Hundreds of people have lived in Jon and Liz Brown's Stanley Point villa at some point.

The Browns know that for sure because many have knocked on the door and shared their memories during the nine years the couple and their children have been in residence.

The villa was built in 1876 as a farm cottage - the first dwelling in the immediate area - and it was extended in 1905. Over the years it was a boarding house and possibly, by some accounts, even "a house of disrepute".

When the Browns first saw it, it was in four flats, occupied by Navy staff. According to Liz, its condition was dire.


"It had taken five visits with the agent before we finally made sense of the house, as it was so knocked about and convoluted, but eventually its potential looked clear to us," says Liz.

The British-born couple, who moved to New Zealand in 2006 seeking a carefree upbringing for their family, were looking for a project after their second son Harry had spent almost three years in Starship Hospital, and this looked like a challenge to relish.

And was it?

"Yes, absolutely."

Liz says that everything they've done has been carefully considered as part of a bigger picture, and it hasn't been without its dramas.

"We nearly didn't settle on the set date because no insurer would touch a house that had scrim on all the walls, as it was a fire hazard - and, without insurance, the bank wouldn't advance the mortgage."

A compromise was reached and the hessian was pulled off almost immediately, but the roof was long past its best-by date, too.

Liz and John have memories of sitting on the sofa, worn out from building work, drinking wine and watching a movie, while holding umbrellas to keep the rain off.

The roof was replaced and then rebuilding the interior could begin. On the main floor, the children's generous double bedrooms came first, and three have already been completed to the highest standard, with tall ceilings, freshly re-polished kauri floorboards, and crisp, white shutters.

Ellie, 14, does ballet so her room features a huge mirror and a barre. Billy, 12, has a carefully restored fire surround and fireplace in his, while Harry, 9, and Charlie, 5, also have big, bright spaces.

Charlie's room is potentially the site of a new master suite, as it has a bathroom next door meaning the plumbing is in place for an en suite.

In Jon and Liz's plans, the kitchen (a cute, yellow monument to the 1960s) would be incorporated into an expanded dining and living area, with a new kitchen created at the other end of this level, currently occupied as a rental. All the building work has been done with this in mind.

Downstairs has been completed and is Jon and Liz's domain with a huge open plan bedroom with walk-in wardrobe/media space, plus a kitchenette and smart, modern bathroom with double shower.

The idea was that this would or could become the self-contained legal flat when the current one is made part of the second level again.

As if all this space and potential isn't enough, there's another room, on a third level that opens on to its own deck.

This could be turned into a fantastic rooftop garden, enjoying views across Devonport, and beyond.

"We said we'd give it 10 years and we've achieved a huge amount in that time," Liz said. "Almost all of the fundamentals are in place, and the next owner just needs to put their own stamp on the house while finishing it off."

The Browns have decided that their children are at the age of needing more family time and they'd all like to travel more, so they're moving on.

When living in New York they witnessed the 9/11 atrocity and Liz says it taught them that life is precious and time can be limited.

They know that they are leaving a great legacy and would love to come back in a few years, knock at the door, admire the beautiful, finished house, and say: "We used to live here!"

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