A creative couple designed and built their forever home in Gibbston Valley, with space for all the family including the horses
For Laura Shallcrass, having a house in the hills with space for horses was always a dream. Settled in Queenstown for the past 12 years with her husband, architectural designer Robbie Dick, Laura, who works as an illustrator and graphic designer, had been slowly moving towards realising this vision.
She and Robbie built their first home – a compact, two-bedroom, highly energy-efficient house – in the Lake Hayes Estate subdivision. It had room for chickens and a dog, and space for the couple’s two children, Boston and Monty to run around, but the horses had to graze elsewhere and, as the children grew, the house started to feel a bit tight.
While considering options for their next move, Laura and Robbie came across this piece of land in Gibbston. It was perfect. “We took one look around the site, and I was like, can we have it?” Laura laughs. “We thought it was our last chance to be able to afford land in this area.”
The couple moved quickly, securing an offer and beginning the design process in the following weeks – and their dream house began to take shape. Robbie, an architectural designer with his own business, The Habitat Design Co., created the plan based around the northern aspect of the site. With a good-sized building platform to work with, he was able to orientate all the rooms towards the incredible mountain views available to the north. In a climate like Gibbston, this was also important for solar gain.
“There are so many sites around Queenstown with south-facing views and they’re amazing, but to be able to do a site with north-facing views and all-day sun was really exciting. That led to the long, skinny design to allow for sun in every room in the house,” says Robbie. “And to have that view through to Coronet Peak is incredible.”
The couple negotiated to move the building platform to its current spot to allow for more sunshine hours, and because they already had plans in mind, they were able to request a new structure that suited their project.
The house is clad in larch, which will eventually silver off to merge with the schist in the surrounding hills. Rock walls around the site were crafted from schist taken from the site itself.
The windows and door frames are made in Germany and sourced from Dunedin-based UPVC Windows & Doors. Robbie is interested in energy-efficient design and these were a must-have for him, as the UPVC material prevents heat loss and moisture retention. In the childrens’ rooms, the windows tilt and turn to double as doors, allowing easy access to the outdoors.
The living, kitchen and dining area are open-plan, with a cove truss ceiling overhead, chosen as a more cost-effective way of providing the impressiveness of a high stud. A sense of division between the lounge and dining is created through the placement of a low-level display shelf, which houses some of the couple’s collection of books, plants and pottery. The square kitchen island allows for informal dinner parties and gatherings in this central space.
Windows were carefully placed to provide framed views from either end of the open-plan area. From the sofa in the lounge, there are spectacular views to Coronet Peak, while a kitchen window looks down the bedroom wing towards Gibbston Valley. For Robbie, there is a lovely sense of symmetry in the square windows on the east and west facades of the house.
Being an artist, Laura has a distinctive style that is evident throughout the house. With a great eye for design, a good deal of the furniture is from second-hand shops. In fact, the green sofa was one of the few items Laura and Robbie bought new for this house.
William Morris ‘Seaweed’ wallpaper creates a bright feature in the entrance way, behind a bench with shoe storage hidden below the seat. Lush velvet cushions made by Robbie’s mum Angie complete the look.
Bubble pendants hang from the ceiling in the living area. “I’ve always loved these lights,” says Laura. “We had them in our house growing up and I associate them with interesting houses that have lots of books and art.”
The hallway that runs along the southern side of the house, connecting the bedrooms and bathrooms with the living area, provides gallery space for Laura’s eclectic art collection and for family photos.
The material palette in the family bathroom is bold for such a space and reflects Laura’s brave eye for colour. The pink-tinted concrete bath and basin are statement pieces with a tone that works with the richly textured tiles. Brass fittings and a white subway tile in the shower complete this sculptural look.
As an illustrator and published author – Laura’s children’s book Hare & Ruru was published last year – she needed a studio space. This was created in a nook in the garage, with a window overlooking the veggie garden and the mountains beyond, and lined with plywood to allow for artistic experimentation to take place without worrying about spoiling any finishes. Laura appreciates having some separation from the house to complete work without domestic duties calling.
Having found a place to stretch out, with paddocks for the horses, room for new puppy Frida’s zoomies and even a brood of hens, Laura and Robbie could not be more pleased with their house.
“I’ve picked up a lot of details and ideas over the years of designing houses and through the experience of creating our first home,” says Robbie. “It came together really well; there is nothing I would change.”
“This is our forever home,” Laura adds. “We wanted to do everything we could to be able to stay here forever, but still create a house we could afford. That was a tricky balance but we’re incredibly happy with how it turned out.”
Words by: Camille Khouri. Photography by: Marina Matthews.