8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst
8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst

If you're wanting to transform a gloomy 1970s house on one of Cheltenham's prettiest streets, you could do no better than call on a team of three creative people to turn it into one of the stand-out properties in the neighbourhood.

English couple Steve and Vonney Gravelle - he, until recently, owned a multi-country graphic design agency, she is a well-known artist and ceramicist - teamed with top heritage architect Jeremy Salmond to give the dated house a makeover.

The couple had arrived in Auckland over 20 years ago with three youngsters in tow.

"We stopped first in Mt Eden, but then realised that the point of being in Auckland was to be near the sea," says Steve.

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"This was not a pretty house, seventies brick, but we bought it for the location. The sea is right here, and it's such a lovely beach, the best in Auckland."

The couple learned that the site of their house had originally been a villa built immediately after World War I, the twin of the house over the road.

But rather than re-build a wooden villa, they briefed Salmond Reed Architects to give the house a nod to the European influence of beach-side houses they'd seen around the Pacific, particularly French Polynesia.

The resulting plaster facade, with its steel windows and soft green shutters, and ornate plaster trims is not far removed from the facades of some of the shops in neighbouring Vauxhall, albeit on a grander scale.

8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst
8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Gravel courtyards and Mediterranean planting enhance the effect.

The old house was stripped back to the ground and rebuilt within the existing footprint in double-thickness of plaster on the front, timber on the back.

Jeremy updated the pitch on the main gable of the building, adding a charming curved roof on the former side wing.

Steve points out that the family motto gracing the facade - Justus et Tenax (justice through tenacity) - was a handy reminder as they wended their way through heritage requirements and detailing.

But the couple were determined to bring every part of their vision to life, sourcing steel windows that opened inwards and pushing out low concrete sills for easy access as they do in France, sheathing the side of the house in wide-board traditional siding, adding shutters indoors and out and fine steel balustrades on the juliet balcony, fence panels and stair case.

Their nod to the seaside location includes a couple of porthole-style windows punched into the thick walls, while glass artists created leadlight feature windows for a couple of spaces.

A re-paint of the interior has updated the colours to smokey greys, pastels and neutrals.

The couple had three boys (they were 7 and twins of 6 at the time), so the house was not just about formal adult-only good looks.

Jeremy organised the house into three zones, two on the ground floor, bedrooms above.

8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst
8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst

The wide side-entrance door gives on to a generous hallway paved in a chequerboard of dark and light sandstone (the light stone is repeated on the back patio) with handsome curved stair to the bedroom floor.

The more formal front zone of the house does double duty as a self-contained suite when grandparents visit from Britain, but when the Murphy bed is folded back into its panelled cupboard, the room is mostly used as a sitting room.

With doors to the sunny front courtyard and fireplace, is it is a gracious room. A cunning hidden door lets into the mosaic-tiled bathroom.

This side of the house also has a tiny study for paying bills, a well-equipped laundry that lets on to the side garden. Its mud-room shelves recycle the only bit of the old house the couple kept, cedar beams.

With sons who were avid readers, in two of the bedrooms Vonney designed a built-in box bed (with a second pull-out mattress for sleepovers) surrounded by shelves, every child's (or grown-up reader's) dream.

She also worked with a craftsman cabinet maker for the built-in closets and desks throughout the house, ship shape and charming in a series of pale colours.

Vonney and Steve were insistent that the house had the right blend of old and new, so the front of the house is all about modern, within the pleasing old-school proportions.

The kitchen, up two steps from the rest of the casual living and dining space so that the cook is not cut off from guests, mixes cool terrazzo benches, stainless steel trims and pantry door, and bleached wood cabinets with floors of recycled kauri, old-school farmhouse sink and taps and an industrial-sized Falcon cooker tucked into a chimney.

Salmond placed small windows above the bench for light, but privacy from neighbours, inserted a striking chocolate brown and stainless steel banquette for the dining space.

8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst
8 Arawa Avenue, Cheltenham, Auckland. Photo / Ted Baghurst

French doors open to a steel-framed courtyard (the ancient grape has recently been removed for misbehaviour, new owners can choose their own vine, laughs Steve) with sandstone benches leading to the only remnant of the old garden, a glowing lemon tree.

Stepping stones lead to the garage on the back of the lawn that lets on to a driveway on next door cul-de-sac, Rata Rd.

It fits two cars, as well as a workshop, but until recently the plywood-lined garage and next door living room was Vonney's studio.

She's moved now to a bigger studio, but the space would make a great rumpus room (it has a bar sink) for non artists. There was room beside for kayaks and the family beach toys.

Upstairs are three bedrooms. The master bedroom, with its lofty ceilings, and charming Juliet balcony overlooks the sea.

The en suite has a porthole window and custom terrazzo sink bench. The back corner bedroom, with another built-in box bed, is perched high enough that its owner could get a porthole-framed glimpse of the sea.

A third large double bedroom has garden and tree views. The family bathroom includes a claw-foot tub and there is a separate loo.

The immaculate renovation gave the family the right blend of modern and traditional, creative and formal, adult and kid-friendly.

But with kids gone, and a larger studio being renovated for work and living, Vonney and Steve are selling their beach-side home and moving city-side.

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