Every artist needs a muse and since Box architect Tim Dorrington is a mid-century fan, he considers a particular house in St Heliers, designed in 1958 by Vlad Cacala, well worth closer inspection. “Cacala houses are pretty special,” says Tim. “As an émigré from Czechoslovakia, he brought some forward-thinking ideas to New Zealand in the 50s.”
The Blumenthal house has a living area which cantilevers over the carport and a central indoor garden once planted with tropical banana palms. Its floor-to-ceiling glazing (with no visible lintel) may be commonplace now, but was revolutionary at the time. As was built-in furniture – shelving, room dividers, bench seats and even diners were once decidedly avant-garde.
One Box project in Orakei pays homage to this iconic example. Perched on a concrete plinth, it has a clean, rectangular form with cladding of vertical weatherboards. A length of glazing punctuates the rectilinear outline while a sunny yellow door turns a cheerful welcome to the street.
This Orakei home has an L-shaped footprint which wraps around a central courtyard – the Box version of that indoor garden. Tim says, “The classic L-shape suits the suburbs because it provides privacy yet good visual connection between the living zones and the bedrooms.” Bamboo cabinetry and Strandboard floors are durable surfaces that capture a casual mood to reinforce the mid-century theme.
A painterly element is the stained-glass feature window in the hallway with blocks of primary colour that channel a Mondrian mood. During the day, it throws a rainbow of patterns onto the walls and floor while at night the window becomes a piece of glowing light sculpture. At Blumenthal those colours – blue and red – were painted blocks on the façade that faced the pool. “Cacala took a bold approach to colour,” explains Tim. He also worked with Milan Mrkusich, an architect and abstract artist so he no doubt drew some inspiration from those forms.
Next time you’re out and about the neighbourhood, peer over a few fences. You might just discover an architectural classic – or one in the making.