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A bungalow redesigned with family in mind

An innovative bungalow redesign results in a modern home that’s light on energy but big on family.

Bungalow, courtyard, concrete absorption

The concrete terrace absorbs heat from the sun during the day, which is released through the walls of the house during cooler evenings.


There’s nothing like a challenge to motivate innovative architects, but when it’s your mum throwing down the gauntlet the project takes on a whole new dimension.

Two years ago Wellington architect William Giesen of Bonnifait + Giesen, was asked by his mother Liffy Roberts and her husband Roger King to renovate a house in Hawke’s Bay for them to live in. It also had to be flexible enough for the entire extended family of five children, their partners and 10 grandchildren to stay for weekends and holidays.

Dining room, bungalow, Bonnifait and Giesen

The interior of the bungalow was reconfigured by architects Bonnifait + Giesen creating what is essentially a new house.


The existing building, a classic 1950s weatherboard bungalow, was low to the ground, badly orientated and pretty horrible, remembers William.

“We discussed demolishing and building new but decided we could make something of the existing house. Instead we completely opened up the northern side of the house, adding two metres along the length of the building, and reconfigured the interior spaces. They wanted a new house and that’s effectively what they got.”

Poplar timber ply, lounge, interior design

Poplar timber ply is used for walls and ceilings, its light colour and sustainability two reasons for its selection.


A concrete terrace along the northern side of the renovated house now gives better flow between indoors and out, allowing the couple to enjoy their lovely site close to the Te Awanga beach and lagoon. The concrete pad also provides passive solar gain to warm the house in winter. Poplar ply walls, ceiling and built-in furniture add more lightness to the sunny interior giving it a contemporary look and allowing the couple to properly display their extensive collection of art and ceramics.

“We like using poplar because it is cost-effective and its light colour gives a Scandinavian feel to the interior. It’s also sustainably grown,” says William.

Kitchen, cathedral ceiling

The architects designed a low cathedral ceiling that gives more height to the space. Poplar ply is used for the kitchen units and the built-in furniture designed by the architects.


Liffy and Roger were determined that their house would be as eco-friendly as possible and William was happy to comply, regarding sustainability as “inherent in the Bonnifait + Giesen brand”. A Pyroclassic log burner with wet-back heats both the interior and the hot water and the house is set up for future solar heating. The building earned the practice a gong for sustainability in the 2013 NZIA Architecture Awards for the Gisborne-Hawke’s Bay region, and a second award for ‘small project architecture’.

“It’s a very warm house,” says Liffy. “We only ever use the little fireplace so we save on electricity and it gives off a nice dry heat, not a damp heat like we had in Auckland.”

“The existing house was pretty rumpty; it was difficult to know what to do with it. Bonnifait + Giesen did an amazing job; they completely changed it. It’s a lovely house to live in now, a really exciting transformation. Yet we didn’t do a tremendous amount, just added two metres and the huge doors so we have great indoor-outdoor living. They also opened up the interior and took out a few walls so we have very good flow right through the house.”

bi-fold doors, bungalow

Floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors open the northern side of the house to the terrace.


With lack of storage a big issue with bungalows William and his colleague Cecile Bonnifait designed built-in cabinetry to remedy the shortage. Slatted openings in the furniture allow glimpses through to other rooms making the interior feel even more spacious. The slatted timber detailing is repeated on the exterior of the house on a new pelmet over the extension, as well as in the outdoor seating and barbecue area.

Bonnifait + Giesen also designed the concrete terrace, keeping its footprint minimal so there is still space for cricket on the lawn. “The terrace works really well,” says Liffy, “extending our living area out into the garden.”

slatted timber detailing, lit from within outdoor furniture

The terrace area echoes the slatted timber detailing of the house in outdoor seating and walls, these are cleverly lit from within adding a magical quality to the terrace at night.


Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Russell Kleyn

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