A modest brick-clad home is given an architectural makeover

Architect Thao Nguyen from Studio TT, was called on by friends to transform a dated 1960s home into a light and spacious family-friendly abode.


Hi Thao, tell us a bit about your design philosophy. Any key influences? 

I have always been a great fan of Japanese architecture which is often very simple but with the greatest attention to detail. I love their ability to blend ingenious functionality with a refined aesthetic and an ability to turn even the smallest rooms into flexible, delightful and enriching spaces. For example, Japanese sliding doors (fusuma) are very prevalent in Japanese homes and are a clever way of allowing rooms to be customised for different occasions, and I try and incorporate this concept into my designs, where possible.

I also love Australian architecture and currently I am following the work of Clare Cousins – a small practice based in Melbourne known for their innovative designs that respond to often challenging sites. I admire their use of robust, low maintenance materials that endure and improve with time.

Key influences ‐ there are commonalities in the works that I admire – connecting with nature – bringing landscape and architecture together, using natural, honest materials that change with the time of day, using light and shadow to enliven spaces, a clean simple palette of colours and materials to allow owners to personalise with furnishing and artwork, and creating designs that are flexible and adaptable to a family’s ever-changing needs.



Location: Mount Albert, Auckland

How long did it take? Five years (from when we first saw the house up for sale).  The owners, Tim & Anna, who are very practical, used their DIY skills to turn a 1960s brick and tile (and very dated) house into a very pleasant home while they considered their renovation options.

 Size of home: Approx. 200 sqm including garage. The entry and laundry are downstairs with the main living and bedrooms upstairs.

Can you describe the brief for the project?

The existing house was a basic 3 bedroom home with living looking out to the street (as was common in that period of construction) and the small bedrooms at the back capturing most of the sun. There was no easy connection with the outdoors. This was a shame as the owners completed some amazing landscaping work at the rear of the house which you could only enjoy through the bedroom windows.

The brief was to create more space for a growing family, a master suite with dressing and ensuite, double garage, larger open plan living with better sun and light, and greater connection with the outdoors.

Any challenges you had to overcome?

Bringing the living room to the back and bedrooms to the front without the impression you are gutting the entire house....and keeping the project as cost effective as possible.

The living space features an Escea DL1100 gas fireplace within cabinetry, can you tell us about the installation?

We chose the Escea fire because of its efficiency and elegant design, and also because we like the fact that it's NZ Made. The cabinetry was made by the owner and 4U Cabinet Maker and Installations Ltd. A TV is to the left of the fireplace and hidden behind doors that fold and pivot away. The family are huge readers hence the shelves of books, so hiding the TV away was appropriate.


Can you please talk us through the layout and how it works for the family?

With the layout of the house essentially flipped, the open plan living spaces are now flooded with natural light and all day sun. The existing ceiling was only 2.4m high so to increase volume and light we lifted the ceiling lining to rafter level to increase height over the living area. This made a huge difference to the light quality, sense of volume and grandness of the space, and accentuated the view out to the landscaped garden.

Anna, then selected a beautiful David Trubridge light fitting to suspend over the living area which serves as stunning centrepiece and throws the most beautiful pattern of light and shadow around the room at night.


A master bedroom with luxury ensuite and dressing room, within the cedar clad extension, is located at the front above a double garage. You can see a hint of the Phillipe Starck bath as you walk down the hall. Colours are muted and materials natural to create a place of calm and serenity to retreat to at the end of the working day.

Next to the dressing room is a laundry chute straight down into the garage laundry.

On the northern side there are two children's bedrooms with sliding doors in between, rather than a fixed wall. The children, Milly and Harry (8 & 5) are very close and this was an excellent way to create more shared space. In this case, with the doors fully open, it is like a massive bedroom with generous play area for the children. When Milly wants to have a pajamas party with her many friends, Harry gets moved to the guest room while the girls take over the entire space.



The external shutter windows are visually interesting; can you talk us through why you chose them? 

The master suite looks out to the east and enjoys beautiful morning sun and has an amazing urban view. Of course, it also looks out onto the street...and at times, the perception is the street can look. Thus the screens provide a layer of privacy which the owners can control from the Juliette balcony . The screening also adds softness and texture and provides interest to the street facing facade. From the inside, when closed, the screens throw a beautiful pattern of light and shade into the bedroom.


What do you think of the makeover?

Images by Mark Scowen Photography

Recent Posts