Beth Harman can't remember how she ended up driving down Bradford St in Parnell, but her timing was impeccable.
It was 14 years ago. Beth took a wrong turn in the network of one-way streets behind Parnell Rd and ended up on a quiet narrow residential lane she hadn't known existed.
She saw a man putting up a for-sale sign outside a once-grand two-storey 19th century house. "It was just serendipitous," says Beth.
Beth and her partner Peter Grace weren't actively looking for a new house, but their 1950s Remuera cottage was getting too small for their blended family of five children, four of whom were still at home. They would often get up in the morning to find one of their sons sleeping on the couch, having been evicted during the night from the room he shared with his brother.
The house in Bradford St didn't look all that inspiring from the front, but Beth was curious. She reckons she was the only potential buyer who saw past the tired exterior and went inside.
It was still dressed in 1970s threads, including a shagpile carpet in an indescribable shade of dark yellow, but Beth recognised its potential.
It was bigger than it looked from the street
(a "tardis", she says), with four enormous bedrooms and a study upstairs, an elegant central hall and staircase, separate living spaces downstairs including a huge kitchen, and a west-facing courtyard and a small balcony to the east. Its size was emphasised by soaring ceilings and giant sash windows.
The layout didn't seem to have changed since it was built about 1890, though the wall between two of the living rooms, probably once a parlour and smoking room, had been knocked out and replaced with an archway.
Almost all of the house's charming original features had been preserved - a sweeping staircase, ornate pressed-tin ceilings, decorative cornices and mantelpieces, a clawfoot bath, four working brick fireplaces (including one outside that might once have been part of a scullery). Underneath the shagpile were wide kauri floorboards, and the walls were so solid that, as Beth and Peter later discovered, it was hard to get a nail into them.
Peter's first reaction was: "We can't afford another house." But then he went inside, and saw the same potential that Beth had.
So, with the blessing of a helpful bank manager, they bought it and gradually gave it
a makeover. It was in such good condition that only aesthetic changes were required - pulling up carpets and polishing floorboards, stripping and painting the walls, window frames and ceilings, repainting the exterior.
As they had hoped, it became a great, non-precious family home that spent the next decade or so chocka with kids.
The front door initially had a combination lock, and Peter and Beth reckon at one time every child in Parnell knew the code.
That doesn't happen so much these days - the combination lock has gone, and so have most of their kids. With one daughter left at home, just finished university, Peter and Beth have reluctantly decided it's time to downsize.
"I am a bit sad," says Beth, "but the house is not the same when it's not full of people. I feel like we're just rattling around. I love it, but I'm sure another family will love it just as much."By Bronwyn Sell