Kristen Kiely wishes she could wrap up her house and take it to her family's new life in Australia. When she and husband Anthony moved down from Whangarei two years ago, they thought this was their forever house.
They'd hunted for months for a country place, big enough for their boxer Spike but close to town where their teenage daughters were in school. The 4-year-old house near Kumeu village ticked all the boxes.
But now both daughters are in Australia and Anthony is already in Queensland, so they are leaving their "little palace". They know they'll struggle to replicate the sunny family house, entertainers' courtyard and pool set on 1ha of land. Kristen loves the privacy and the community. "We can't see the neighbours but they're close enough to pop over," she says.
Anthony's hospitality must have rivalled the nearby Riverhead Tavern, with his in-house games and media room, complete with traditional pool table. The 90-year-old Barton McGill table is his pride and joy, but sadly must be left behind. When their daughters were home, the games room was nearly as popular as the courtyard's solar-heated pool that saw action from October to April (or the spa pool in cooler months).
The U-shaped house worked well for many generations. The north-facing open-plan living area at the core of the house opens on to the generous central courtyard, enclosed by the two bedroom wings. The living area's sloping ceiling continues outdoors, forming a sheltered pergola. "We've had some awesome parties out here", says Kristen. "Even as early as Halloween we had 75 people all over the courtyard."
Inside, the kitchen's central granite island became a massive cocktail bar for the girls' parties. The turquoise glass splashback provides a pop of colour that echoes the swimming pool outside. Even though the house was nearly new, Kristen admitted it needed a bit of "titivating" and she worked with a consultant on a soothing colour palette based on the smoky-coloured carpet and kitchen joinery.
Climate control was also important. Kristen appreciates the slim aluminium louvres for secure cross-ventilation. "We can come home in summer and the house has stayed fresh."
They added heat pumps and ducted heating, as well as solar blinds on the walls of sliding doors and high windows. Cosy under-floor heating was also included in the bathroom upgrades.
Sunlight pours into both the bedroom wings. The master suite, off the games room, opens out to the courtyard - handy for cooling dips in the morning and night. The dark-toned feature wall shields the walk-in wardrobe and bathroom, which has been refitted with glamorous dark stone tiles.
The second bedroom wing also opens on to the courtyard, providing swimmers' access to another refitted bathroom and separate toilet. The largest bedroom opens on to the pool, and a neat kitchenette hidden in the wardrobe makes it ideal for guests or granny.
The other two double bedrooms have soothing views over the neighbour's paddocks, shared with a separate study.
The internal-access double garage is near the laundry and another piece of boy heaven - the "sound room" that controls the indoor and outdoor speaker system. Anthony added a couple more out-buildings for his other boys' toys, too. A free-standing double garage in the front of the house blends with the extensive collection of palm trees and Japanese-style pebble gardens.
Beyond the fenced pool courtyard, another large shed provides workshop and storage.
The cow that grazed the sloping land down to a stream has already gone to the neighbours. Boxer Spike is going with them, but sadly Kristen can't take the beloved house when she rejoins her family in Queensland.