Chris Moller had some very big questions for George and Yvonne Hilgeholt when he first heard about their Nelson building plans.

Mostly, the Grand Designs NZ host wanted to know, why would you do this?

"Why on earth would you build right next to a busy main road on a tidal estuary with the risk of rising sea levels, then paint the whole thing black?" asked Moller.

George, a retired triathlete and architect, and Yvonne, a nurse, had moved from Auckland to retire in Nelson and planned to build a 300 square metre home on a flood-prone site that they spotted during a drive to Motueka.


"On the way there we saw this site. There were a number of issues that made it really challenging to say, 'Well, could you build a house here?'" explained George.

"I saw it as a challenge."

Their plan to build a "dream retirement home" included three relocatable pavilions, giant decks, a large garage, corrugated steel roofing, ecologically friendly insulation, and shelter from nearby road noise.

It needed 90 wooden piles to be driven into the ground to keep the house clear of potential rising sea levels, and pavilions that could be chain sawed apart and put on trucks for relocation should rising tides prove to be too much.

But it was the Hilgeholts' plans to paint the whole thing black - including walls and ceilings - that really threw Moller.

"It's all starting to sound a little dark," questioned Moller. "Why black?"

"It's kind of experimental. I've lived in those colours before," said George. "Because of the volume of space I can see this working quite nicely. We also love art and art presents itself quite nicely with a black backdrop.

"The project will show us, in the end."

Moller was still questioning when he went to see the finished home.

"The question is, will it be a beautiful, peaceful home, or a noisy black box? A black brooding shed, or a really elegant home?"

The finished product proved the pair's original all black plans had been toned down, with coloured decorative walls, shades of red, plenty of art and timber around the windows.

"I love it and I'm really happy with it," said Yvonne, who revealed the home and had come in slightly over their budget of $550,000 at $572,000.

Still, Moller had one final question for them to answer: "Isn't it too black?"

"Black's not the problem..." explained Yvonne.

George finished her thought: "It's the highlight."