Holidays in a village with the foothills of the Southern Alps as a backdrop are hard to beat. If you tire of tramping, horse trekking and jet-boating, and bungy jumps above the icy rapids aren’t your thing, a long, hot soak in a therapeutic thermal pool just might be. Then again, a glass of bubbles on the deck is a sybaritic holiday pleasure, especially if the deck’s your own and you don’t have to familiarise yourself with rented accommodation before you can relax.

For architect Cymon Allfrey, his wife and their two teenage daughters, Hanmer Springs answered all the questions for a perfect family holiday. It’s less than two hours’ drive from central Christchurch, yet far enough away from the city to invoke a getaway spirit, and it offers different and plentiful scenic and recreational possibilities.

The Allfrey family felt no need to conform to ideas of typical Kiwi beachside holidays and are not boaties, so they did not feel pressed to search for a coastal property; but they wanted to be able to spread out, with room for cricket on the lawn and space for visiting friends to park their tent or caravan. They also wanted easy access to the splendid surroundings and proximity to cafes and restaurants.


‘The empty section we ended up purchasing is a perfect mix of rural outlook and serenity, while still being close to the township,’ Cymon says.

Cymon is co-director (alongside Craig South) of Cymon Allfrey Architects. The practice, established in 2010, is an award-winning, multi-disciplinary practice involved with all aspects of residential and commercial architecture.

In Cymon’s design work there is always the drive to create something unique and bespoke for a client. This is coupled with aesthetic and functional choices, and the need to comply with any extant building covenants or regulations. The use of appropriate products locally sourced where possible, as well as sensitivity to the environment and location are constant threads in the practice.

‘We need to ensure we are respecting the local environment – the power in the lower sun in the South Island or the prevailing breezes – and designing to suit the specific environmental factors,’ he says.

In this case, the client was his own family and, after plenty of round-table discussions, they decided their preference was for a bach that was the informal antithesis of their city home. It would also need to dovetail in with the Hanmer Springs District Plan guidelines, which specify that all buildings must reflect alpine character and would need to cope with both the fierce highland heat of summer and the often below-zero temperatures of winter.

There is an element of creative risk when designing for oneself, Cymon readily admits; of pushing the boundaries and trying out ideas that might not work for anyone else, but the concept he came up with fitted all requirements and, with a few tweaks here and there, satisfies on all artistic and lifestyle levels.

The 126sq m bach on its 1100sq m section comprises a trio of buildings sitting atop a rise within sight of Hanmer’s Chatterton River. There is a central structure and two satellite pavilions with a dining deck and a sunken terrace.

The main structure is the communal heart of the bach, with an open-plan living area, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom beyond. On winter nights its logburner keeps the room toasty and draws everyone in for a shared meal around the vintage dining table. In summer dining is outside on the deck with the barbecue.

A covered corridor for shade and weather protection leads to one pavilion, which has two rooms either side of a small bathroom and kitchenette – one a bedroom and the other a multi-purpose space with fold-down bed. The second pavilion, Cymon’s folly, is a two-storey tower with bunkroom above and firewood storage below. It is connected to the terrace by a sunshine-yellow metal stairway.

Both pavilions have panel heaters for warmth and pedestal fans for the bedrooms in summer, and the bach is fitted with north-facing photovoltaic cells and low-energy fittings to help keep operating costs down.

The steepled rooflines echo the alpine skyline and provide a campsite allusion with associated feelings of lazy days and relaxation while maintaining the build character required by council. The timber cladding, especially of the tower folly, will gradually fade to grey in harmony with the forested surroundings.

‘The camp-like arrangement we settled on requires some compromises and that is entirely deliberate,’ Cymon says. ‘I like that you really have to work for it: to get cold in winter and wet in the rain. And we completely understand that the idea of dashing across a cold concrete patio in the depths of winter just to use the bathroom in the middle of the night is not going to appeal to many, but we love the making-do feeling that the bach captures, similar to camping.


‘Stripped of some of the comforts of daily life, we can focus on what is really important – spending time together as a family.’

The house is clad inside and out with timber: unfinished cedar for the folly exterior in contrast to the dark-stained cedar of the other two structures, with cross-laminated interior walls and roofing, and glue-laminated portals.

‘We selected the cross-laminated timber and glulam as they achieved that aesthetic that we wanted for the bach, but also for the speed of the build, as it was prefabricated offsite; cut and prepared at the factory, and then delivered ready for construction.’

The bright yellow of the tower stairway is a nifty compromise with council requirements. Cymon had originally planned that the whole tower be bright yellow metal, reflecting the broom of the hills, yellowing poplars in autumn, and the ubiquitous metal cladding of farm outbuildings. It is still within the urban township bounds, however, and did not fit urban-design constraints.

‘The council explained that the Chatterton River is the marked landscape feature separating the urban and rural, and our section falls on the urban side,’ Cymon says.

‘After that particular defeat, we reflected on the purpose of the yellow and realised it wasn’t about the colour, but rather about the contrast with the other pavilions. Eventually we decided on weathered timber for the folly, and we love it, although I never completely gave up on my yellow and, as a cheeky nod to the colour that was, anything that doesn’t require council permission is indeed bright yellow.’

Builder Aaron Kells, of California Homes, began the construction in January 2017, the bach received its code of compliance in September, and the landscaping was done by Rough and Milne.

The family bach won the housing award in the 2018 NZIA Canterbury Architectural Awards; was commended in the international category of the Australasian Dulux Colour Awards 2018; was shortlisted for Home of the Year 2018, and is a finalist in the 2018 NZ Wood-Resene Timber Design Awards in September.

It hardly needs those commendations. Purpose-built for the Allfreys, they – as well as their friends and family – have road-tested it in both searing summer and winter’s freeze, and are all more than happy with the results.

WORDS Rosa Shiels PHOTOS Stephen Goodenough

FeaturesBlueprint Ltd