You get the impression that Ric and Michelle Little are a couple who know what they want. Six years ago, they spotted a property in Brewster Ave, a pretty, no-exit street backing on to Fowlds Park, but missed out. They liked the tree-lined street of bungalows because it was convenient to their workplaces and only a few minutes' walk to the Kingsland railway station. When a tiny Art Deco-style house came on the market, the couple snapped it up without even stepping inside.
"We didn't need to look because we just wanted the full section, we knew that we were going to change everything," admits Ric. "The house was tiny, but we wanted to build new and big. We've done a few houses, but this was going to be our "forever house"."
Ric and Michelle now have the chance to develop some land in the Kaipara, so are trading in for a city pad and a country dream. But a lucky buyer will know that every detail was sweated over at the Brewster Ave property. The hard work began with multiple re-drafts of their plan in order to satisfy council planners, working with architectural designer Craig Ashby around the requirements of the heritage street.
Michelle and Ric persisted with what they wanted: modern, with a good-sized double garage on the street. In 2010, they were able to start work on the property.
The plan essentially wraps two modern wings around the original cottage: a large double garage and media room on the front of the house, a large kitchen, dining and family room, plus the master suite on the back. They re-levelled the section, taking out some 600 tonnes of rock and they can point out the tail end of the Mount Albert lava flow in their back yard. Some was used to terrace their garden, the rest carted away to make walls around Eden Park. The tiny original garage was reinforced with new concrete block walls, insulation and a concrete floor to house wine dealer Ric's cellar. The rest of the house was wrapped in honed concrete block walls and insulated concrete floors, and what little remains of the original house was insulated, rewired and replumbed.
The Littles carefully restored the parts of the old house that did remain -- polishing the golden timber floors, reusing some of the Deco light fittings, turning the former kitchen into a butler's pantry equipped with dishwasher, sink, and floor-to-ceiling storage. Ric's second pride and joy is the original glazed brick fireplace, scrupulously dismantled and rebuilt by a master bricklayer for the second living room. They love the raw brick surfaces for their warm, stone-like feeling of warmth.
The hallway has been opened up to a height of four metres, with clerestory windows drawing light into the middle of the house. The old entrance and small bedrooms are now three good-sized double bedrooms and a family bathroom.
But it is at the back of the house, known affectionately as "the apartment" where the Littles do most of their living. Kitchen designer Lynn Plom created a slick kitchen with huge breakfast bar, loads of clever storage and, of course, a wine fridge for Ric. Giant bifold doors slide back to the deck and sunny terraced garden for summer, while in winter the sliding shoji door closes off this space from the rest of the house, creating a warm retreat. The large sunny master bedroom has plenty more storage in its closet and bathroom. The garden is big enough for a shed on the shady side and a big vege garden and citrus orchard on the sunny side.
The couple have loved living in the neighbourhood, with many places in easy walking distance and the sounds of the zoo and Western Springs' concerts when the wind is right, plus the friendliness of the other households on the street. But it's easy to imagine that their new country project will be just as well planned and executed.