Architect’s home for three generations transforms old state house

Moving on from the family home is a big step, but it opens the door

Moving on from the family home is a big step, but it opens the door to the next chapter. Forever Homes shines a light on the options for retirement in style.

Ask Theonie Dharmaratne how she likes living with her grandchildren and she will tell you it’s an absolute joy.

Theonie and her husband moved in with her daughter and architect son-in-law, Tehani and Madushin Amarasekera, and grandchildren Temaya, 11, and Jayden, 14, after the first stages of a massive rebuild of a 1940s state house in Mt Roskill were completed – a rebuild designed to connect the three generations in the same house.

Madushin Amarasekera (top left) says it took two years to find a property they could repurpose for two families. Also pictured are Tehani (top right), Theonie Dharmaratne (centre) and children Temaya and Jayden.

RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff

Madushin Amarasekera (top left) says it took two years to find a property they could repurpose for two families. Also pictured are Tehani (top right), Theonie Dharmaratne (centre) and children Temaya and Jayden.

Sadly, her husband passed away just a year later, but the rebuild continued over the next five years, culminating in Madushin Amaraskera (of Construkt Architects) winning the Supreme ADNZ Resene Architectural Design Award for the project last year.

The architect says before they made the decision to merge, his in-laws were renting a property and the family didn’t think that was ideal: “That’s when we thought perhaps we could build so they could live with us.”

It took two years to find a suitable property. “Sections were hard to come by, and we wanted a backyard for the children to run around in. Then we saw this standalone, three-bedroom former state bungalow with a detached garage for sale.

“The previous owners had already renovated it beautifully, but we had to repurpose most of it. But it was important to keep the character,” says Mashudin.

This is the kitchen within the new part of the house – the timber was salvaged from the original house. This open-plan area is where the family gathers. Evening meals are shared, with Theonie and Tehani taking turns to cook.

Calvin Hui & Madushin Amarasekera

This is the kitchen within the new part of the house – the timber was salvaged from the original house. This open-plan area is where the family gathers. Evening meals are shared, with Theonie and Tehani taking turns to cook.

The architect added more space to the original house by going up, creating a steeply pitched top floor, and a glazed linking element between the newly extended garage and the house, which accommodates the stairway.

The house now comprises a 72 square-metre two-bedroom unit for Theonie, and a larger three-bedroom home for the rest of the family – achieved with a modest $500,000 budget.

Theonie’s unit is completely within the original part of the house, and the near-new timber kitchen there was retained.

She has complete privacy, but can join in with the family at any time.

Theonie Dharmaratne’s unit is within part of the original state house. She has her own living area and kitchen, which opens to a deck, plus two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry.

RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff

Theonie Dharmaratne’s unit is within part of the original state house. She has her own living area and kitchen, which opens to a deck, plus two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry.

The Amarasekeras’ bedrooms are all on the top floor, with floor-to-ceiling windows ensuring the rooms are flooded with natural light.

Their open-plan kitchen and living areas (two) are below. These include a sunken living room in the extension added to the garage wing.

Many old native timbers salvaged from the old house have been reused throughout the new part of the build, including the kitchen island, the stair treads, joinery and some panelling.

”It didn’t sit well with us to throw it away,” says Madushin.

How it works in practice

Despite having two distinct homes within the one building, there is a lot of togetherness, and meals are shared, with the adults taking turns to cook.

“It’s a real joy to be living with the family,” says Theoni.

“I have company and I don’t feel lonely. As we get older, we want company – that’s what keeps you going, so you don’t get depressed.”

The kitchen in Theoni Dharmaratne’s open-plan living area features a mix of oak and eucalyptus timbers.

CALVIN HUI & MADUSIN AMARASEKERA

The kitchen in Theoni Dharmaratne’s open-plan living area features a mix of oak and eucalyptus timbers.

“Life is so much easier, which we probably do take for granted,” says Tehani, who formerly worked as an early childhood teacher. “Sometimes, if Madushin and I need to go out, for example, the kids will say, ‘We’ll just stay with Nana’. They are happy.

“If we have friends around, either of us can close off the door and keep the space separate. That was one of the main things we wanted. We each still have our own living spaces. No-one is living on top of each other.

“Mum loves her chick flicks and Madushin has no interest in that. It would never have worked to have to share a living room.”

Jayden plays with Rocky in his parents' room on the upper level.

CALVIN HUI & MADUSHIN AMARASEKERA

Jayden plays with Rocky in his parents’ room on the upper level.

And Theoni says she likes her own music, and loves feeding the native birds from her deck, including tūī and pīwakawaka. She has green fingers and has many indoor plants thriving along her windowsills.

Mature trees and shrubs provide privacy for outdoor living, thanks to the foresight of previous owners who landscaped beautifully. And the family love the location.

Madushin says the area is rather unique, with so many former state houses (on relatively large sections). “It’s nice to see how people have adapted these old state houses.”

AARON WOOD/STUFF

New Zealand’s population is growing, and ageing at a rapid rate.

Will multigenerational living work for everyone?

“I think it has to work for the family, and not all families will be suited,” says Tehani.

“It does come down to personalities, and it has to be done right. You don’t want to ruin it by having just a single room, and everyone living on top of each other. You need to set boundaries and rules.

“It’s a cultural thing, too. A lot of Asian and East European families are used to living in multigenerational homes.”

Madushin says the arrangement was especially welcome when his father-in-law became seriously ill, as all the family was right at hand, and they found it easier to cope than if they were making hospital trips.

He says architects are finding more and more clients looking to include sleepouts and semi-detached accommodation in their home design plans.

And he anticipates there will be a growing number looking to accommodate three generations under one roof.

“A lot of our friends have asked us how it’s working out, and are wondering about doing it themselves, which seems to suggest it is a mindset people are considering.”

It is easy to see part of the original state house on the right side of the building (centre).

CALVIN HUI & MADUSHIN AMARASEKERA

It is easy to see part of the original state house on the right side of the building (centre).

In announcing the house as the Supreme ADNZ winner last year, the judges said they loved the way “the ‘ghost’ of the state house is referenced throughout”.

“For example, where exterior walls are now interior, they are still punctured by openings.

“The overall effect of these carefully interlocked horizontal and vertical spaces is village-like. There is a flow where the extended family encounter each other, but also edge spaces of privacy and retreat.

“This is a very sophisticated remodelling of the humble state house, and we are sure it is the envy of its neighbours.”