Auckland artist Melanie is enthusiastic about her suburb, Onehunga, a place she says is often overlooked. As a child, she and her family left England for Auckland, settling in Hillsborough. Nearby Onehunga was where they did their shopping. Years later and after living out of Auckland for some time, Melanie decided Onehunga was where she wanted to be.
"I was comfortable coming back here. It's part of my history." She likes the fact Onehunga is one of Auckland's oldest suburbs, with an eclectic mix of housing that includes modern homes, villas and ex-state houses. "A very egalitarian suburb" is how she describes it.
Nine years ago, Melanie bought a property with an ex-state house on it in Hardington St, an address that appealed because of its lack of in-fill housing. At 690sq m, Melanie and her neighbours' sections were good sizes, but were too small to subdivide.
She rented out the little house there and rented herself an apartment. But with the youngest of her children still a teenager at home, Melanie had a hankering for a house with a garden. After looking around unsuccessfully for a house to buy and live in, she decided to build in Hardington St.
When Melanie was invited to a get-together at a house designed by Nicholas Stevens and Gary Lawson of Stevens Lawson, she knew they were the right architects for her.
"It was their attention to detail and use of materials," she recalls.
Her brief was for a house with three bedrooms, a studio for her to paint in, plus a design that reflected her admiration for Japanese aesthetics. "But it's really their design," she says. "I think when you employ somebody, an artist; you compromise them and their style if you say too much. Let them be creative."
She points out how the house steps down, not revealing itself all at once. "It looks small from the street and I like the surprise of how the house opens up. It's an unexpected surprise, really." Although there's plenty of space, rooms in the house feel intimate in scale and are well-defined. "They're not huge and cavernous. I didn't want a big barn of a house," she says.
Elements of the design include subtly faceted and twisted "origami" ceilings. Skylights throughout admit natural light, while dark-stained timber and concrete provide a neutral palette with texture. The house does lend itself to a mix of furniture, with Melanie and her partner's mix of Art Deco, 1950s and French antique pieces. Their wonderful art is also throughout the house.
Downstairs, gas fires warm two distinct, but connected, living rooms, both of which flow on to outdoor living areas.
The cosy sitting room with red velvet curtains is a great place to curl up with a book, while the main living area features a sunken, built-in leather sofa.
Melanie's studio is off to one side of the entrance hall. With plenty of built-in storage and plumbed-in with a sink, this room could be a fourth bedroom, office or teenage zone.
The kitchen, with timber cabinets and honed terrazzo and stainless steel benchtops, caters well for Melanie's love of cooking. Nearby are a separate laundry and a powder room.
Upstairs, the master bedroom opens on to a glass-balustrade balcony. There is also a walk-through wardrobe and en suite with a bath. There are two further bedrooms, one of which Melanie's partner uses as his office, plus a main bathroom.
Outside, the garden is described by Melanie as her "little bit of paradise". Designed by landscaper Jacqueline Margetts, the lush sub-tropical garden provides complete privacy. After seven years here, Melanie and her partner are moving for family reasons.By Penny Lewis