Cassie Smith didn't need to get out of her car to know she'd found the perfect home for her family while house-hunting five years ago. One look at the outside of a beautiful Mt
Eden villa was enough for her to fall in love.
Cassie and husband Greg had returned with their three children to live in New Zealand after 15 years in London, and while they were on the other side of the world, Cassie had had a clear picture in her mind of the Kiwi home she wanted for her family.
"This place was exactly what I had imagined when we were in London. I wanted a villa with lots of character and space, and a big garden for the children," she says. "Over there we'd lived in confined spaces with a tiny garden, so having that was important to me."
Greg had the same criteria, plus he wanted to live somewhere that was an easy journey to his job in the city. "I used to commute for an hour and a quarter each way in London, so this house was ideal because it is just a 10-minute drive to work."
The square front villa, built around 1880, has a large north-facing front garden behind a picket fence. Long-established trees include a persimmon and a stately coral tree, and the expansive lawn has provided plenty of space for children Maddy, Mackenzie and Harry to run around.
Previous owners had given the house a major overhaul some time ago, and were careful to preserve its lovely old heritage features, such as the sash windows, board and batten ceilings and kauri floors, while sympathetically updating it throughout. They added an extension on the side of the house, creating a large open plan kitchen, dining and living room with bifold doors opening out to a big paved patio.
"We spend a lot of time out here in the summer, and it's been great for entertaining," says Cassie.
The designer kitchen fits in perfectly with the rest of the house. It has black granite benchtops and a big central island that people tend to gravitate to.
There's plenty of storage and work top space, a plus for keen baker Cassie. "I've got a lot of kitchen stuff, and there's room for it all," she says.
On the other side of an original fireplace by the dining area is a second living room that also opens out to the patio. Greg and Cassie had the dark red walls re-painted cream to lighten up this space and match the rest of the living areas.
A traditional wide hallway with original wood paneling runs the length of the house and off to the right are Mackenzie and Harry's bedrooms and the family bathroom, which features a clawfoot bath and a striking black and white painted floor.
The master bedroom at the rear of the house has a French country-style en suite and a new deck that Greg - previously a DIY novice - built himself.
"I've got pretty good at DIY since we've lived here," he says.
Also at the back of the house is an internal flight of stairs leading down to the double garage and Maddy's bedroom, which has an en suite and a small kitchenette that has been used as an office.
This would make ideal accommodation for extended family members or an au pair.
Also downstairs, and accessed from the garden, is a large man cave where Greg has honed his DIY skills.
While the house is perfect as it is, there is scope for expansion. Subject to council permission, there is room to go up into the steeply pitched roof, and the man cave under the house could also be turned into a liveable space with internal access.
The Smiths have decided they'd like a lifestyle change and are planning on moving close to a beach.
"We'll miss this place though," says Greg. "It has been the ideal family home, and we couldn't have found better."