Design News

This family get honest about the highs and lows of building a dream home

Article by Homes to Love

After three years of planning and a six-month build, Oliver and Ella are finally in their new home – and loving it! They reveal the number one thing they’d do differently


For the first time in his adult life, Oliver Driver doesn’t have to duck his head to walk through doorways.

Almost exactly six months since the foundations for their brand new house went down, Oliver and his family have moved in, and already they’re noticing the benefits of living in an architecturally designed home tailored for their needs.

“It’s the little things that make a difference,” says Oliver, who is 198cm tall. “Because I’m stupidly tall, the doors are all 2.4m high rather than 2m, and the ceiling is 2.7m, which is a bit higher than usual. It’s things like that that you can do in a new-build that you’re never going to do in a renovation.

We’ve also got slightly higher counter tops in the kitchen, and the showers are extra high – I’ve never had a shower that wasn’t chest height! It makes a real difference that I’m not wandering around the house feeling like a giant.”

Although most of the building project ran smoothly in line with builder James Hosking’s schedule, things did get a bit intense in the last few weeks of the build.

“It was very much like watching The Block at the end there,” says Oliver. “It’s amazing how much goes on in those last few days – it came down to the absolute wire. We were four days out and the bathrooms weren’t done – we thought there was no way we were getting in here on time. But we’d given notice on the house we were renting, so we had no choice.”

Oliver and his wife Ella Mizrahi made it their mission to unpack as soon as possible, with pictures up on the walls and their favourite treasures around them.

It was very much like watching The Block.

It came down to the absolute wire

“We wanted to make it feel settled as quickly as we could because of the kids,” says Oliver. As it turns out, three-year-old Etta and one-year-old Otis have been unfazed by the move, and Harry the dog is also loving the riverside site, which borders a public walkway on Auckland’s Te Atatu Peninsula. “Other dogs are always walking past so he goes and says hi,” says Ella. “He thinks he’s the lord high poobah of the neighbourhood.”

One regular passer-by is the couple’s brother-in-law and near neighbour David Ponting, who designed the home with architect Frances Young. “He told me that every time he walks past and looks at the house he thinks: ‘What an awesome team effort – we totally nailed it’,” says Ella.

The couple have had nothing but good feedback from their neighbours, who have watched the build with interest. “Everyone seems to be happy with it because it’s low-impact,” says Oliver. “They’ve all been really welcoming.

“It’s funny, we lived in Mt Albert for five years and I knew one neighbour to say ‘hi’ to. We’ve only been here a few weeks and already I can name ten neighbours and know them well enough to stop and chat to them.”

The family spend most of their time in the northwest-facing open-plan living area, where the kitchen custom-designed by Innovative Kitchens is the focal point of family life. “The kitchen is amazing,” says Ella. “Cooking doesn’t feel like a chore any more, and there’s more storage than we know what to do with. We’ve even got a drawer that’s just for party supplies – that’s my favourite drawer!”

The kitchen is fitted out with stylish Cosentino Dekton benchtops, Voda tapware and a new suite of stainless-steel Haier appliances, including a 14-place dishwasher, an 11-function built-in oven and gas-on-glass cooktop, and two fridges – a 790cm-wide french-door fridge with MyZone drawer, and a smaller bar fridge in the scullery.

The main fridge has a handy non-plumbed water dispenser in the door. “Etta is now refusing to drink water that doesn’t come chilled from that tap,” laughs Ella.

She has already had a go at cleaning the oven using Haier’s Pyrolytic function, which burns off cooking residue at a very high temperature. “It’s so easy – you just wipe away the ash with a brush,” she says.

To the south of the main living area, a hallway leads past a storage room and laundry nook to a spacious family bathroom, the children’s bedrooms and then the master bedroom, with its ensuite accessed through the walk-in wardrobe designed by The Wardrobe Company.

“This is the bit we can’t quite believe we’ve got,” says Ella. “We keep thinking we’re staying in a flash Airbnb. The ensuite is my favourite room of the house. It’s our little space, like a little secret.”

Ella had a seashell in mind when decorating the ensuite, and the warm neutral walls (Resene Half Albescent White), the wood vanity and round basin from Newtech, and the textured shower tiles from Tile Space really do make it feel like being inside a shell.

The master bedroom also has an air of sanctuary, with soft blue-green walls (Resene Half Robin Egg Blue) and warm neutral carpet (Rhino Portland in Oyster Shell from Carpet Court), chosen for its stain resistance, which will make it easy to maintain even with kids and a dog in the house.

Here, in Etta’s room and in the living area, the sheer curtains from CurtainStudio are in a half-linen, half-polyester fabric called Biella, which combines the relaxed look of linen with the durability and fade resistance of polyester. It’s paired with black sunscreen roller blinds to work with the black Vantage joinery.

“OMG did you see our blinds?” asks Ella, grabbing the remote and pressing a button so the lounge blinds lower dramatically. “They’re so theatrical.”
Despite the stress involved with planning and overseeing the build and making endless design choices, now they’re in the house Oliver and Ella wouldn’t have it any other way.

High-tech gadgetry like the remote-controlled curtains, the fibre-friendly home data network recommended by Chorus, the Haier ducted air conditioning system and the underfloor heating makes living in a new-build house so much more convenient and pleasurable than an old home.

So do they have any regrets? “I think we got most of it right,” says Oliver. “The only thing I’d do differently is put in more sensor lighting. It’s in the hallway and the walk-in wardrobe but now I know how handy it is I’d put it in every room.”

In answer to the inevitable budget question, they admit the house cost a lot more than they originally estimated. “Everything is more expensive than you think,” says Oliver. “You get hit with all these things – each one might be only $150 but there’s 32 of them and suddenly it’s another $5000. ”

With the mortgage mounting, the couple had to start making tough decisions about what to do and what to delay. “Luckily we’ve managed to keep the biggest compromises to the outside of the house,” says Oliver. “We’ve completely run out of money when it comes to any kind of landscaping, so we’re going to be living on a patch of clay for a long time.

“We were hoping not to borrow as much as we did from the bank – it’s definitely an Auckland-sized mortgage. But then again we’ve come out with a really high standard of home. It might have been more expensive than buying an old house and doing it up, but it looks like this! We’re in a pretty fortunate position to have been able to have built our own place, and we’re so glad we did it!”

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