Meet John McNamara, owner and Architect behind modhouse; New Zealand creators of prefabricated, sustainable, small architectural homes with a 'less is more' approach. John creates beautiful spaces that combine simple design and lots of timber - arguably two of our favorite things.
Tell us a bit about yourself and modhouse came to be?
modhouse came about by a decade long and iterative process of sketching, tinkering, playing, and model-making which started back in about 2006. As an architect working in large scale commercial and corporate environments, I continually dabbled in the residential sector away from work and as our children grew up it pains me to confess they endured six house renovation projects, three subdivisions and now a new build starting from our first house renovation and subdivision in Avondale 1999 to the completion of modhouse in 2019; by which time they had both left for their own studies in Dunedin and Christchurch. Ironic?
How did you get started in design?
Questionably it was a process of elimination by my careers advisor in my last year of school who whittled my options down and eventually came to the realization that Architecture was best suited to my skillset. But when I enrolled at Auckland Arch school for a BArch none of my parent's friends were remotely surprised having watched me play with lego for hours and with the wooden building blocks my uncle had made especially for me to build tower structures that I then toppled mercilessly on my younger sisters. Great fun the whole family can play.
What is your design ethos?
In a word reduction. With only the one planet at our disposal ‘less is more’ is a great focus for me as is the use of sustainably grown NZ timber for sequestering carbon. I like the idea of living with less but this also is a daily challenge so I am perhaps a struggling minimalist. Living with more timber really appeals to me. I love timber which is pretty evident from modhouse but also anything that is well crafted, thoughtfully put together, ideally prefabricated even better still.
What are your biggest design challenges?
Trying to maintain the design ethos above whilst dealing with your typical project in NZ of trying to do more with less due to a lack of funds. So size essentially and trying to squeeze the program down to contain the necessary spaces and functions to house a family without reverting to the path of least resistance, harder than it sounds. I am also challenged currently by attempting to bring a furniture collection that (I think) is really cool to market. Watch this space but don’t hold your breath!
What is your favorite project to date?
I was fortunate to work as a project architect on a highrise building in Suva and then undertake some resort work in Fiji 2002 until the coup in 2007 and I really enjoyed the experience and the travel. But without doubt, my greatest joy as an architect was working with Gordon Moller while I was a senior architect at Warren and Mahoney on a JV for the Skycity hotel which very recently opened on Hobson Street called Horizon. Gordon is such a giant in the architectural world and an absolute inspiration to work alongside. I loved his 4:45 a.m. emails, his sketches, and wit at every meeting we went to, and all of the time I spent with Gordon without exception which is extraordinary.
What are your top tips for a productive and exciting workday/environment?Great coffee and then if you want to be more productive focus on less haste, less waste. Is that the same as measure twice, cut once? As for excitement, this is found in the amazing people you get to work alongside and the clients and consultants you work with. Having recently left a large and very corporate-driven work culture the counterpoint to this is the extraordinary projects you are able to collaborate on. Now based in the Hawkes Bay I am also enjoying the change to a more contemplative environment and the counterpoint to this is the scale of the projects I am working on are diminutive by comparison but the process is much the same.
What do you think is the key to good designing?
Ok so I changed the question. You need to make time for design. And then more time to think. And a willingness to explore and discover and think some more before diving in and “solving” issues. This is perhaps yet another reason why women make such great designers and architects. That ability to pause and take a more thoughtful approach. It would be fair to say I am still in training... also exploring literature, texts, contemporary art, mindfulness are all going to get you heading in the right direction. And great coffee.
What do you like about George & Willy and what is your favorite product?
Well simply put your stuff is just really cool, right across your brand from website, typeface, social media, and then also right down to the detailing such as the packaging. God is in the details, right?
I was introduced to your talented team by my wife and Interior designer Stylemaker. Nikki showed me the Blade Sign and we knew instantly it would suit modhouse perfectly in its simplicity and thoughtfulness. You can’t help but love something well designed and well made and I installed it myself which was an absolute breeze even though I was up a ladder. I also can't wait to use your wooden pegboard panels.
Finally, what’s your favorite way to stay creative?
Drawing. Sketching. Doodling. Dreaming. Writing. Taking on anyone that dares to challenge me at backgammon.
If you fancy challenging John to a game of backgammon or checking out his incredible work, you can find him at modhouse.co.nz or over on Instagram.
Have a great day!