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Altering a house that has stacked up so many prestigious architectural awards might have phased many a design devotee. But when James Peters of DedeCe Design and his partner Matthew Muir took on the challenge of updating the much-revered Brian Brake house in Titirangi, they drew inspiration from the spirit of the house itself.

In doing so they preserved the integrity of the original design while reinventing it as a luxuriously comfortable, modern living environment. Originally designed by architect Ron Sang in the 1970s for renowned photographer Brian Brake, the house continues to impress and delight.

As a series of light-filled cedar pavilions suspended above water in the bush canopy, it has been praised for the innovative way it blends harmoniously into its beautifully landscaped site. Large panes of floor-to-ceiling glass ensure intimate connections with the natural environment and stunning vistas of Auckland city and the harbour in the distance.

Reflecting the passion of its original owner, the home is infused with a clean, uncluttered, serene Japanese aesthetic. The architecture and spatial planning now demonstrate enduring strength, but the house had deteriorated when James and Matthew bought it several years ago.They realised there was a lot more work to do than they thought.

The utility rooms - particularly the the kitchen and several bathrooms - were several decades old and needed modernising. Building materials, fittings and technology have advanced considerably since the home was built. A team of tradesmen was brought in for the mammoth makeover. The timber floors were resurfaced, new carpets were laid, the ceilings were re-oiled, the timber veneer in the built-in cabinetry was redone, new handles were added, lighting was installed, decks were rebuilt and the roof was redone.

Hardly a surface remained untouched. The refurbishment took 21 months and all the work was in keeping with the original design by Sang - except the kitchen. This area was very dark, because little light was coming in. James and Matthew couldn’t understand why Sang had designed it to block out the light. After much deliberation they decided the only structural change they would make to the entire house would be to take out the wall between the kitchen and the dining area. In doing so, they improved the flow between the two rooms, gained light and a view. It seemed such an obvious thing to do.

But they deliberately didn’t contact Sang to discuss their plan, because he might not have approved. They felt apprehensive when they invited the architect to visit the house after everything was completed. Sang wandered around for about an hour, then finally, much to the relief of James and Matthew, gave his wholehearted approval.

Now, the home’s clever spaces can be appreciated - without the distraction of 30 years of wear and tear. James points out how well it all works. Each room flows beautifully into the next. The rooms are not too large or small, and they have a beautiful scale. No space is wasted in the passages either, for they’re big enough to function on a practical level. One transitory area, for example, is used as a study.

Another is a glazed bridge, which doubles as a place to sit and contemplate the view. The tatami room, laid in a thick wad of traditional tatami matting, is a splendid space. Surrounded in glass, it was designed for meditation, although it’s superb for modern entertaining. The house has three large bedroom suites - two upstairs and another guest suite down below. All have been updated to an exceptional standard.

The modern tiled bathrooms feature Philippe Starck fittings. A large area below, once used as Brian Brake’s office and studio, offers additional living or bedroom space. With a screen that drops down from the ceiling, which was formally used to project photographic images, the area would make an ideal home theatre, and the temperature-controlled safe could serve as a wine cellar.

Recognised as a masterpiece of modern design, this home has long slipped into the realms of being a national treasure. Yet it is more than just an artefact to be admired. Its owners can testify that this precious vessel is their sanctuary; a wonderfully nurturing environment to return home to every day.


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