Werk it Out

Homewerk’s Sammy-Rose Scapens and Oliver Starr approach design and construction with an eye to affordability, sustainability and general wellbeing.

“The house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream
in peace.” — Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space.

Embark on an online stalk of Sammy-Rose Scapens and you’ll learn a thing or three. Including how the uber-competent and multi-talented design and literary individual, morphed into a dynamic duo once she connected with talented builder and craftsman, Oliver Starr. I had the pleasure of meeting them recently to learn more about the motivation behind Homewerk, the multi-disciplinary design and construction studio the pair founded on the pillars of creating functional, sustainable and aesthetically exciting spaces and furniture.

The use of the word ‘werk’ in Homewerk, is not one of those deliberate mis-spellings of the English language. Rather, it stems from the German iteration of the word, which has a number of meanings ranging from an association with a factory, production space, plant, or the act and deed of doing
the mahi. Or work. The one Sammy-Rose and Oliver relate to most is the concept of werk being your greatest life achievement, or masterpiece. It’s therefore fitting that our interview took place in the midst of a current work-in-progress: the couple’s era-specific renovation of their late-60s Matua home, regularly profiled on Homewerk’s Instagram.

This is the their third home together. The first one was an A-frame at Pāpāmoa Beach, which
Sammy-Rose bought in 2016 after a long search for this specific shape, loving the perfectly symmetrical structure that was so popular in New Zealand in the 50s through to the 70s. Oliver
was introduced to Sammy-Rose via mutual friends who thought he would be the ideal person to
bring to life Sammy-Rose’s dream to transform the 90m2 house into a light-filled lofty space.
Oliver was the perfect fit in more ways than this — he moved from Auckland to commence the refurbishment and the two fell in love.

The couple’s second shared home was the renovation of a building they shifted onto the subdivided site of the A-frame. The house was once a campground reception; the structure and crucial elements were retained and a beachy aesthetic introduced. In 2019, Oliver and Sammy-Rose purchased
their third home together. Oliver had worked on the 1970s Matua build while working for another company, and made it clear that should it ever go to market that he and Sammy-Rose would be interested. In another example of fate aligning, the property soon went to an estate sale and the couple purchased it.

Their first winter there was not entirely comfortable, “literally the coldest I’ve ever been,” recalls Oliver. They installed a fire but as with most older homes, one thing led to another and now the home has been almost entirely refurbished within the context of the 70s vibe, but with the couple’s aesthetic. Even the seemingly symmetrical Siamese cats, Yuri and Joachim, who stalk imperiously about the living space, are a blast from the 70s for me.

The family home showcases Sammy-Rose’s own ceramic creations, one-off furnishings, and cabinetry, floors, and handrails crafted from “a guy with a rimu log”, a bespoke kitchen and even
a ceramic studio adjacent to the front door for Sammy-Rose to work from when time allows.
This is sometimes dictated by the juggle of running the burgeoning design company alongside
Oliver as well as co-parenting their children, Eugene (3) and Sybil (1), who are often included in meetings and on-site visits.

Creating homes in a way that won’t bankrupt the home owner is an important goal of Homewerk
and is certainly something they have adhered to in their own homes. “We’re trying to blur the lines between all forms of design and build. Sometimes it’s about pushing back against the construction industry merely being about building a house to code by thinking more holistically. We always ask what’s good for our wellbeing — spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally — when we undertake any project. Our design and construction practices incorporate decisions around building materials like insulation, timber toxicity, air flow and design decisions around colour choices and lighting that will help the owners be able to day-dream, to feel healthy and inspired.”

Their personal experience in the industry means both Oliver and Sammy-Rose are au fait with the
ins-and-outs of both renovating and new builds, which is reassuring for their clients and also streamlines the process. Sammy-Rose sketches up the design and facilitates the working drawings, Oliver and his team of four builders transform and create. With a thorough understanding of the building code and consent practices, Homewerk takes on complete projects, but also offers specific design input at an hourly rate.

Oliver and Sammy-Rose in their Matua house with Joachim. Photographs supplied by Sammy-Rose and Oliver.

“We are about to start a project to nut out a unique minor dwelling that can fit on multiple types
of sites and offer a range of options for housing whānau, earning extra income or using as an
office,” Sammy-Rose explains. This project in part was weirdly inspired by the Covid-19 pandemic
— to look at other ways minor dwellings on properties can bring people together. These kinds of dwellings are already on the market, however Homewerk feel there’s space for them to further contribute architecturally.

Using a collective narrative through multiple disciplines — from interior and furniture design to full restoration, commercial fit out and new builds — means the Homewerk team are always looking for ways to have fun and collaborate. They derive immense pleasure from working with friends around New Zealand on different projects, thriving on the creative sharing and bouncing of ideas. Most recently, they have worked on a purpose-built scoop shop fit out in Downtown Mt Maunganui for
the new vegan ice-cream company, Sea People.

“I am so drawn to things balancing on the precipice of ugly and beautiful, the pull of good and bad, black and white...”

“We prototyped and designed metal furniture with Sigma Sheetmetal Products in Auckland.
The Sandro Seats are a good example of the Homewerk aesthetic and answering the call for something a little unusual yet beautifully made. “I’m so drawn to things balancing on the precipice
of ugly and beautiful, the pull of good and bad, black and white, what’s between spaces, what makes something hang on the brink and how a piece of furniture affects the senses,” says Sammy-Rose. This is something she attributes to a keen interest in a concept introduced by Finnish architect Pallasmaa, which has become a tenet of architectural theory that asks why, when there are five senses, the one single sense of sight alone has become so predominant.

The sense I am left with is that this creative couple have an excellent eye for detail and a shared vision that will see them make a positive impact on the Bay of Plenty landscape, and beyond.

First published in issue 33 (April/May 2021) of Our Place Magazine.

Story by Pip Crombie