Most people come back from Italy with a few trinkets in their bags. In 2006 Katie and Quentin Ross returned with a container-load of materials for the Tuscan-style villa they were creating on their Ramarama property. "We wanted that rustic look we'd loved in Tuscany," says Katie, so back came tiles, antique doors and even a kitchen dresser.
The Italian treasures were added to the salvaged material Quentin had hoarded for years. His family is in the building trade, so demolition mates knew who to call. "I'd gone to look at some timber at the old Winstone Quarry," he recalls, "and came home with 22 massive roof trusses from the workshop".
The house was designed around those chunky trusses, with the 8m-long spans defining the generous proportions of the main living areas and bedrooms. Quentin knew heritage architect Jeremy Salmond would understand their brief - family living for three growing boys, with an Italian country feel and solid concrete construction. "He got it straight away," says Katie, although Quentin notes the builders needed coaching in rustic finishing.
"We had to show them books on Tuscan living before they got it."
Jeremy helped locate the perfect site on their 28ha property. North-facing, with views over covenanted bush and countryside, the site is sunny and sheltered. "We've always got somewhere to sit outside, no matter what the weather's doing," says Katie. The shuttered al-fresco dining area is a favourite year-round, off the enormous great room and open to views on three sides.
The Italian flavour begins on the curving drive, where olive trees follow the native bush and a Tuscan belvedere rises above the clay-tiled roof. Antique doors light the towering entry hall, separating the main wing from the boys' domain.
Textured terracotta floor tiles, salvaged timber beams and plastered walls add character to the great room, despite its generous proportions. Those massive trusses help define living and dining zones, and frame the schist fireplace in the adjoining den.
Katie notes that even in such a big house, people still gravitate to the granite-clad island. She designed the timber kitchen around the Italian dresser, finished with Bosch appliances and a butler's sink, with another in the adjacent scullery. "It's great for parties," she says. "We catered for 200 people at our house-warming." The timber and terracotta laundry nearby provides more useful storage, while Quentin's downstairs wine cellar is another Italian must-have.
With all those boys, Katie can escape to the spacious master suite. Framed by the trusses, the bedroom opens to a pergola-shaded terrace and more spectacular views. "I can sit in the tub with a glass of wine and admire the view," says Katie of the travertine-clad bathroom, off the walk-in wardrobe. The adjacent guest room, with its own bathroom, shares those views.
The boys' wing shelters a sunny pebbled courtyard at the rear of the house, complete with pergolas and grapevines. The boys can hang out in their own living room, and their three bedrooms open on to another shady terrace. The swimming pool (with changing room and space for a yet-to-be-installed sauna) is popular with friends, but not as popular as the motocross track below the terraced lawns.
Two bonus spaces complete the sheltered courtyard. A loft above the four-car garage could become an office or games room. Next to the boys' wing is a separate apartment, where Katie's parents enjoy an open-plan living space, sheltered sunny terrace and two more bedrooms.
The Ramarama property has been a special project, but the family are off to the South Island high country to create another dream.