After stumbling across an idyllic section in the heart of Auckland, this couple crafted a home that blends the best of town and country
How this home solved its problem of poor indoor-outdoor flow
- Poor indoor-outdoor flow upstairs living areas prevented movement between inside and out.
- Limited storage made the house unsuitable for a busy family of five.
- Budget restrictions meant the family needed to keep costs down wherever possible.
- Inverted the home’s layout so all living areas open directly onto the lawn and garden.
- Maximised the roof cavity with pull-down attic stairs. Maximised space under the stairs by incorporating a large storage cupboard.
- Kept costs in check by using a draughtsman rather than an architect, completing all council forms themselves and helping tradies on site
It is pretty unlikely you have ever driven down Williams Road, a small back-country lane on the outskirts of Gisborne, where Kate Thorpe (née Williams) spent her childhood. She always considered this quiet, rural pocket surrounded by farmland and citrus orchards to be a little piece of paradise, but not quite enough to contain her.
Fast-forward to seven years ago, when Kate and husband Nick were having dinner at a friend’s house in Auckland, just around the corner from where they now live. It was mentioned there was a place down the road they should look at. “We had been house-hunting for months, with our focus mostly in the western suburbs,” explains Kate. “To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in moving to this side of town until we viewed this property.”
The couple instantly fell in love with the property. “It felt like a little slice of the country right in the middle of the city,” recalls Kate. “The house even came complete with chickens.”
Having grown up on Williams Road, it’s unsurprising that Kate felt an instant connection to this spacious, peaceful property. The address is hidden down a long driveway and you’d have no idea a section like this could exist so close to central Auckland.
From its lower level, the property overlooks the mouth of the Orakei Basin and the eye skims out over the water towards the bush surrounding St Heliers Bay Pony Club. Although the outlook feels rural – especially with Coco and Chanel clucking in the garden – it’s from the upstairs level, where views extend all the way out to the high rises of the CBD, that you are reminded of just how close to the city centre this property is.
The land came with a dated but well-maintained four-bedroom bungalow. “The previous owners had lived here for 40 years, so it had been well loved and was in need of a modern makeover,” recalls Kate. The couple lived in the house as it was for two years before deciding to embark on a renovation.
By this point they understood what parts of the house worked and didn’t work for them. Now that children were part of the picture, they soon realised it was an issue that all the home’s living space was located upstairs.
“We used to sit upstairs looking down on our lawn and garden, but we didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we do now,” recalls Kate.
Kate and Nick developed a plan that inverted their home’s layout, and had a draughtsman draw up the concept. The plans included moving the kitchen, living, dining and rumpus downstairs, with four bedrooms and two bathrooms completing the upper level. They also added a new pavilion living area which flows out to the lawn and pool.
With three young sons now part of the family, Kate and Nick wanted to include plenty of storage in their design. In the master bedroom the couple planned to add pull-down attic stairs to open up storage capacity in the roof and, in the downstairs rumpus room, a large storage cupboard under the stairs was earmarked for keeping all the boys’ toys.
The plan embraces an open layout that maximises indoor-outdoor flow. Kitchen and living spaces open out to the large lawn. For added flexibility, a sliding door between the main living area and the rumpus allows the two areas to be partitioned off when necessary. “We love this idea because when the boys are young they can feel that we’re nearby, but all the mess is hidden away in the rumpus and when they get noisy or are watching a movie we can slide the door across for a bit of peace and quiet,” explains Kate.
Best laid plans
Even the most careful plans can go awry and, unfortunately for Nick and Kate, their moment of crisis arrived when they looked under the house. It was obvious that their home’s piling was not sufficient and the house needed extensive retaining work. This meant they needed new plans drawn up, which cost them both precious time and money.
An original projected build time of four months blew out to 18 months. The whole family moved into Nick’s parents’ home in nearby Parnell for six months but returned before the project was complete. “When we moved back in, the flooring wasn’t finished and we had no kitchen,” explains Kate. “We set up a makeshift kitchen in our ensuite that included a sink, kettle and toaster. We cooked on the barbecue which was outside the front door among all the gravel and dust. I still can’t believe we managed to live like that with a newborn baby and two toddlers.”
The couple were very hands-on during their renovation, doing what they could themselves to keep the budget under control. “Luckily Nick is very handy on the tools,” says Kate. “He stained the cladding, laid wiring, stained the floors, tied off steel, did a lot of the painting and together we managed all the tradies on site.”
Design and decor
Kate engaged long-time friend and interior designer Kate Shanahan to help her create a cohesive and neutral aesthetic throughout the house. “We’re still working on some of the rooms,” says Kate. “I definitely recommend using an interior designer as Kate saved me time and stress. She was amazing at helping to keep everything cohesive and guided me to choose furnishings that would stand the test of time (and three young boys).”
A new start
It was during this project that Kate developed a real passion for decor and design. So much so, she has gone on to launch her own range of homeware and furniture – aptly named Williams Road. “Williams Road was born out of our renovation. I was frustrated at the same-old feel of all the shops in New Zealand, and anything that was slightly different came with a hefty price tag,” she recalls.
It wasn’t until a recent holiday to Bali, however, that Kate came across the means to turn her passion into something more. Uncovering exquisite, handcrafted furniture and homeware unlike that available at home, Kate’s interest was piqued and Williams Road was born.
Kate now works from home on her quiet, inner-city section surrounded by farmland and citrus trees. Although it took much longer and cost more than she and Nick ever expected, the renovation was worth it.
All the stress is forgotten as she sits back, admires the idyllic view of trees and water, and feels perfectly at home in her new piece of paradise.
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma McDonald.