Stanley Bay is one of those corners of Auckland where you think you know the main lay of the land - Devonport further around, ferry at the end of the street, no through traffic. But then you swing off to one of the pretty tree-lined avenues into a whole secret world. You are not surprised that Philip and Sue Letcher have lived in their house in this neighbourhood for a rare-for-Auckland 45 years. It would be hard to find a more appealing corner of the city.
"We bought the house in 1969, just before we were married," explains Sue. "It was divided into flats - one upstairs, one down - so that was how we afforded to buy in here."
"I knew the area because some of the Group houses had been in the area," says Philip, who, with Sue, has run a lighting import business from their home.
The couple vaguely recall paying a heart-stopping $15,000 for the property, so tenants helped the young family afford the mortgage.
When their first child was 18 months old, they called on young new architects Marshall Cook and Terry Hitchcock to restore the house. That was in 1972 but, apart from tastes in kitchen style (it is only semi-opened to the casual living and dining room, rather than today's fully open plan), their design is timeless. The kitchen is still very handsome with shaker-style timber cabinets, stainless steel and granite benches.
It is easy to see the roots of the duo's classical touches that would go on to feature in many a design magazine through the 1970s and 80s to today. The Letchers still have the first architect's sketches - charmingly hand drawn - that show the inviting family spaces that follow the sun around the house.
Fortunately, the oregon timber stairs, architraves and many of the doors and cupboards were not damaged when the house was in flats, so much of the work was restoring the gracious proportions of the 1926 Arts and Crafts style.
The asymmetric front porch and lobby open to the dramatic panelled stairwell and double doors to the formal living room.
This space, and the adjoining dining room, had been chopped into bedrooms, but the family is pretty sure the folding doors that now join the two would have been there in the original house.
The architects added a brick fireplace to the living room which echoes the dining room's original inglenook fireplace. They enclosed a sun porch to make a sunny afternoon sitting room while, upstairs, a sun room on the same footprint is a fourth bedroom with treetop views. The architects married modern sliding doors with the proportions of the old ceiling beams, so the room has a pleasing rhythm.
The formal dining room still had its inglenook fireplace and window seat, and the architects' modern cabinets match the sturdy original servery between kitchen and dining room.
Sue recalls with a shudder the muddle of kitchens, sculleries and wash house they transformed into a sunny, welcoming kitchen and family room, a real heart of the home, flooded with morning sun through French doors. Utility rooms and a guest loo complete the ground floor.
It is the grounds of the house that really speak of a more gracious era. The Letchers added a pool in 1981, completing it with a charming pool house. They added a large double garage in 1989, lining both outbuildings and equipping them as offices from which they could run their business.
Sue says she is not a gardener; she just likes thing tidy, but a good eye has created the delightful series of garden "rooms", transitioning from large stone pavers to pergola and decks, formal and informal planting (and a sweet potager vege garden). The sweep of front lawn and mature trees completes the picture of old England.
Naturally, when a family has grown up in this house, it is also filled with memories - two of their three daughters' weddings, 21st birthdays, summer after summer of kids and friends around the pool. Across the road is a path to the neighbourhood's real secret - a tiny beach aptly called Secret Cove. Schools, ferry and tennis clubs are minutes away.
But the couple are moving on from their business and realise it is time to downsize. They'd love another young family, albeit with slightly more than $15,000 in their budget, to get the same joy in this house as they have had.