It wasn't until they returned home to New Zealand after years in the United Kingdom that Elizabeth and David got the English country estate they'd dreamed of. Elizabeth was a passionate gardener, David built old-fashioned wooden sailboats, and they wanted room for their children — then aged 4, 6 and 7 — to run around.
"We fell in love with the countryside, with the mellow colours and proportions of period houses — and it spiralled from there," says Elizabeth.
"We happened upon this land in Whenuapai and fell in love with it. It was a blank slate, largely meadow, running down to the water with a jetty and mangroves.
"You can chug up to the Riverhead pub from here.
"At the time the land was greenbelt, it felt like country," she says. "Now there are houses covering the old strawberry and market gardens; Westgate just up the road.
"But when you drive in our gates, you are living in your own little world."
The couple's dream of a country house starts with the avenue of oak trees along the driveway and into the turning circle.
With the help of award-winning landscape designer Hillary Smythe, the couple created a garden that goes from formal — with clipped bushes around the house — to open landscape with large trees and rambling roses and hornbeams.
Elizabeth admits that over the years she and David have worked their way around the property making tweaks.
Her sister, a marine botanist, helped them with planting around the mangroves and waterfront, and David worked on the terraces — before pottering off to his barn to build the wooden sailboats he launched from the jetty at the bottom of the garden.
The couple called on German architect Jorg Schulze, whose practice Schulze Poursaltan, designs classical buildings with energy efficient and non-toxic materials.
Assembled builders and craftspeople to do the wood panelling, traditional-style windows and doors, plaster ceiling mouldings, and more.
Elizabeth was hands-on in her kitchen design, a traditional mixture of soft English colours that she has carried on through the rest of the house.
"I loved my kitchen, with its plate racks and island — and using colour like the soft greens and yellows, and the eclectic tiles I sourced," she says.
The banquette seating was the family's regular breakfast nook, and there was plenty of overflow storage in the laundry.
Jorg's plan carries the symmetry of the Georgian-style facade into the interior layout.
A wide hallway with a double-height lobby suggests formal houses of 300 years ago, with a floor plan of formal rooms on one side of the entry, and casual sitting and kitchen on the other.
A panelled and red-painted study repeats more of the old English country look, but a recent repaint has updated other rooms to more neutral shades. There are fireplaces and french doors.
Upstairs, the symmetry is continued with four generous bedrooms opening off a landing. Its window seats and plenty of space meant the landing served as the children's playroom, before they took themselves off to the rumpus room above the garage.
With a charming attic ceiling and its own en suite and private entrance, it could also serve as a nanny or guest suite.
"We have happy family memories of here, the children running around while David and I gardened," says Elizabeth.
"I'm very nostalgic for it, but it's time to let it go and let another family create their own memories."
She and David have moved to Wanaka to be closer to her childhood home — and another blank slate of a garden to transform into another beautiful country estate.
85 TOTARA RD, WHENUAPAI
• 4+1 bedrooms, 2+1 bathroom, 2* parking spaces.
• House 494sq m, Land 1.14ha.
• Auction: Dec 2.
• Inspect: Sat/Sun 10-10.45am.
• Schools: Whenuapai Primary, Hobsonville Point Secondary.
• Contact: Sue Noonan, Harcourts, 0274 752 012.