Prime colour

Pattersons modern house amidst NZ bushNew Zealand bush and a panoramic rural view backdrop this striking house by Patterson Associates, setting the stage for an artful and elegant family life.

Location: Cambridge, New Zealand. Architects: Pattersons Associates Architects. Text: Andrea Stevens. Photos: Simon Devitt.

Carved by an ancient river, the Waikato Basin in the Central North Island is a rolling patchwork of green farmland. In a bush clearing on the spur of an eroded volcano, this house looks west across the basin. With views of lowland winter mists and golden evening sunsets, the site affords a forever-changing canvas of light and colour.

A young creative family call it home, a place where they can lead a busy but balanced life, with a half-hour commute to work. The house is a hide from which they enjoy the local environment and wildlife, a sanctuary from the frosty winters and a breezy platform in the temperate summers. With all but one room facing the view, the rural setting pervades the house. Its bush backdrop provides shelter and privacy, and the daily pathway of the sun is captured in its deep porches and through its floor-to-ceiling windows.

Stained a vivid orange, the cedar cladding literally pops against the green surroundings. This is the first sign of the abstracted nature of the house – a pristine and precise box, cut and carved for functional use, but also aware of its own aesthetics and geometric rulebook. It reminds me of a Donald Judd chair or shelf: subtle in its assembly and form, but rich in concept.

Pattersons modern house bush site with views

Pattersons modern house one of a pair sculpture

Pattersons modern house main entrance

As well as accommodating the family, the house presents a small art collection. “The client’s brief called for the design to use the Gordon Walters painting as a conceptual starting point,” says architect Andrew Patterson, “and the resulting plan outline is radially symmetrical to create order and serenity and provide for the practicalities of a cohesive family space.”

The Walters ‘koru’ painting has alternating bands of black and white where lines and circles slide past one another and interlock. This play on ‘figure and ground’ is reflected in the floor plan through overlapping and interlocking public and private zones: ‘white’ being represented by the open public rooms, and ‘black’ by the enclosed and richly coloured private rooms. There are no circles, but a strong sense of order is experienced inside and out.

Renowned for their strongly geometric designs, the architects have set the stage for art, not with mute surfaces but with texture, colour and proportioning. The Walters painting sits against the orange cedar, where its strong vertical shadow lines interact with the horizontal lines in the painting. Two mirror Paul Dibble sculptures signal the east and west entrances into the building, and vibrant yellow and blue are used in the smaller rooms. This is a building that is concerned with aesthetics and abstraction rather than a strong domestic character. Not that it ignores its domestic purpose; on the contrary, it caters beautifully to family life. The arrangement allows the family to live closely together – parents’ and children’s bedrooms are side by side, accessed off a long corridor. A library and a media room are centrally located either side of the main entrance, also off the main corridor, all in close proximity.

These two retreat rooms and the entrance face east: they look back toward the hill where the concrete driveway emerges from the bush. Visitors are greeted by a very long, low orange elevation, concealing a garage door but revealing the deep entrance porch. The porch leads into the centre of the house with bedrooms to the left and living to the right. Bedrooms are cave-like, painted in deep blues and greens, with small lobbies created by a strip of bathrooms and wardrobes. The west wall of each bedroom has floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall double-glazing. They provide snug dens on frosty winter afternoons and, with high-level ventilation panels, breezy yet private spaces in summer.

The living space, which contains the kitchen plus dining and two seating areas, is one large, open-plan room with windows on three sides. Black kitchen cabinetry, a dark-stained floor, shutters, orange-stained cedar and corner glazing make it a rich and lively room. The owners have a wonderful collection of furniture to delineate the space, including a slate-grey Patricia Urquiola sofa. They maintain a refined aesthetic, letting materials and design elements create character.

A house must be a place for solace, rest, recharging, socialising and nurturing, as well as artistic, spiritual and intellectual pursuits. All are possible in the spaces within and without of this house. Its abstract aesthetic takes it well beyond providing simply the fundamentals of shelter and comfort – which it does so convincingly through its visual weight and deep plan – to creating rooms in which to contemplate art and nature. There are references to the Modernist pavilion, but it is far more weighty and grounded than this model. Timber connects it with more traditional values and also with its location, but the bold colour and strict geometry return us to abstraction and art.

Pattersons modern house screen print and sofa

Pattersons modern house vibrant bedrooms

Pattersons modern house main entrance with sculpture

Pattersons modern house artwork

In detail:


One of the family’s favourite places is the library. Tucked between the front entrance and the living room (with a laundry and pantry concealed between), it looks out in two directions – east to the driveway and bush, and west across the terrace and toward the view. Covering an entire wall is an orange cubed bookshelf, filled with all manner of design books and literature, and a large shared table in the centre. It makes a wonderfully practical social space where adults can work and children can attend to homework; where projects can be set up and returned to the next day.

Pattersons modern house library

Pattersons modern house outside library view

Pattersons modern house inside library view

* A conceptual design that enriches the experience of residential architecture.
* Uses view shafts to extend the site boundaries and encompass local lanes as a backdrop to an urban experience.
* Hidden steel roof structure makes a lightweight, floating ceiling.
* The interior and exterior blend to challenge the concept of domestic space.


Pattersons Associates Architects began its creative story in 1986 with early work on New Zealand’s unspoiled coasts that explored the relationships between people and landscape to create a sense of belonging. The architecture studio was founded on a very simple idea: if a building can feel like it naturally ‘belongs’, or fits logically in a place, to an environment, a time and culture, then the people that inhabit the building will likely feel a sense of belonging there as well. This methodology connects theories of beauty, confidence, economy and comfort.