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This modern Kawau Island bach has been nearly 70 years in the making

A family’s quest to build a bach at their beloved holiday spot on Kawau Island was a logistical headache – but the result is spectacular


Meet and greet

Hilary West, architect, Eldon Reeve, recycling business owner-director, and their children, Harvey, 7, Jaxon, 4, and Naomi, 6 months; Hilary’s parents, Stan West, property cost planner) and Joanna West, retired landscape gardener; Hilary’s brother, Hamish West, company director, his wife, Suzy West, business owner, and their daughter, Indigo, 3.

This modern Kawau Island bach has been nearly 70 years in the making

Summer at the family bach on Kawau Island is a relaxed, low-key affair for Hilary West and the wider West clan. This is their happy place, somewhere to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of inner-city living.

Kawau, one of the largest islands in the Hauraki Gulf, is only accessible by private boat or by ferry from Sandspit, which is an hour’s drive north of Auckland. Throw in no road access, no shops and no community-based water supply and you can appreciate some of the challenges this family faced when they decided to build a new bach on the site where they have holidayed for decades.

The stunning waterfront property at Vivian Bay is almost 10,000 square metres and has been in Hilary’s family since her great-uncle purchased it in the 1950s.

“He bought three sites next to each other and gifted one to my uncle. Today the extended family own two of the sites; the third was sold. Next door is still owned by my uncle and aunt and their children and grandchildren, so we spend most of our holidays here together with them,” explains Hilary.

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In the beginning

The original site was established in the 1950s with a boatshed – a simple structure of unlined long-run roofing and fibre cement cladding, with plywood patch pieces near the entry. “It was basic, glamping of sorts – but it wasn’t much better than a tent,” laughs Hilary.


The boatshed used to stand at the top of the path leading from the beach. A one-room homestead was added in 1968 and served as the family’s only accommodation for more than 45 years.

The area was originally covered in manuka and kanuka, the most common trees on the island, but the West family planted their land extensively and natives such as totara, rimu, puriri, kawakawa and pohutukawa now abound.

Family collaboration

Hilary is an architect, her father, Stan, is a cost planner and her brother, Hamish, is in the property industry so they were very much in their comfort zone when they decided to replace the boatshed with a new bach (the old homestead was retained).

With the new-build, it was important to the Wests to keep the back-to-basics feel of a bach, rather than create a city-style house on the island. “We still have to go outside to the bathroom,” says Hilary (the utilities are in a separate building, connected by a deck).


Having holidayed here for years, the family knew the best spots to capture the view or watch the sun set. They decided to site the new bach slightly back from the original homestead, to create a front lawn. “The old boatshed inspired the architecture of the new-build,” explains Hilary. She created three ‘sheds’: two form an L-shape and the third is separate, comprising a master bedroom and ensuite for Hilary’s parents.

The ‘beach shed’ is the family’s living zone, featuring a living, dining and kitchen area and big decks. This shed has two views: the ocean to the front and native bush at the back. The raised ‘tree-house shed’ houses the utilities plus three bedrooms and looks out over mature native trees.

“The site faces northwest, which is perfect for a sunny day and to enjoy the sunset,” says Hilary. “The site can be very windy so, by being dual-facing, we can live either way, or both, depending on the weather.”

Embracing the outdoors

The overall design aesthetic plays on the original boatshed and borrows greys and browns from the trunks of the surrounding kanuka and manuka, creating a home that is sympathetic to its setting. “I used the existing palette of materials from the old boatshed, but in a contemporary way,” explains Hilary.

Each zone of the new-build has been designed to include expansive views and Hilary chose timber and ply for the cabinetry and other elements as another way to bring the outside in.


Hoop pine plywood has been used extensively in the kitchen and dining area, as well as for benches, daybeds, bathroom joinery, queen beds and wardrobes, while Tasmanian oak ply was reserved for Stan and Joanna’s cabin.

The interior and joinery were custom designed by her company, Hilary’s Design Studio, in association with her uncle’s joinery company, BBC Commercial. “We built in as much of the furniture and joinery as we could to keep the design uncluttered,” says Hilary.

The project

The build took six months and the family moved in the week before Christmas 2014. A team of four builders were on-site during the week, living in the old boatshed, which was extremely cold in the winter months. “For the final week, we had the builder’s team plus another four from BBC Commercial staying to install all the joinery,” remembers Hilary.

Stan oversaw the works that week and kept everyone fed while Hilary commuted from Auckland to inspect the build when required. “As we are on an island, everything had to be carried on and off barges and boats and up to the site. Most of this was done by hand. You couldn’t just pop to a store to pick something up. It required extra pre-planning on everyone’s part.”

Design and budget

As an architect, Hilary has designed many different styles of building. “I like buildings that are simple and timeless and environmentally considerate,” she says. “I love to add detail to the design of my buildings through screens and patterns, textures and layering.”

The bach comprises 130 square metres of internal space and around 100 square metres of decking. Budget was a constant influence in Hilary’s design; the bedrooms were specifically planned to house queen-size beds with basic circulation space – there was no room for anything else.


In the kitchen, Hilary played with the timber textures of Melteca, as an all-white kitchen wouldn’t have been appropriate for the back-to-basics aesthetic. “We had to design everything so it could be installed at the same time as it all had to come on the one barge,” explains Hilary. “There wasn’t the luxury of post-measure stone benches or glass splashbacks.”

Resene ‘Black White’ was chosen to keep the spaces light and airy, with warmth introduced through timber, wall art and a collection of family treasures.

Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald.

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