“I like to get very hands-on with my projects because I believe as an architect we have to engage more,” says Ben Daly. “Currently, it’s just me that does 95 percent of absolutely everything.” By everything he’s referring to not only his design but construction work. Ben came to his profession as someone “interested in understanding how things work.” After earning his architecture degree at Auckland University in his native New Zealand, he worked for firms in London and Sydney designing community buildings, art galleries, and competition entries. Back in New Zealand and wanting “a new challenge that allowed me freedom to make what I wanted to make and learn what I needed to learn,” he established his own one-man practice, Palace Electric.
So far, Ben’s converted three industrial structures into living quarters, all for himself, his wife, Dulia, who is currently finishing up her training in orthopedic surgery, and their toddler, Hattie. Ben and Dulia’s first apartment was in a former car mechanic’s garage. Next, he transformed a rail car into their home. And most recently, he domesticated a sheep shearing shed in rural Canterbury, just south of Christchurch. By selling or renting the last project, he’s been able to pay for the next (he also teaches design at his alma mater). We discovered Ben’s work via New Zealand designers George and Willy, who, in their Customer Profile, describe the family’s latest home as “inconspicuous on the outside, and inside, a labor of love that celebrates craftsmanship.” Come see.
Above: Dulia, Hattie, and Ben outside their shed. It’s part of a farm property owned by Dulia’s father that was last fully operational in the 1980s. The concrete ramp is the original sheep run.
“I find there’s a lot to be gained from these humble buildings and I’m really enjoying teasing whatever it is out of them, almost like they’re a part of my design tools,” Ben tells us. “Waste is also a factor; it’s something architecture often has a lot to answer for. At the moment, I’m enjoying the ‘Don’t move, improve’ and ‘Don’t build, rework’ movements.”
Above: Ben made the paneled front door from parts of an old stable door of solid rimu wood. He carved the outsized handle from “a beautiful piece of black walnut.”
The opaque ridged sheeting on the walls and skylights is polycarbonate, a light-weight, heat-resistant, recyclable material. Ben likes the way it mimics the old corrugated steel on the exterior, and the fact that, in lieu of adding new windows, it fills the space with soft light.
Above: The approximately 860-square-foot interior was initially “one big volume with a dividing wall in the middle. This separated the sheep on one side (now the living room and kitchen) and the workers on the other (our sleeping pod).”
“The main undertaking was to make it clean after 60 years of sheep use, and then to make it watertight,” says Ben. “But the big issue, of course, was to get it insulated as these spaces are just tin lined.” While carefully preserving the exposed wood and steel framework, he used a combination of batt and recycled foam insulation, and there’s double insulation under the kuring plywood floor.
Above: Inspired by Japanese joinery, the kitchen is designed as a series of “boxes hung within a frame.” The supporting structure is made of leftover rimu trim, the boxes are stained strand board, and the counters are solid oak.
Above: The pantry cupboard and fridge are enclosed in stained strand board. The horizontal wall paneling was milled from a macrocarpa tree that came down in a nearby storm: “this entire wall is from that one tree.” The vintage-style Hanging Metal Lights are from Mr. Ralph.
Above: Ben and Hattie sit on a leather-backed chair at a table of solid American oak, both made by Ben. The other dining chais are classics by British designer Robin Day. The origami light is the VFold Shade by Wellington, New Zealand, graphic designer Juliet Black.
Above: “I think that you have to take responsibility for what you create; don’t rely on someone else to make it, think of how you can make it,” says Ben. On the shed’s original wall, a bench is slotted between sheep chutes and bookshelves are inserted between the framing.
“The sheep were held on this side of the wall in three pens,” explains Ben. “They were taken through three gates to the other side where two people would shear them. Once done, they’d be led down ramps on the other side of the shed.”
Above: A ceramic ball by artist Martin Poppelwell hangs between the bookshelves. Ben used the old flooring to make the slatted paneling.
Above: For the new interior walls, Ben used low VOC strand board finished with a white oil. The room is heated by a Warmington stove (and cooled by a “high-level agricultural fan, but the insulation also keeps it cool”).
Ben further explains: “The shed has a long facade, with the living room and both bedrooms facing north, which maximizes heat gain. It’s raised 1.2 meters off of the ground, which stops transference. Through good insulation, materials, and construction, I’ve tried to move the thermal bridge of the building as close as I can to the exterior skin of the building. The only heating that it needs is the fire, which gives a very strong punch.”
Above: Ben remade the sheep trap door as a place to store firewood.
Above: Ben and Dulia’s bedroom is designed as a sleep pod: it has full-height walls and the bed is enclosed by “a box that sits within the main volume of the building.”
Above: The white-tiled bathroom is set in another pod.
Above: Hattie’s room has a low built-in storage bed. The bedroom floors are the shed’s original rimu wood.
Above: The structure’s only new opening is a sliding glass door that opens to a deck that Ben made from a hay trailer: “I just added a ramp and tried to make it look as if it’s always been there.” The shed’s existing windows were formerly slatted and now have double glazing.
Above: The back entrance—with a double glazed door and barn-style cedar slider—opens to a small mud room.
Above: A rain chain directs water into an old concrete feeding tray originally for sheep, now planted with reeds that help clean the water. “It’s on a slow drip system that releases the water where it’s needed in the garden,” says Ben. Read about rain chain’s in Hardscaping 101.
Above: “I wanted the shed to look as if it’s still an agricultural building,” says Ben.
Take a look at Ben’s friends George and Willy’s DIY Urban Cabin Makeover.
Here are three more artful building conversions: