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How this family built their first home on a small subdivided section

Article by Homes to Love

Dreams do come true in the real-life fairytale of Oliver Driver and Ella Mizrahi’s journey to homeownership. See the My New Home build from start to finish


Once upon a time there was a family who yearned for a home of their own. But they lived in Auckland at the height of the housing boom, and every property they looked at with a garden big enough for their two kids and their large dog was quickly snapped up for more than they could afford.

So Oliver Driver and Ella Mizrahi began to dream a new dream. When a friend (call her their fairy godmother if you like) offered them the opportunity to buy a cross-leased riverside section on the back of her Te Atatu Peninsula home, they visualised a crisp new house, built to their own specifications and with all the benefits of a high-tech modern fit-out.

And then along came a fairy godfather, in the form of their brother-in-law David Ponting of architectural firm Ponting Fitzgerald, who offered to design their new home as a wedding present.

And so began three years of working closely with David to refine the design to fit within Auckland Council regulations – and their budget. “This is our first-ever build,” says Oliver. “We started out with really grand ideas, then we found out how expensive they were, so it became quite a simple house.”

The design

David designed a low-slung form reminiscent of a holiday bach – he describes it as “an understated, elegant shed achieved on a budget.”

Huge sliding doors open from the open-plan living space to the deck, which steps down to a small garden and the waterside reserve bordering Henderson Creek. “The living area feels quite generous as it flows out and down to the reserve, maximising the use of that borrowed land,” says David.

The Build

Once the design was nearing completion, the couple’s next step was to find a builder, which they did via a tender process, eventually choosing a small local company, JR Hosking Carpenters & Co. “I cannot recommend highly enough that you find a good builder,” says Oliver. “James is a really talented guy.”

James says the riverside site presented unique challenges because it had a council sewer line running through it and it had a very high water table, which meant the piles had to be very carefully placed and deeper than usual to make sure the house was built on solid ground.

Once the foundations were in place, the team from JR Hosking Carpenters put down bearers and joists for the floor framing, followed by high-density wood chip panels for the subfloor. The wall frames went up, the giant roof trusses were craned into place, and the form of the house began to emerge.

The first decision

Meanwhile Oliver and Ella were busy making hundreds of decisions about the furnishings and fittings in their new home.

One of their first decisions was what joinery to use, as the windows and doors had to be manufactured to order to suit David’s design. They chose Kiwi company Vantage, who have a track record of creating good-looking, quality joinery for New Zealand conditions.

Choosing a colour from the wide range available proved trickier, but eventually they settled on a matt black powdercoat. “We’ve had wooden joinery in all the houses we’ve lived in so we didn’t know what it would look like,” says Oliver. “We were scared it might be a little thick and overpowering, but we love it – it looks fantastic.”

Getting connected

Early in the planning process Oliver visited the Chorus Fibre Lab to find out how to wire the new home for future technological advances. These days fibre is considered the fourth utility, just like electricity, gas and water, so it’s wise to consider it from the planning stages of your build, and make sure you install USB sockets and ethernet ports alongside your power sockets.

The couple also thought long and hard about heating and cooling their home, eventually choosing a Haier ducted air conditioning system rather than a wall-mounted heat pump. One of the benefits of building new was that they could have it installed in the ceiling cavity to deliver heating, cooling, condensation minimisation and air purification throughout the home via strategically placed vents.

“It’s even controlled via an app,” says Oliver, “so we can turn it on when we’re on our way home.”

Flooring choices

Flooring was their next big decision, as they knew it would form the foundation for the rest of their interior design. “The Nature’s Oak matt-finished engineered wood flooring from Carpet Court was one of the first things we chose, and we designed the rest of the house around it,” says Oliver. For the bedrooms they chose Carpet Court’s Rhino Portland carpet because its stain resistance makes it ideal for messy family life.

Flooring samples in hand, they visited a Resene ColorShop for advice on putting together a colour scheme, eventually choosing a low-sheen white walls (Resene Quarter White Pointer) for the living areas, soft yellow walls (Resene Half Moonbeam) and a cactus wallpaper in Otis’ room, tangerine paint (Resene Romantic) and a dog-print wallpaper in Etta’s room and a restful blue green (Resene Half Robin Egg Blue) for the main bedroom.

Finishing touches

They finished the interior with off-white linen-look curtains, black sunscreen roller blinds and kitchen shutters from CurtainStudio, bathroom fittings from Newtech, tapware from Voda Plumbingware, and kitchen, bathroom and laundry tiles from Tile Space.

Favourite things

One of the couple’s other favourite features is the walk-in wardrobe. Custom designed by The Wardrobe Company, it links the master bedroom to a private ensuite and leaves the bedroom free of clutter.

Moving house gave the family an incentive to cull their belongings. “We got rid of a lot of stuff and gave a lot away,” says Oliver. “We Marie Kondo-ed ourselves before we’d even seen the show.”

Two things that did survive the cull were Ella’s shell animal collection, which she’s been gathering since she was five years old and which now has pride of place in the dining area, and Oliver’s robot collection, which is showcased on shelves in Otis’s bedroom.

Kitchen style

Located in the north-eastern corner of the house to catch the morning light and designed by John van Doormaal from Innovative Kitchens, the kitchen has a simple L-shaped bench and a large central island, both topped with stylish and almost indestructible Dekton benchtops from Cosentino.

We love it –

it feels and looks like a million dollars.

Just a few weeks after moving in, the family are still getting used to all the mod cons in their new home, including a new suite of stainless-steel Haier appliances in the kitchen and laundry. “The kitchen is amazing,” says Ella. “I’ve even started cooking – it’s just pasta with oil and garlic but it’s cooking!”

The final result

Although the new house has a smaller floor area than the house they were renting, it feels airy and spacious because the open-plan living area links through huge sliding doors directly onto the deck overlooking the river. To create a seamless indoor-outdoor transition, the builders colour-matched the decking timber to the living area’s oak floorboards.

“It feels like one giant space,” says Oliver. “We love it – it feels and looks like a million dollars.”

While the build wasn’t without its stressful moments, Oliver and Ella are thrilled with the outcome. They’re enjoying getting to know the local community, and they love the comfort and convenience of a home built exactly to their specifications – a home where they can live happily ever after.

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