Seven years spent in a Georgian-style property on two-thirds of an acre in Surrey, outside London, had spoiled Ian and Janine Holland when they returned to Auckland with their children, aged 8 and 5, 16 years ago.
They realise now that what they wanted was nearly impossible if they were still to be close to schools, local shops, the central city yet have plenty of land.
But after a nearly four-month search, they secured their perfect home — a grand two-storied villa on a sprawling 2600 sq m site on the crest of Remuera.
The original farm, since carved up into homes on leafy Benson Rd, had echoes of old Remuera when it was mostly farms, with pasture for stock and horses, carriage houses and stables, beautiful landscaped gardens and views across the bush to the harbour and Rangitoto.
"We were told by previous owners that there were some name families who'd lived here," says Janine. "At one point the driveway ran all the way to Remuera Rd, past the old trees that are still in the street.
"The study still has a back door that farm workers would use when they came to see the owner — it was the original dairy. There are pantry cupboards and we kept as much of the original floors as we could."
The couple had enjoyed period style when they lived in the UK, and the layout of the house had not been altered much, so they could focus their renovation attention on colours and finishes.
Previous owners had pushed out the master bedroom upstairs into one edge of the veranda (there is still a gracious one that bedrooms open on to), allowing a casual dining room to be added off the kitchen.
With a reproduction bay window and careful matching of woodwork outside, it accommodates casual modern living (and big crowds for significant living) without disturbing the original feel of the house.
"Any change that we made had to be in keeping, we didn't want to make it chrome and steel and 21st century," says Ian.
The couple stripped back years of paint and dated colour schemes to reveal original kauri and rimu doors, windows, panelling and fireplaces. A few are now updated to gas, but there is a wood-burning fireplace too.
At some point the high-beamed ceilings, still seen in the entry and stairwell, were replaced with plastered ceilings (still a generous 3m high).
One set of owners had lived in Hong Kong, so the arts and crafts-style lobby is fitted with a double-height library cupboard, the doors panelled with antique Chinese screens.
Where wood floors were damaged, they replaced them with scrupulously fitted oak parquet, complementing it with rich drapery and traditional colours: a deep red for the formal dining room, warm English yellows for the kitchen and family areas that echo the stained glass windows.
Perrin and Rowe taps and traditional cabinets and fixtures make the new kitchen, with its separate drinks island and huge walk-in pantry, look like something from Downton Abbey (if Downton had a modern wine fridge, and European appliances).
French doors open the kitchen and casual dining area to the garden — Janine's great love — and overlook the grand outdoor spaces.
The property is big enough to have both a full-sized tennis court, a formal Roman-style pool and tiered clipped hedges — all designed by Robin Shafer.
The former stables are now a self-contained entertaining area, opening through new bifold doors to the pool and garden.
With a full kitchen, bathroom and upstairs bedroom (the closet off the bedroom still has the original bead-board walls and shutters), it's been the family's favourite spot for entertaining.
As the children grew up (they're now 24 and 21) it became their space, happily separate from parents but safely on the property, with the guest bedroom heavily used by visiting friends and family.
The family loved using the tennis court for all sorts of sports, removing the nets for hockey practice, basketball and cricket, or to add a huge marquee for big birthday parties. The pool is used every day.
Back in the main house, the loft above the three-car garage grew with the kids, from playroom to games room. It could even be a further bedroom.
On the upper floor are the four main bedrooms, three of which open to the verandah and the sea views.
Janine combed Auckland and beyond to find vintage-style bathroom fittings for the black and white family bathroom and master en suite.
The antique-look tub required reinforcing the floor and four big men to lift it, and she had the rimu cabinets custom-made.
But with a daughter overseas, a son well grown, the couple don't need all the space anymore. "We're just hoping that another young family buys this, it's just been a happy place for us,"says Janine.
112 BENSON RD, REMUERA
• 6 bedrooms, 5 bathroom, 4* parking spaces.
• House 655sq m, Land 2600sq m.
• Sale by private treaty: Deadline Feb 21.
• Inspect: By appointment.
• Schools: Meadowbank school, Remuera Intermediate, Selwyn College.
• Contact: Pene Milne, New Zealand Sotheby's International Realty, 021 919 940, Ross Hawkins 0274 720 577.