Home truths

This Issue This is a part of the Changing housing demand feature

By - , Build 130

We take a sideways glance at how changing times have influenced the form and function of our houses and where we choose to live.

There are many ways to house a Kiwi. Darkened rooms with dirt floors and lots of plants? Maybe for some. Full-height glazing to the sun, light spacious rooms with sustainable conscience-friendly bamboo floors, no plants and a pile of magazines? Perhaps. Or the tried and tested off-white walls, broadloom carpet, recessed downlights and kitchen breakfast bar with stools bought in a sale.

There are many ways we Kiwis like to live, but is the house type, property size and location of our castle changing?

A nostalgic look back

Having grown up in a typical 1960s suburb of Auckland, I recall my home with fondness – it had a proper backyard with fruit trees and ample parking on a generously concreted front yard.

The house was your common developer-spec single-storey weatherboard box that my father raised skyward and seemingly overnight turned it into a 6-bedder! Fantastic. It was one in a row separated by simple, low wire-mesh fences and the odd hedge. New Zealand houses reflected the cautious high inflationary times of the 1970s and 80s. Pine weatherboards, large-pane cedar windows and Decramastic roofing were de rigueur. There was nothing wrong with that.

Influence from abroad

In the 1980s, somewhere, someone wearing a loud shirt, permed hair and large red glasses remarked how hot our summer was, just like the Mediterranean – one power lunch conversation we all wished never happened. Godzone was exposed to internationalism, to different pasta shapes and houses fit for hot, dry climates that we would eventually learn is not like ours.

Squeeze ’em in

Fast forward to the 1990s and my once family home is intact, but the neighbours have been busy building houses on pockets of yard one never knew existed! Vegetable gardens succumbed to 665 mesh and ready-mix concrete rights of way, and new letterboxes with the ‘A’ after the number appeared on the street.

Today, infill housing is part of the Kiwi domestic landscape. We have become used to parking outside a neighbour’s toilet window and taking our wheelie bin on a mini-trek to the kerb.

Rooms for this, rooms for that

Our houses in many respects are more complex, have more rooms and certainly more bathrooms. Ultimately, our houses are compromised as the natural progression of acquiring more and more rooms under a complex geometry of pitched and flat metal, membrane and glazed roofs rolls on. You know you’ve made it when you can’t think of a name to call that extra room.

Where once a Kiwi could spread its wings in a generous-sized living room and gaze out to an empty lawn, many of us now live in compromised accommodation. We are challenged on a daily basis, negotiating dining tables placed in weird spots, tiny rooms with poor ventilation and no natural light we call the study, laundry appliances in bathrooms with toilets and inadequate ventilation, and basement rooms with really low ceilings and stand-down beams we call the gym.

Perhaps this is unfair criticism of the modern Kiwi dwelling as it succeeds in accommodating a variety of people at different times of the day, providing them with spaces, amenity and technology to go about their daily rituals.

Turning their backs on the city

While a house with lots of rooms down a right of way may be just the ticket for many urban Kiwis, it has tested the mettle of young and old, driving some out of suburbia and into green pastures.

This is the ultimate move for Kiwis who grew up with space around them and now choose to live away from the city and their neighbours. These Kiwis swap city convenience for rolling hills, water tanks and mild-mannered farm animals. The house may need work, but this is mitigated by that casual glance out the window to the excavator hoeing into the hill across the valley.

Of course, subdivisions will continue to pop up in urban-rural fringes throughout the land. Marketing teams will extol the exclusivity of one XYZ Downs, or Hills or Waters over another. Jack and Jill Public will be lured from established city suburbs to the promise of open space and serenity of Lot 35 on Evergreen Way.

And so it goes. The Kiwi moves with the times. Some choose to keep their beaks down and get on with life 15 minutes from work. Others fly a little and discover a life of home preserves from a farmers’ market just down the highway. All of this and I didn’t even mention the good old crowd-pleaser – indoor-outdoor flow!

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