Julia Drake and her husband, Neil Higgins, moved to New Zealand from the UK nearly nine years ago so their house-hunt, two years later, had one non-negotiable.

"One of my 'must-haves' was a water view," says Julia.

"The kids were aged 6 to 12 at the time, and they kind of outgrew the original house, but we could make changes as we went along."

The couple are not sure when the house was built, but by the time they'd finished a series of renovations - the last only last year - the entire property was transformed.


The only thing that didn't change was the view beyond neighbouring houses to the water of the upper Waitemata Harbour and the bush reserves of Lucas Creek. There are pockets of greenery all around the neighbourhood, but Julia says the swimming and spa pools they put in during renovations are what has kept their kids and their friends amused.

Now, with two offspring about to leave home - one to university, the other to launch a professional football career - Julia and Neil have decided to try something new and are planning a move to Mt Maunganui. But they'll miss their city-fringe spread, with the generous array of living and play rooms and loads of space to host up to 100 people for their annual New Year's parties.

As well as refinishing the exterior of the original house - including adding stylish stacked-stone walls and pillars front and back - the Higgins tweaked the floor plan to work better for their big family. Off the spacious split-level entry lobby, they closed off a sitting snug to make an office for Julia, who runs a social media business from home.

The kitchen received a total refurbish under Neil's direction. The brief was for warm and handcrafted finishes, including a striking brown granite for the island bench and similarly toned reconstituted stone for the remaining benches.

A tiny former office was converted to a walk-in pantry, with traditional basket drawers and panelled cupboards that complement the panelled kitchen cabinetry.

Wide-plank flooring in washed ash colours creates the relaxed beachy feel for family living. The living room has a fireplace and doors that slide back to the new deck with outdoor fireplace.

This floor includes a guest loo, bathroom and two of the six bedrooms, each with views to courtyard gardens.

Upstairs are two more kids' bedrooms, each with attractive views of trees or sea, an en suite and a stylish family bathroom. Julia's refurbishment included smart oak vanities to update the original fittings and a colour scheme that includes splashes of her favourite wallpapers. ("It's the English thing, I love papers," she says)

At the other end of the house is a second flight of stairs to the master suite - including a vast bedroom with water views and a small snug for Neil's television room. There is plenty of storage and a light-filled en suite bathroom.

Below this is the major transformation of the house: the original double garage was converted to a huge sitting room, which Julia uses for work events when the kids aren't commandeering it with their friends. Like the main sitting room, it has a gas fireplace.

Julia fitted in a huge utility room, with its own boot closet, that joins the old part of the house with the big new double garage. It is carpeted and, she admits, is more used for kids' parties (it's next to the pool) and boat storage than cars.

The neighbourhood is one of winding avenues and large tree-covered properties, but is only minutes from the Northern and Northwestern Motorways, with shopping in both directions and an array of schools to choose from.

While the Higgins are choosing a new life surf-side, a lucky Auckland family will get the serenity of harbour and parks - and the benefit of all their hard work.

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