Design: Trusting mother nature

Ben Crawford is enthused by the great outdoors

The use of local materials including rugged Otago schist helps Amisfield Winery fit perfectly into its surroundings. Photo / Ben Crawford
The use of local materials including rugged Otago schist helps Amisfield Winery fit perfectly into its surroundings. Photo / Ben Crawford

They reckon you should never trust a skinny chef. However, I've just seen ours and he looks like an Olympic Cross Country skier. We're at Amisfield Winery and Bistro in Queenstown, tucking into its signature lunch experience, a four-course "Trust The Chef'' menu with matching wines. We've put our faith in the athletic-looking head chef, Jay Sherwood, for the past three hours. It's been amazing.

As are the surroundings. It's a crisp autumn afternoon but the blazing southern sun is still hot enough to earn a bead on my forehead. Rolling hills of rock and tussock are behind us while beautiful Lake Hayes sparkles in front.

Everywhere trees are erupting in a fiery tapestry of reds, yellows and golds, perfectly matching the tantalising tones of the 2009 pinot noir and the 2011 noble sauvignon blanc on our table.

I've also been appreciating the man-made structures. The architects have trusted mother nature to guide their decisions, seeking inspiration from the surrounding landscape.

And why wouldn't they? She's been getting it right since forever.

The main building is made almost entirely of local schist, nuzzling harmoniously into the natural folds of the land. Tussock and lavender form the majority of the plantings, completing the alpine aesthetic. The building is a substantial structure, but doesn't feel out of place. That's because it's so complementary and sympathetic to the environment it co-exists with.

We're sitting in a sun-drenched courtyard, anchored at one end by a petanque terrain and at the other by a magnificent outdoor fireplace. Clusters of tables are arranged around a mirror-still pond. The symmetry is instantly pleasing to my often pedantic eye.

I love it here. Though there is a Tuscan tone, it's definitely New Zealand. But it's more than that. It's Central Otago. In fact it is this exact location, made with materials naturally found in the landscape. It's tough enough to weather the extreme conditions, while perfectly blending in.

It's an example of design and mother nature working in harmony.

Surrounded by inspiration

Put some of your own design decisions in mother nature's hands with these ideas.

1. Keep it local

If you're building anew or renovating, take a look around your suburb. Are there natural materials you could use that would help your home sit harmoniously within the environment and provide a visual link to the area? Are you near a volcanic cone? Maybe a basalt rock wall would be more fitting than a modern iron fence. Is there a native forest nearby? How about building with recycled timber from species found in that forest?

2. Landscape-inspired interiors

The landscapes surrounding Amisfield inspired its beautiful structure. Now grab that idea and apply it inside. Photograph the landscapes around your home or at a location special to you. Print your best photo as big as possible, at least A1 in size. After framing, place the image on a main wall in your home, and then use it as the starting point for your interior decoration. I've done that in my home with a photo I took near our family bach in Queenstown. Taking the dark grey, blue and black tones from the image, I chose my furnishings accordingly. I printed the photo at PCL Imaging then used Framingonline to custom-make the frame.

3. Spark a fire

Who doesn't dream of a gigantic outdoor fireplace to relax around, maybe with a bit of Barry White floating through the air while your loved one is snuggled up next to you in front of the crackling fire? Turn that dream into reality and enjoy mother nature's handiwork all year round. Gibraltar Built stock and supply Flare outdoor fireplaces. They come in a number of styles and sizes, providing options for even the smallest section. Be inspired at

Ben Crawford and sister Libby won the first series of The Block NZ. They run their own creative advertising agency Libby & Ben, see

- Herald on Sunday

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