"If you've wondered what a labour of love looks like, this is it," says John Dowsett, as he remembers the scene that greeted him and wife Fiona Turner, when they first laid eyes on their double grammar-zoned Mt Eden property in 2012.
"It was a long, narrow section, on what had been a paper road, and there was a small, basic 1960s bach, surrounded by privet, bamboo and lots of rocks, mud and mosquitoes," he says. "There was certainly potential here, but developing it wasn't going to be easy."
Despite the dire state of the section, John and Fiona weren't fazed. They had built their successful South Auckland-based Butterfly Creek from scratch, after first meeting while working at Auckland Zoo, so they're not afraid of hard work.
John, Fiona and children James, 19 and Lily, 17, lived in the original bach while clearing and building went on around them. Parts of it are incorporated into the new house but so cleverly and seamlessly, you'd never know.
You'd also never know that behind the security gates the property begins with a stand-out garden, crammed with leafy, green subtropical plants and extensive garden lighting.
It featured in last year's Auckland Garden DesignFest and received high praise.
John is a trained landscape architect and the garden scheme was inspired by a family
holiday in Bali.
He oversaw the building of wide, tiered steps and decking, bamboo fences, rock walls, the pergola and the tiled, heated swimming pool, while Nick Robinson chose the plants, keeping in mind Auckland's warm humid climate and the fact that the site is well-sheltered.
Passing the double garage and the cabana, which has its own bathroom, the steps lead to the front door and a bright, airy atrium with soaring ceilings.
The combined kitchen and family dining room is huge with lots of cupboards and drawers.
"We held my 50th birthday party here at home and it was a great success," says Fiona.
"It proved that the house works well."
The family room that segues from the kitchen in the direction of the pool leads to a semi-outdoor lounge.
In the other direction, right at the back of the house, is the formal lounge opening out to the rear deck and private garden, which looks full and lush but mostly easy-care. The synthetic lawn always looks freshly mowed, whereas the giant oak tree has stood proudly for many decades.
"The kids are quite sporty so they spend a lot of time out here," says John.
Back inside, on the second floor are the four spacious bedrooms, including the master suite with wardrobe and en suite, which has nice neighbourhood views and plenty of space to relax.
Lily and James' bedrooms are also big and there's a spare room next to the roomy, main bathroom, which is tiled and enjoys an earthy colour scheme in keeping with the rest of the house.
Like so many couples in their age group, John and Fiona have realised they don't need this much space as their children prepare to leave home.
The idea of a smaller place and perhaps a beach house, too, has become appealing.
With new carpet in the bedroom wing, a state-of-the-art security system, separate laundry, vast basement storage space and quality fixtures and fittings throughout, this private sanctuary just a 10-minute walk to Mt Eden village and in double grammar zone will thrill its new owners.