Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The New New Zealand Bach

For those who don't know what a "bach" is,  take off your jandals (flip-flops), grab a fizzy drink (soda) and put your feet up...you're in for a treat. A bach, pronounced batch and called a "crib" in the South Island, is essentially a small beach house. But it's so much more than that really, it's been an iconic way of life for Kiwis for decades. Back in New Zealand I thought - how the wee bach has changed! Or...has it? (Pic shows beachhouse by Gerald Parsonson)

In the olden days, come Friday night you'd pack your chilly bin (cooler) and head for your cottage on the coast. It was probably pink or yellow wood with a tin roof which makes it boiling in the summer and noisy when it rains but it's all hunky dory. Inside there are Formica tables, vinyl floor tiles, a Hamilton milkshake maker, bunk beds galore and nothing that can't get heaps of sand and salt on it. And a big lawn out the front for all your rellies (relatives) to park their tents and caravans. Just grab some TT2s (Tip Top ice-blocks) for the kiddies from the corner diary (store) and ice for your supersonic GandT's and Bob's Yer Uncle! 

Of course that's way it was when we were kids, but it's been 25 years since I left New Zealand and I see that many of the baches up and down the coast have evolved into something so much swisher. Last week I visited two old Uni friends at their weekend houses on the Kapiti Coast just North of Wellington.  Their baches were incredibly stylish and with all the mod cons (dishwashers! washing machines!) but essentially retain the same laid-back sense of the barefoot barbie on the lawn and gutting fish out the back.

My friend "Jed" ( Gerald Parsonson ),  now a respected and admired architect designed his own beach house (pics above and below) for his family of five. It's stunningly modern and colourful. But what impresses is also how understated and unpretentious it is and how very comfortable. You feel immediately at home, not fussing about the sand on your feet or what you are wearing, which surely is just how it should be. What's also amazing is that it was built ten years ago and still feels so surprising and fresh.

For the past decade this bach has collected many design awards and has been featured in magazines, newspapers and glossy coffee table books. This week it's being photographed for Dwell magazine. In his website Jed says he "intended that the house create a story of passage from suburbia to the beach and horizons beyond." The fibre cement sheet boxes are the base with lighter forms around the outside and the living room is a raised Pavilion.

Jed was still out fishing so his wife Kate showed me around, laughing at all my manic picture taking and all my "ooh" and "aah"ing. The lower cabinetry in the kitchen is orange with the upper shelves open. Many walls are white but some are painted the blues and greens of the ocean.

Upstairs you can telescope out to sea all day. 

The hallway to the three bedrooms at the back features dramatic red stained glass and the bathrooms use corrugated iron, concrete and steel, with amusing touches such as this old photo of the royal family.

Another treasure is out the back; a room with four bunks, Foosball and a shimmering bathroom.

Jed arrives back from fishing and we catch up about old friends and Kiwi architecture vs American. Watch out for my fishy hands, he says, as we pose for a pic next to his red tractor.

I wander back down the beach to where I am staying with my childhood friend Helena. Her bach has retained some of it's old Fifties vibe, with photos from that era and mid-century furniture gathered from auction houses, friends and curio stores and re-covered in sky blue and stripes.

Outside with views to Kapiti Island, a protected site, sit the most beautifully greyed reclaimed-wood chairs and table still carrying the chains and rusted iron parts of some old building.

Has relaxation been perfected here? Rita, a veritable coastal cruiser of a cat (oops couldn't resist that alliteration....or is it consonance?)  seems to think so, but she does deign to raise her head for a photo. How's it going puss?  "Good as Gold" she seems to say.


  1. Thanks for writing this article. It took me to an instant and gratifying vacation!!! The pictures are great, and they show one can have a fabulous time surrounded by simplicity and so close to nature. I swear I could hear the waves as I was reading this. Thanks!

  2. OMG it's nicer than my REAL house. should've been an architect!


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