"The builder even offered Awen a job as a project manager."
"It's a great place to sit around with the boys and have a few beers."
Awen Guttenbeil is a man of many talents. Best known for his skills on the rugby league field, the former Warrior and Kiwi star is now making a name for himself as a broadcaster for Sky TV.
But he also has another ability that comes as a surprise to many people -- he's got an excellent eye for design, and has been responsible for several stunning home makeovers.
The latest has seen an 1880s Grey Lynn villa transformed into a stylish house that still has all the character of a period home but has been updated for 21st century living.
"We do get a lot of compliments when people come to the house, and I think they are surprised when they realise that I've done it," says Awen, who always wanted to be an architect when he was at school. "I enjoy the whole process, from initially seeing the potential in a place to coming up with the concepts that maximise that potential."
With this house, he was involved at every stage, from "doodling" a layout a draughtsperson turned into plans, through to becoming an unpaid labourer, painter and landscaper, as well as the project manager, once building work started.
"The builder even offered him a job as a project manager," laughs Awen's wife Tash. "He's got a real talent for everything to do with design and building. And he's meticulous."
Awen could see that the Ariki St house, which the couple bought four years ago, had great bones. He wasn't put off by problems like a collapsing retaining wall, and when he realised there was an opportunity to make the most of a view from the rear of the home across Grey Lynn to the Waitemata Harbour, he was immediately sold on the house.
"You could just see a little peep of the sea from a small deck, and that convinced me," says Awen. "I knew that if we pushed out the back of the house we would end up with something magic."
The Guttenbeils lived in the house for a year before starting renovation work, during which time they got a feel for how it would best work for them and their children, Mila and Niko.
"The important things for me are getting everything to flow, and be in proportion," says Awen. "And getting in as much light as possible is also really crucial. That's why it was good to live here for so long to understand how the sun falls."
Awen's designs included adding an extension on the rear of the house that created space for a new living, dining and kitchen area, and digging down so another floor could be built underneath the extension. The front of the building is basically original. Leading off the long central hallway is a master bedroom with an en suite and walk-in wardrobe, the children's bedroom, a family bathroom and what used to be the lounge, but is now used as an office.
The new extension merges seamlessly with the original house, and is where the family spends most of its time. It's extremely light and bright, thanks to two walls of glass stacker doors that open to a loggia, and three large windows.
The streamlined kitchen has plenty of cupboard space, a gas oven and a striking black central island, and there's also a separate scullery with lots of shelving -- and a chute to the laundry below.
"Actually, I put it in for me -- I'm the one who'd end up carrying the laundry downstairs all the time," he says.
The living and dining areas get the view, and easy access out to the loggia.
Awen made the staircase that leads downstairs a feature of this part of the house, rather than tucking it away behind a wall. "Because the living areas upstairs are not connected to the back garden I wanted the staircase to invite you downstairs," he explains. "People might think it is a waste of space but I wanted it to feel as if you are being drawn down and outside."
The lower level of the house has a living room that opens out to the back garden, along with two bedrooms, a bathroom and the laundry.
Awen made sure he got one of the things on his wishlist -- an outdoor kitchen with a built-in barbecue and drinks fridge. "It's a great place to sit around with the boys and have a few beers," he says.
The expansive patio is ideal for parties, and the flat back garden is surprisingly big for a city home. "It's 200sq m and we thought about putting in a pool, but I wanted the kids to have a garden to run around in like I had when I was their age," says Awen.
He's now itching to tackle another project. "Given the parameters of what we could do with a heritage building, I think we have maximised this place. Now I want to do it all again!"