Margaret Gillard laughs that she and her husband Colin made a great lifestyle swap 14 years ago when they moved to their cliff-top house just above Cheltenham from a farm on the edge of Hamilton. But it was not all about relaxing with those beach and island views.

"Colin left a few hundred cows behind, but he's not stopped working since we came here, it's not retirement," she says. "My parents had a property on Milford, and we used to come up to house sit for friends on Waiheke, so we wanted waterfront."

The couple were lucky: their masonry house on a promontory overlooking Cheltenham Beach is one of the few on the cliff with riparian rights. From the level front lawn, steps lead down through the pohutukawa to the black rocks.

At high tide, swimmers can launch themselves straight into the water. At low tide, walkers can make it around to Takapuna on the coastal route. Ever-busy Colin, who has worked his way around the house, tidied up the terracing and added steps down to the water, creating a barbecue table and seating spot as a shady stop off point en-route.

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The former master builder was impressed by the quality of the house, designed in the Italian style for its former Italian owner in a triple coated plaster block.

The soaring ceilings and open plan design were ideal for the couple, but Colin has worked his way through the spreading two-level house, updating the membrane and solar chem roofing, recapping the tiles and adding high quality lead parapets and copper cappings.

The house has been repainted inside and out, and he added automatic Louvretec roof to the sea-side pergola. The entrance courtyard to the house was transformed with new paving (made by Colin) to show off the modern planting and cedar security gate.

The biggest project was the kitchen overhaul, from the floor tiles up. Bella Cassita designers worked with Fyfe Kitchens. Super-glossy grey cabinets hide German-designed storage systems.

Appliances are a mix of Gaggenau and Bosch and include a hob, steamer and a teppanyaki plate that Margaret loves to use. There's a wide oven, combination microwave and oven and extra warming drawers.

The piano-shaped island was designed to move around so it can serve as a bar for parties. The new tiling was carried through the rest of the ground floor wet rooms and entrance.

The house was designed for large gatherings, with soaring ceilings to carry the surround sound and rooms that open to each other.

There's a covered outdoor dining room,a formal dining room and a casual breakfast nook in the kitchen. A family room's doors open to the lawn and the views, plus another more formal sitting room opens to a side courtyard.

The two formal rooms share a double-sided fireplace. All the spaces borrow light and views from each other to enhance the sense of space. Colin converted the downstairs bedroom to a sitting room for Margaret, including built-in media and bookshelves in the former closet, but has retained the doors if new owners want to return it to a guest bedroom.

Utility has not been forgotten, as the house includes a laundry, utility space and offices. The garage can comfortably fit three cars, and there's more gated parking for the boat, as well as a sunny yard for clothesline, veggies and flourishing citrus trees.

Upstairs the arrangement of open and closed spaces comes into its own. At the front of the house is a sitting room that houses Margaret's grand piano.

The master bedroom has a private deck and views stretch from Cheltenham Beach, across the east all the way to Musick Point and beyond, while Rangitoto and the gulf islands seem close enough to touch.

Margaret says that the four grandchildren call the other end of the house "the west wing", a great retreat when they visit with its large double bedrooms and family bathroom.

There is often a full house, but the couple has decided that it is time to move to something smaller. They are selling the generous home to move back to Waihi Beach, Margaret's family's beach since childhood and closer to their daughter.

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