When your hobby is renovating houses, staying in one place for more than three years is a bit of a giveaway that a house has won you over.

In the past 12 years, marketing strategist Penny McKavanagh has done up country places, she's done up city places in Grey Lynn and Freemans Bay, but the architect-designed house in the bush overlooking Northcote's Onepoto Domain, the bridge and the city is the place that really stole her heart.

"I work from home, so I have to have a good environment," she says. "I look out that window and just love it — the native bush, the park, then the bridge and the city in the background. And it gets even better at night, first with sunsets and then the lights of the city and the harbour bridge."

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Penny was intrigued to find the two-storeyed house was built only 15 years ago, as many of the details were timeless. As she and daughter Portia, 15, lived there, they discovered many clever touches that had been thought through by the architect owner, who had then been with Compass Dolphin.

She learned that he had subdivided the bushside section after living in the older streetside house, so could covenant her property to have its own private driveway, not shared with a neighbour.

He'd also carefully tucked the house into the site so it sits above the tree-line, meaning it gets sun all around, but is completely private from neighbours. He then used skylights and a double-height entry lobby to bring more light into the heart of the building.

For once, Penny did not need to do much more for the renovation than re-finish the vertical cedar exterior and update the guttering to ensure the house was dry.

As she and new partner Ben were working on repainting walls and laying top-quality carpet (in an up-to-date white and charcoal palette) they discovered the whole house had been heavily insulated — walls, floor and ceiling.

Although the windows are not double glazed, they are oriented for passive solar gain (and to capture those bush, park and city views) with smart wooden shutters closing them off for winter warmth. The warm cork floors, bleached to a pale cream, are resilient and quiet.

The house is arranged with living on the upper floors, off the entry and stair gallery.

Penny and Ben had planned to convert the guest loo by the entry into a shower and toilet, but will leave that to the next owner as they are selling to split their time between Noosa and another property in Auckland.

They did convert the generous garage into a fourth bedroom. With its glass door to the dining courtyard, it has provide spill-over room when Penny's 20-year-old-son lived with them, but would equally work back as a garage (there is further off-street parking for two cars).

The kitchen sink is facing the view, edged with cool tumbled stone mosaic tiles. Penny's favourite design is the two service areas off the kitchen, accessed through bi-fold doors.

One holds an entire walk-in butlers pantry, with room for coffee machine, and the other is a roomy laundry with lots of storage.

The architect was also a lighting specialist, supplementing halogen task lighting with a few sculptural feature lights: a curve of wood over the dining table, cool Edison bulbs over the kitchen bar.

He also added a chalkboard wall in the dining room which slides across the french doors on fashionable barn-door hardware, a place for ever-changing notes and pictures from Penny and friends.

The rest of the living room opens on all three sides to decks, the biggest of which seemingly floats over the tree tops. At sunset it makes a great cocktail spot. In summer the house opens out like a tent for most of the day, Penny says.

Downstairs are the three bedrooms. Two, opening to lower decks and a path through the bush to the park, are generous doubles. The master has a walk-in closet. There's a charming single bedroom with windows on three sides that is currently a children's bedroom but would make an office with plenty of bush to contemplate. The bathroom was updated just before Penny bought.

She did contemplate closing in under the house to make a further living room, bedroom suite or more (it's currently a king-sized workshop and storage area), which, again, might be a project a family would consider to turn the comfy house for two or three into a bigger spread.

From the house, a path through the bush leads to Onepoto Domain with its cycle tracks, board walks, innovative kids playground, even a pond for model boat enthusiasts as well as room for kids and dogs to run around.

Entry to the motorway is an easy drive away.

87A EXMOUTH RD, NORTHCOTE
• 3 bedrooms, 1* bathroom, 1** parking spaces.
• House 185sq m, land half-share 946sq m.
• Price: $1.095 million.
• Schools: Northcote Primary, Intermediate, College.
• Contact: Jo Glancy, Harcourts, 021 994 874, Rose Arnott 021 876 333, harcourts.co.nz/TK32448
*2 toilets, **Plus 1 OSP