Deborah McGechie clearly has salt water running in her veins. Born and bred in the eastern bays, she spent years sailing and crewing on international yachts. When her two daughters were school age, she finally persuaded husband John to live near the sea. Now they love being within smelling distance of St Heliers bay, watching the constant movement of clouds, ships and seagulls on the harbour.
It was the view that sold them 11 years ago when they first saw the house in miserable weather.
"The house was all brown," recalls Deborah. "It was so dark inside, all we could see was the view outside."
The shag pile carpet, dark timber and brick were typical of 1974 when it was built, as were the cathedral ceilings and cedar joinery. When they called in architect Bruce Elton, who worked for the original designers Mark-Brown Fairhead and Sang, he reckoned it showed hallmarks of an early Simon Carnachan concept.
The McGechies were certainly inspired by 21st century Carnachan in their brief for the renovation: a clean, bright, open space. "We opened up walls, but kept features like the tall entry windows and sculptural open-tread staircase," says Deborah.
The house was almost rebuilt, with new roofing, plumbing, wiring, central heating and insulation bringing it up to modern standards. Outside, the brick was painted white and the cedar protected by steely grey paint for a fresh, contemporary look.
From the drive, the pitched roof, 70s porthole window, and details like the stainless-steel rails signal the nautical setting. When guests climb those open-tread stairs (shag carpet now replaced with pale timber) the ever-changing harbour view is revealed. The open-plan living room's whitewashed cathedral ceiling leads the eye down to the water. "Even at night it's lovely sitting by the fire watching the city lights," says Deborah, who loves the view from her kitchen, too. "I can have a glass of wine and cook dinner watching the Waiheke ferry," she says. She's cooked professionally, and the kitchen may be a bit bigger than a boat's, but it's just as well detailed. Soft grey cabinets and a slim-line counter conceal the masterful storage expected from the Poggenpohl fit-out. A built-in sideboard provides even more storage and serving space on its marble counter.
Off the kitchen, a cosier media room with adjacent office gives family members space. A small south-facing deck pulls in cross breezes. "But everyone is drawn to the front decks and the view," admits Deborah, "so we extended them, linked with a bridge and stairs to the garden."
That clever planning also admits more northern sun downstairs. Two large bedrooms provide a spacious separate domain for the McGechies' daughters and their friends. They chose the brilliant blue tile in their bathroom to echo the pool, although outside there's another toilet and shower for swimmers.
Downstairs also houses a generous laundry, and room for several cars and the boat. John used to cycle to work in the city, so they can store their bike collection, plus have a man cave for him. The spot-lit boardwalks and native plantings around the fireplace patio and heated swimming pool continue the nautical theme, although the well-drained lawn, citrus orchard and vege beds are more for landlubbers.
Upstairs, Deborah and John can retreat to their sunny master suite. A second bedroom was originally a nursery, sharing the mesmerising view with another balcony off the master bedroom. The retro porthole window lights the walk-in wardrobe, but smoky Spanish tile replaced brown mosaic in the refurbished bathroom and separate toilet. The McGechies may be downsizing now, but they'll never be far from the sea.By Joanna Smith