Buying a pair of dated 1960s brick and tile units in the early 2000s was not as mad as it may have seemed to some of Grant Leach's friends.
The building was perched on the cliff-top on the Herne Bay edge of Coxs Bay, edged by huge pohutukawa. With sunset water views, the cool cafes and shops of Ponsonby an easy walk away, the location couldn't be beaten.
"I'd originally planned to renovate, but like most of these places, there would have had to be so many compromises, so we decided to start from scratch," says Grant.
"The brief was to reflect the boat houses down below, and have a pitched roof that fitted the heritage houses around us. No ultra-modern flat roof, but timeless. We didn't want someone to look at it in a few years and say 'that's very 2017'. It had to feel like a home, not a show home."
Six and a half years ago, when partner Judy Armour and her daughters, Charlie (now 15) and Jess (12), joined Grant at the property, the couple narrowed their brief to architects Jones Architects: a contemporary house that kept all the family living on one floor, that was in keeping with the coastal boat house-and-beach feel and made the most of the views through the pohutukawa.
While finishes and style were important, Judy, who manages building projects for a care facility, was as as much focused on the technical aspects of the build. As well as upgrading the obvious, such as driveways and stormwater drains on the site, which is tucked back on the quiet dead-end of Jervois Rd, engineers also inserted a palisade of 12m pillars to hold up the earth ("they joked we'd be down to China if we'd dug much further," says Judy).
The spreading pohutukawa were pruned and supported to hold up the cliff and frame the gorgeous views of the bay and beyond to the sunsets. Grant and Judy took their colour cues from the trunks — a washed cedar exterior with copper trims, board formed concrete feature walls and dark roof.
The double-glazed joinery is black, and indoors the floors in the living areas are washed in a similar beachy grey colour as the exterior.
Even the granites and stones used through the house reflect the colours outside — a striated one in the sitting room fireplace repeats the shapes of the distant hills and the sand when the tide is out.
Design took a couple of years, the build nearly two years, but the couple were determined to make everything top quality for their forever home.
They'd dreamed one day of escaping the city to Waiheke, but those plans have accelerated as a dream property came on the market recently. So they are selling their new-built home to create a new one on Waiheke.
"We built so that wherever you are in the house, you can see the trees and the sea," says Judy. "We put glass in the apex [of the dining room] to get tree top views, the skylight gives us sky. From our bedroom we can look across the courtyard through the living room doors to the sea. It's magic."
The house was designed in a simple u-shape with kitchen, dining and living rooms on the sea side, bedrooms on a second wing.
The couple had studied wind and sun patterns from the old building and built decks and grass of in the central yard so that there is a sheltered spot whatever the prevailing wind. It is now Judy's favourite spot for morning coffee.
The kitchen was designed as the hub of entertaining, with a central island for guests and family to congregate.
The couple specified a mix of materials to break up the space, including dark oak, pale timbers and white lacquer with a mix of white quartz, honed granite and stone splashback.
The two Gaggenau ovens are stainless steel, the fridge and dishwasher are integrated, and there's a wine fridge, too. Judy designed hideaways for the clutter — a butler's pantry on one side, a desk and family control centre on the other. Both have charming porthole windows to add to the boat-house vibe.
Two decks, one with a louvre roof, have space for dining and barbecue in the summer and behind a sliding wall is the cosy media room.
The bedroom wing of the house has three generous double bedrooms and a luxuriously fitted-out family bathroom (the solid stone bath tub took some lifting).
The master suite shares the sea views through the living room, and has well fitted closet and his 'n hers shower. Downstairs Grant and Judy made the most of the hillside to fit in a storage shed for boats and toys alongside the three-car garage.
There's a mirrored exercise room for Charlie's dance practising, and a sitting room with a deck beside the trees that's Grant's favourite spot for yoga.
Landscaping was designed to soften the house into the natural environment with stylish native planting, rocks and lighting. Shell steps lead down to the waterfront, where Grant and Judy have installed a dock to sit for evening drinks.
"This is such a private sanctuary, so close to the city," says Judy.