includes a new addition and courtyard, has been the most significant. Can you tell us about these updates?
Our last and final project is the latest extension. This has really completed the house and we are so happy with it. We demolished part of the lean-to, added the southeast extension, replaced all of the windows and the door on the south elevation of the cottage, reinstated the veranda and formed a southwest-facing, fully enclosed courtyard. This was all insulated to a high level and we added an array of PV panels on to the roof of the extension. That was completed in 2018.

The cottage and the new wing wrap around a sheltered courtyard designed by Nicole Thompson. Photo / Andy Spain

What were you hoping to achieve with the renovations to your own home?
Our house is on a shared path, and opposite Wellington East Girls’ College. It also used to get hit by the southerly. Ewan and I had also always had a very small bedroom and wanted a special space for the two of us (both of our sons have left home) and we wanted a darker space where we could keep art and books away from the sun. So our aims were a sheltered courtyard, a beautiful bed/living room, a gallery space and the restoration of the south wall of the cottage.

What are the benefits of altering an existing house, rather than building new, when it comes to sustainability factors?
Altering an existing house means keeping stuff. Building new involves a lot more stuff. More products = more embodied carbon. This house was built with minimal disturbance to the land, on good solid ground, and as one of three is an early example of mass building using prefabricated components, our current front door being one of them!

There is also something in the social sustainability factor. Gender balance, ethnicity, pay equity, how much we volunteer, and checks on our suppliers, donations et cetera. Social responsibility is making us think about ourselves, our people and our offices, and how we treat others. On projects, it can also be about how we engage with contractors, how we procure teams to better reflect the country and the place we work in.

The new extension is clad in Lawson’s cypress and houses a new bedroom and living room. Photo / Andy Spain

The new addition has created a courtyard space. Did you have help with its design?
The cottage and the new wing wrap around a sheltered courtyard designed by Nicole Thompson on two levels. The tangles and saw-cuts in the concrete reflect angles and lines used in the design of the extension. The top level has room for a car, but is so nice we now park down on the road. The lower level ties in with the veranda, and is a great place to sit and read.

READ: Inside A Wellington Apartment Nestled In A Mediterranean-Inspired Village

You also rebuilt the south wall, adding new sash windows, a veranda and repositioning the front door.
Yes, the south wall had a nasty entrance porch, which we removed, and bungalow-style windows. It had been mucked around with over the years, it was not at all attractive and too busy visually. The main/street elevation was originally on the north, but this changed when the new road was put in. So we decided to make the south elevation the main elevation. We added 50mm packing to the existing studs so we could increase the R-values of that wall, and then new double-glazed timber windows and a new unit for our old back door, plus a beautiful piece of Victorian painted glass was made, and the veranda was reinstated.

A peek through to the gallery-like room housing art and books. Photo / Andy Spain

What are some of the key sustainable elements you have chosen for the home?
Solar water; PV panels; thermally broken aluminum joinery; timber joinery, double-glazed, with insulated pockets for the weights; insulated block walls with STC (sound transmission class) 50 rating; non-toxic materials; all plumbing fittings were chosen to reduce water use; the home’s CO2, temperature, power use and humidity are monitored; ducting for an EV charge point.

What’s the one change you’ve made that’s had the biggest impact on your enjoyment of your home?
Adding the extension has changed how we live, the courtyard and our new bed/living room and gallery combine to make the whole house such a pleasure to live in. Every day here is magic.

Keith+Brown House by Judi Keith-Brown Architects is shortlisted in the 2022 Wellington Architecture Awards (alterations and additions category). The winners of the Wellington awards will be announced on June 29.

Share this:
New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

Subscribe to E-Newsletter