English photographer John Lacey had a plan for a lifestyle change when he moved to Auckland four years ago.

He'd visited many years before as a backpacker, eventually realising his dream to emigrate and had begun looking at apartments and townhouses around the central city. But then he had an epiphany.

"I thought 'What did I come to New Zealand for?'" he says. "It wasn't for the city, it was the beaches. I began looking at all the beaches nearby and as far away as Beachlands, even across at Waiheke. But I loved the beaches up on the Whangaparaoa peninsula. They were just as nice, but land was much cheaper."

John's research led him to Gulf Harbour, with its regular ferries that could get him into the city in 50 minutes, and long term plans for the Penlink to provide alternative highways to spread traffic from the fast-growing area to relieve peak hour pressure on the single main road.


When he found a clifftop piece of land in the Eastern Boat Harbour, the beach extension of the original marina, he knew he'd found the plot for his build.

John has an interest in sustainable design, so wanted to create a house that gave him plenty of space and light, but on a compact footprint.

He worked with a friend completing her architecture qualifications to make the most of the sloping site.

A dramatic split-level, pitched roof house makes the most of the views to the south (the land abuts a reserve so the water views cannot be built out), but sliding glass doors and glass high in the eaves on the other side of the house flood the open plan living with northern sun.

John loves the vaulted ceilings (at their peak reaching 4.5m), using the changes in levels to create two separate living zones.

The spaces were designed for flexibility, meaning the three-bedroom/two-bath house could have a long life for a family.

One half with bedroom, bathroom and more plumbing already in place in the second bedroom, could be closed off to create a separate unit for granny or older kids.

The double garage at the front is separate from the house and with its own plumbing could become a work-from-home studio.

Up-specced insulation, double glazing and a central heat pump that vents through the house make this a low energy property.

The build was completed in six months - just in time for Christmas dinner last year.

John did the landscaping himself, lugging rocks to fill the gabion walls that terraced the formerly sloping site, adding planting so there is a sunny morning courtyard.

It is the sea-side of the house where the drama unfolds with long views of the bay and the hills behind rapidly filling out with new housing.

The kitchen has engineered quartz benches and a five-burner gas hob.

In the main bathroom, John's favourite touch was a slot window at the foot of the tub, giving the bather views across the water. The deck has already had a good workout as an entertaining space.

John loves walking down around the waterside to the cafes and restaurants on Hobbs Wharf. The cameraman has captured plenty of great shots of the views and the neighbourhood, reinforcing the sense of his decision to locate beachside.

But now, with one build under his belt, John and his girlfriend are keen to explore even more sustainable living.

He's selling up so they can work on a project building a completely energy-efficient house, possibly with a co-housing community - blending work and lifestyle in one.

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