Town House
Town House Courtesy of Christopher Beer Architects

A Town House In Cambridge

Lockdown changed almost everything about our lives this past autumn, including the amount of time we spent in our homes. It also brought a new focus to our living spaces for many as we lived our entire lives unexpectedly house-bound. Even after people could return to their jobs, the percentage of Kiwis still at their home offices remains high.

While living and working from the same place was a steep learning curve for the unaccustomed, many of us engaged with our homes differently, seeing the advantage of creating and repurposing spaces to function in multiple ways. Collectively we’ve scrutinised and readjusted our relationship with our homes. 


Grant and Karen Jack’s home in the small Waikato town of Cambridge bursts with the sort of innovative live-work energy we all desire. Having both lived in big international cities and enjoyed the advantages and energy of inner-city life, Grant and Karen wanted the best of urban living in one of North Island’s prettiest small towns. 


Designed by Christopher Beer Architects and awarded HOME magazine’s 2017 Home of the Year, the building’s unique site, layout, and materials reconsiders what a family home and live workspace can be. 


Making the most of a limited and unusually shaped site, the Jacks’ house is woven around three courtyards and encased by a curved brick wall to offer both privacy and all the advantages of living in the center of Cambridge. Inspired by the courtyard living common in Japan, the Middle East, and Spain, two courtyards are internal spaces flooding light into the home’s interior, while the third and front courtyard connects to the road. This is where Grant’s artist studio is situated, and also the pop-up coffee hatch he runs. 

Town House

This fantastic home is something else! Where did you start with your brief to the architect? What were your top requests? How did you want your home to feel?

I can’t really remember the brief; I wanted a place where I could live and run a studio/gallery space and we had a few thoughts in common with Chris like that a courtyard house is a good scheme for the small odd site. But we tried to leave a lot up to him, we suggested a couple of things, like the lounge pit, but would’ve trusted him if he thought they wouldn’t work. A lot of the design came from the site’s building envelope allowances, being commercial meant we could build right to the boundaries and being very public meant we’d need some privacy, hence the wall.


While many of us rediscovered the joys of our home over lockdown, we also found out its limits. Is there anything you might have changed about this design?

Not at the time we built. However, we now have a poorly thought out (and way too big) apartment building going up next door, and we’ve had to reconsider how to make the place feel private again. We now have a plan in for resource consent to raise the height of the middle courtyard wall. Another thing we would’ve liked but wasn’t within our budget was a roof terrace, we are looking at building a small B&B out the back, over our carport, which will have one, so we’ll be able to catch a sunset occasionally once that’s built.


Tell me about the difference in feeling between looking at your home from the outside, versus being inside and experiencing the space?

It’s like the Tardis. It’s only around 140-metres-square but feels much bigger as the outdoor spaces act as rooms too with the walls which run through from inside to out defining the spaces.


For many Kiwis, living and working from home under lockdown was a new experience, but creative people are pretty used to this setup. We might need new ways of thinking about the places we call home given how Covid-19 continues to change things. What would be your advice for designing spaces that balance family and work needs?

People who know me will laugh at me if I answer this, I’m not someone anyone would come to for work advise, I could give you some tips on how to avoid it… But in my mind that probably means the work life balance is pretty good. I make art because I like doing it I do a couple of other things to make money, and I’m at home a lot. I guess my advise would be to work as little as possible and do what’s good for yourself and those around you as much as possible.

Town House
I read that this has been described as “a suburban house turned inside out”, can you tell us about that?

I think they just mean that drunk people pee on our wall sometimes (I’m joking). The spaces are swapped over, where you’d normally have lawn surrounding a house we have house surrounding a lawn.


How’s business with the coffee hatch? What propelled you to include a little business venture in your home?

The coffee is free nowadays and just for art customers. It wasn’t viable as a business (we don’t have enough foot traffic) and was taking too much of my time away from drawing. But it’s great to have that little outdoor cafe space.


Houses built around courtyard living aren’t all that common in NZ, but what are the advantages that you see in this form?

I think it has potential to make house design much more interesting, it creates more defined areas outside and it’s great for privacy (unless you live next door to a greedy developer who builds apartments which use your courtyard as their outlook).


Increasingly our towns and cities are moving towards medium or high-density housing, maximising living spaces on smaller sites. What are your tips for anyone looking to build in a way that is functional but not dull?

I think a lot more people would like to live closer to town centres, but council design restrictions mean it’s difficult, especially to step outside the norm. We got in just in time before we wouldn’t have been able to build the way we did as they changed the district plan to apartments only. I also think architects should be allowed more leeway, they do a lot of training and in my estimation know a lot more about what will work than the rules set up by local government  especially when they include laughable historical facade policies, which ensures new buildings look like a terrible pastiche of the past.