This Lush Ponsonby Villa Was Inspired By Tropical Modernism

By Leanne Moore
In the living room, a low window provides a view through to the swimming pool. Photo / Supplied

If you had to do a case study on how to pull off an exceptional creative collaboration, then the renovation of Franklin Road House is an ideal example.

The project in Ponsonby, Auckland, combined the talent of architect Jack McKinney and interior designer Katie Lockhart, both at the

Encouraged by open-minded clients to express their creativity, they have produced a strikingly original work.

But more than that, it has the elusive quality that powerful architecture has — it evokes a feeling. The pair has created a space of special character and warmth, equally suited to quiet contemplation or a throng of people.

Jack’s white-tiled sculptural addition is a fresh and interesting counterpoint to the glass boxes that are commonly built on the back of villas. Instead of embracing natural light with lots of glazing, he went in another direction, opting for an enclosed box that conceals rather than reveals.

“The result is very far from a typical Auckland villa alteration but it feels natural and calm, not strident and forced,” he says.

The style of Franklin Rd House is described as warm minimalism. Photo / Supplied
The style of Franklin Rd House is described as warm minimalism. Photo / Supplied

“We could have extended in the same language as the original villa but we saw an opportunity to create a small, perfect, sculptural form that could be occupied, and create a new identity for the addition. It is intended to be read as a free-standing element that complements the villa. This also gave us an opportunity for creating a dramatic high space, though compact in plan, that would give a sense of amazing volume and light,” he continues.

“You look from the front door down into the new living space. Your eye is guided to a low window that just captures the water in the swimming pool outside. Only when you get into the living space does a vista open up towards the garden and courtyard. This sequence is quite unusual, even for us — often we want to immediately counteract the sense of enclosure at the back of a villa, here we were prepared to create a more mysterious sequence.”

For Katie, the fundamental factor that gave the project its magic was the creative freedom she had in her collaboration with Jack.

Viva caught up with her via mobile phone in Kenya, where she is working on another residential project: "The key to the success of this renovation was the level of collaboration I had with the architect, the level of trust that he gave me, in particular, the way we collaborated in the materiality of the project."

Lit from above by a skylight, the villa extension has a dramatic sense of volume that is further enhanced by the pared-back interiors. Jack describes it as “warm minimalism”, with a sense of familiarity and tactility imparted by the trowel-polished plaster, terracotta floor tiles and timber joinery.

The sculptural, white-tiled addition at the back of the villa. Photo / Supplied
The sculptural, white-tiled addition at the back of the villa. Photo / Supplied

During the process, there was just one minor bump between Jack and Katie — over the terracotta tiles, which create a flush threshold between inside and outside.

“It was the one thing that Jack was not sure on in terms of my selections,” says Katie. “Neither of us had used them before, it was a different option that I had put forward. For Jack, it was an uncomfortable choice but he did back it.”

The clients had just returned from a trip to Sri Lanka, where they had been inspired by the work of Geoffrey Bawa. Among the most influential Asian architects of his generation, he is the principal force behind what is known today as “tropical modernism”.

“The owners had seen his work during their trip, so this was something I referenced,” says Katie. “The clients come from a creative background and understood how to get the best results from creatives. When you have that level of trust, it produces the best outcome. They put their trust in Jack and I and that’s when everything starts to sing.”

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