This grand English-style estate stemmed from its owners' desire for a great lifestyle for their kids, somewhere where they could easily land a helicopter.
John and Dianne McMullen, who are in the lock and security industry, found Birkenhead getting too urban for their liking as it grew in the mid-90s. They felt this large cache of land, 5km from old Albany Village, would nurture their two daughters and two sons. It borders the upper reaches of the Waitemata Harbour and its approach enables long-time pilot John to land a helicopter. "There's nowhere quite like this place," John says of their home of more than 13 years.
"It's so quiet and private. The kids have had a ball growing up here."
A stint living in England inspired the couple to ask architectural designers Whiteacre & Associates for a brick home, reminiscent of English countryside houses.
Gardens by landscape designer Gary Boyle meld formal touches with lush native bush.
Westthorn House was named after John's grandmother's Glaswegian family home.
The house is secreted away down a long shared driveway, its grounds enlarged with land bought off neighbours. Lush green Boston ivy meanders up the home's handmade-brick exterior. A chandelier from Harrods reigns over the soaring entry foyer. A sinuous staircase rises from its floors of fossilised stone and French oak.
The six-strong family, its two dogs, two cats and guests can spread out across six-plus living areas, including one with kitchenette which can alternately be a home-office suite. Living flows outdoors easily.
"You can lose 200 people in here, no problem at all," says John.
An informal dining/family room/kitchen has a Miele appliance suite, a walk-in pantry and, just for whimsy, a couple of pennies embedded in the polyurethane sealing its timber floors. Keen cook Dianne loves the formal dining room, which has hosted many great get-togethers.
The scale of the home and premium materials and fittings, such as interior shutters and window latches specially cast in bronze, create an elegant atmosphere. But John reckons they've enjoyed quite a relaxed lifestyle, with frequent entertaining and the kids' friends always welcome. The ground level also has a laundry, under-stair wine cellar and utility room off the garage.
Upstairs, the luxurious master suite includes a sitting area, big en suite, walk-in-wardrobe and balcony overlooking Lucas Creek. There's another balcony off the self-contained guest suite with lounge/kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. A four-bedroom children's wing with bathroom includes a TV snug. Uppermost is a fairy-tale turret with 360-degree views.
The outdoor entertaining area with pergola and clipped hedges centres on a heated infinity pool. Guests had to "walk the plank" over it if they arrived at a pirate-themed party not in costume. An atmospheric stand-alone wine cellar secured with a prison gate (left over during a Mt Eden Prison upgrade) holds 2000 bottles.
A garage with a kitchen in the lower grounds bolsters internal-access triple garaging and accommodates caterers brilliantly during parties. Other outdoor features include a big lawned "garden room" culminating in a beautiful fountain, in-hedge speakers and a 170m well supporting garden irrigation systems. The kids used a track down to the water to launch dinghies and jet skis.
But the children have grown up, so the couple is looking forward to building a new home.By Sandra Goodwin