Peace in Waterfall Bay

Michael Seresin's Waterfall Bay house in the Marlborough Sounds, designed by Pete Bossley.
Michael Seresin's Waterfall Bay house in the Marlborough Sounds, designed by Pete Bossley.

Even on a cloudy drizzly day, the Marlborough Sounds evokes a mood of tranquil calm: here is a peaceful haven far removed from the crazy events and pointless stresses that beset big cities and the working world. Native bush fringes the water's edge; the only sound is birdsong and the lapping of the waves.

Michael Seresin chose Waterfall Bay, in Queen Charlotte Sound, as the perfect setting for a retreat. Seresin is founder of Seresin Wines, in Marlborough. He’s also an internationally recognised cinematographer whose credits have included Midnight Express, Angela’s Ashes and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

Just as Seresin Wines are entirely organic, Seresin favoured natural materials for his Waterfall Bay home. It was designed by Auckland architect Pete Bossley, and won an award in the 2005 NZIA (New Zealand Institute of Architects)/Resene Architecture Awards.

Bossley has designed many private homes in spectacular coastal settings, as well as collaborating on the design of the iconic Te Papa museum in Wellington. “Achieving a delicate balance” is the overall theme of much of his architecture, the architect says. “The attempt to achieve elegant spaces, an easy flow of spaces, a sense of openness or a beautiful quality of light, is frequently an attempt to balance opposites which don't always want to balance. A particular enthusiasm of mine is to present through architecture strong, rich ideas, but at the same time achieve a level of comfort which allows the building to fulfil its role as habitation.”

Each design is a journey the architect traverses with the client. “We don’t design the same house time and time again,” says Bossley.

The design process for the Waterfall Bay house entailed consultation via late-night telephone calls. “He [Michael Seresin] has got a very good eye and a good aesthetic sense. We challenged each other quite nicely.”

Seresin spends much of his time overseas, but also wanted to keep in touch with clients when at Waterfall Bay. The home showcases the best of New Zealand’s natural and designed environment to overseas visitors.

“The natural environment and consideration for it were paramount in all aspects of the concept, design and building of the house,” says Seresin. “No trees were removed except for a few manuka bushes, and the citrus trees were removed and replaced when the house was completed.”

Everyone involved in all elements of the house was sympathetic to this principle. Wherever possible recycled materials were used. Only non-toxic oils were used to treat wood. Solar water heating was installed to harness the free energy of the sun; Seresin says he would like to use the waterfall to supply all the power for the house. “It could be my next project.”

Timber is the main material, and includes cedar cladding, oregon, plywood panelling, recycled bridge timbers from Queenstown, and a jarrah kitchen bench top from Ruby Bay Joinery. in Nelson. Slate paving is a feature in the atrium.

Arrival to the site is normally by sea to the jetty. An old house in the bay was preserved, and the old boatshed is used for entertaining. A new boatshed takes the place of a garage.

The house is nestled onto a bank between the sea and the hillside and surrounded by beech forest and kanuka. Three components form the main spaces: the living area on the western side, a guest wing comprising two bedrooms beneath, and the main bedroom to the east, reached via a dramatic glazed bridge or walkway.

All spaces are light and open, capturing views of the bush and the water. Even the shower in the main ensuite eschews false modesty and looks out to the water.
From the central bridge you can gaze back at the pavilion-like shapes of the house, or down at the double-height atrium. This clever use of space makes the house feel bigger, while also being visually stimulating.

Architecture judges noted: “The interior is a triumph in timber, exquisitely detailed and crafted to deliver a house which is immediately inviting, enriching and relaxing.”

Michael Seresin is delighted, too. “Now the house is complete it has really settled into the landscape and despite its boxy shape feels and looks comfortable – as it's been there for ages.”

It could also be a setting for a movie. “Of course, it’s my dream to live at Waterfall Bay and leave each morning to shoot for the day and return in the evening,” he says.

What’s special
Design: Architect Pete Bossley, Auckland.
Builder: David Kepes, “the Artisan Builder,” and his people.
Priority: to be environmentally-friendly and compliment its setting.
Construction: mostly timber, including recycled materials.
Special features: solar water heating, potential for mini hydro system, boat and road access.

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