modhouse Blog Series: No 1 - The Concept

Welcome to my house – welcome to modhouse. Residing in Hawkes Bay, I share it with the author himself - my ideas man, John. I figured it’s a cool theme for a blog series about the people who have moved through our journey to date. I’ll dish all the skinny from the heads, hands and hearts that have breathed life into this exciting prototype we now call home.

My first introduction to the modhouse idea was during one of those couple conversations (when you’re sort of half listening). But when John said, “there are no walls, perhaps curtains as room dividers upstairs.” My ears pricked up, “what do you mean no walls?” I secretly hoped this innovative idea would fade - life was busy and this crazy notion of a house with no walls really DID NOT fit our busy life with two small children in the house.

We continued to buy houses, renovate and hop onto our next project - but the idea stuck.

modhouse concept

My forward-thinking architect and his innovative idea were unstoppable. Weekends were spent trawling the classifieds in search of an affordable section in Auckland (yeah right). I still remember the defining moment. It was a Saturday, we stood on a 321 sqm section near Hobsonville with its lofty price tag of $699,000. We turned to one another, ‘what the hell are we doing?’ Possibly stronger words from John.

The children were leaving soon for Uni in the South Island. Maybe it was time to look further afield and anticipate a lifestyle change? Enter Hawkes Bay. I’m originally from the bay, my Mum and three sisters live here and land was gloriously affordable.

The ideal setting for our prototype modhouse had been found… but not to live here, umm, no way! It was time to get serious, find a section and move ahead with this big idea (maybe even get it out of John’s system).

modhouse kept us busy. The architect in residence tinkered with concepts, sketched pages of thoughts and fine-tuned several models. Evenings at the dining table with balsa wood, glue and tracing paper - John was in his happy place.

modhouse sketches

Determined to challenge standard housing group builds, he was interested in the “logs for jobs credo” and as he begun exploring the rapidly emerging ‘engineered timber’ industry, he revealed a worthy alternative to steel, concrete and gib.

Back in Hawkes Bay, we discovered a perfect site for the showhome. Better yet, this little greenfield pocket was part of the local council’s ‘master-planned sub-division’ with an ambitious environmentally sustainable vision.

Because modhouse is modular and had already been designed over a 10-year period, we could simply shift the modular elements around the site to suit - orientation to the north and so on. This enabled us to act fast and we raised a toast to building consent in July 2018.

modhouse construction

Thoughtfully designed and assembled quickly - hello modhouse in all your high-performing, environmentally sustainable goodness. Your mid-sized, open plan proportions were about to unfold.

Okay, I got my head around the design, admired it even, but there were many “discussions” at the kitchen bench over drawings. I still couldn’t grasp this no wall notion, where was I going to create and display all my decorative stories, arrangements and hang art?

But I loved the idea of entering into a double height atrium space, with a floating bridge that connected both of the two storey sides together. There is a bold sense of character with this home. Every inch punches above its weight, shunning hallways and wasted space, an extraordinary 95% of a modhouse is liveable. 

Doubt crept in for me… what were people going to think of this house? Where are the walls and doors? Why is the vanity in the hallway? But I trusted John, he’s clever at his craft. Not to mention, 95% of the footprint is liveable space - that’s hard to resist.

From my side of things - this interiors project was so unique. Oodles of timber, pine, cedar, plywood and concrete in all its raw form. Large open spaces with no walls to pull curtains against (yes, no-wall phobia again). My skillset would be tested. All that exposure to the public through a series of open homes literally had me in a heat rash. 

It was a challenging project in many ways. Not living in Hawkes Bay during the build was testing, but I’ll share about our epic builder in the next blog.

Up and down ladders to whitewash beams and posts in 32 degree Hawkes Bay heat was exhausting, but it revealed all the positives to me – abundant natural light, high ceilings, oversized doors and unbelievable open plan living (no-wall phobia waning fast).

modhouse construction

This house was doing a total sales pitch on us. Relocating was feeling pretty good. The thought of returning ‘home’ was exciting for me, and at the risk of sounding naff, it was John’s decade-long dream to unleash modhouse, so why not live it? We moved in May 2019.

As the house became more finished, I realised the structure and building details were in itself the interior hero. It wasn’t my place to furnish every surface. The white-washed plywood walls were a beautiful decorative feature in their own right. Open plan living (yep, no-wall fan girl now) dictated where and how furniture could be placed. The expansive doors on the ground floor would best suit simple blinds with clean lines. And that dreamy light, I didn't want to complicate it’s beautiful simplicity with furniture and things.

But given this concept was 10-years in the incubator for John, I think it’s only fair we leave the last word to him:

 1. In the planning stage, who did you picture living here and how did you want them to ‘feel’ in a modhouse?

This is a really good question and I’m pleased you asked it first as demographically the “shape” of NZ is changing; we’re seeing more demand for single occupancy, and at the other end of the scale, strong demand for inter-generational living arrangements. modhouse is not large at 160sqm, and it started as two double level pods (or modules) connected with a bridge and the upper floors containing bedrooms and a bathroom on each side. This suits a variety of family arrangements, from the traditional parents on one side and children on the other; to parents on one side and grandparents or a child/grandchild on the other side. You could, however, also have a single or couple using one whole upper level side as their office and provide only one bedroom. There is a 3rd bedroom on the ground floor which can be configured to house less abled bodies who are not able to scale the stairs; so with some minor adjustments it is possible to accommodate multi generational living in modhouse very comfortably. For instance in the showhome (which we now live in) we have used the 3rd bedroom as a multi-media room (TV, musical instruments, stereo and books) – all things we didn’t want out in the living spaces in order to encourage conversation. So we pictured quite a variety of living arrangements to suit many different family situations, and modhouse is able to adapt to these easily.

As for the feel – well one should certainly feel warm as it is a high performing house environmentally. But just as importantly for me as an architect, we were hoping the feel of the modhouse would be one of delight, which was a word I had used a lot in its formation. For instance, why go to all of this trouble and expense if the modhouse was not a delight to live in? It is not a mass market house and was never intended to appeal to all, but it ticks a lot of boxes for those that prefer a more architectural experience from their house and enjoy open plan modern living in the truest sense of the word. And naturally children absolutely love this house. How couldn’t you as a child – it has a bridge, floating stairs that hover above a bookcase and an indoor trampoline, not to mention hand basins out in the hallway!

2. You couldn’t wait any longer, it had to reach the market, this dream in the making lasted more than a decade... what were the key drivers for taking the leap and doing it?

It felt like it was the right time to make the move. Our youngest son Theo was leaving for University in 2019. Daughter, Ruby was a year ahead of him and also at Uni. So with them both in the South Island we were about to be empty nesters - then it became a simple mathematical decision. Stay in Auckland paying exorbitant rent while we had a showhome sitting in the Hawkes Bay? Or make the leap and put all of our energy into the modhouse business. Many of our friends thought we were mad and told us we were moving about 10-15 years too soon, but as we had been coming down here for the last 20 years to visit Nikki’s family, we were already well familiar with the benefits of a quieter and less hectic pace of living and it appealed to both of us.

3. It’s unique that you’ve been both the architect and the client (and probably swung a hammer too). From concept to completion, you’ve been knee deep in this project and now you live in it. Has it stacked up, and/or exceeded your expectations?

There are elements of the showhome that are quite experimental – in that it has very few internal walls or doors and acoustically this presents challenges for both the occupants and their friends and family who come to visit. But overall we are really pleased with the outcome. We set out to bring a very well designed, mid-sized house to market, and build it to a very high standard so that it performs to its ESD principles - all at a reasonable price point. In that respect it has stacked up exceptionally well and it’s an absolute delight to live in.

modhouse has been featured in the latest issue of Homestyle magazine in association with First Windows & Doors. Take a look at the feature here.

Nikki McNamara