The Block NZ 2012 winner Ben Crawford and his girlfriend Kylie are building their dream home. Share their proud moments and pitfalls here every week.

Kylie and I are obsessed with nailing the finest details. You might call us perfectionists but it's not a bad trait to have when building a house as the attention to every little detail can elevate a home from standard to sublime.

This week we've had our detail radars dialled up to a thousand as the garage area below our living pod emerged from the mud and construction started on our retaining walls.

Retaining walls aren't high on the design agenda for many people.

They're usually popped into the functional basket and viewed as a means to an end, like holding up tonnes of earth to create a building platform or to form a flat, grassy backyard. But why shouldn't a retaining wall be a design feature?

We believe these structural walls are crucial to our dream home design and deserve having considerable time and thought put into deciding how they're built.

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Our retaining walls sit below our living area and have three functions.

Naturally, the first is to retain the earth, in our case that's along our boundary and to the rear of the garage, so we can create a flat parking space.

Second, they act as a foundation and third, the same walls also form the front entranceway and stairs into our home.

So that means they will be one of the first features you notice about our home and one of the first aspects you'll engage with on arrival, so we want these walls to be perfect.
Basic timber or grey blocks will never cut the mustard.


The beautiful Architectural Masonry blocks waiting to be laid on site. Photo / Ben Crawford

So I contacted Steve Crossland, the Technical and Specifications Manager at Firth. I'd met Steve and become familiar with the Firth Masonry products during my time on The Block NZ and liked what the company offered, so Kylie and I arranged to meet Steve to look at the options available.

After five minutes, the decision was simple because one product stood head and shoulders above the rest: the Architectural 20 Series Masonry blocks were exactly what we were after - perfectly designed with beautiful detailing.

But like most decisions we've made for our home, most of the time is spent confirming the exact details of the chosen material versus the material itself, and it was no different here. First was colour.


The final finish of our Firth Architecural Masonry blocks will be beautifully honed and sealed like this. Photo / Ben Crawford

Fortunately, Firth produces the architectural series in three designer colours, from an almost black onyx through to a light grey stone colour.

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We settled on the middle option, a dark charcoal colour called slate to match our joinery and complement the cedar cladding. We decided to go with a corresponding dark mortar to create an attractive negative detail around the block work once laid.

But the piece de resistance and final detailing flair is the finish we opted for - honed and then sealed, meaning once laid, the blocks will be sanded back to a smooth finish, exposing the fine aggregate details within, then sealed, making the blocks pieces of art in their own right.

They will be the perfect designer accompaniment to the rest of our house and a suitably stylish entrance point into our home.


Our block layers in action building one of our retaining walls below the living pod. Photo / Ben Crawford

Meanwhile, on the section, our builders were preparing everything so the site was ready for the blocks to be laid.

A few days later our blocklayers arrived and Kylie and I dropped by to watch them in action. The all-British crew was seriously hard case, and in between laying the blocks, had us in fits of laughter with their one-liners.

Within a matter of hours most of the walls were up and they looked stunning. It will be a few more weeks until the honing and sealing can be done as we need to wait for the concrete fill to cure and for any excess moisture to escape before that final piece of detailing can be added.

The construction of our retaining walls has begun an exciting sequence of events on site.

Next up, our prefabricated SIP walls will be erected around our bedroom pod. That will be epic, so stay tuned for the photos and video next week.

A sustainable dream

We love that Ben & Kylie have tackled their building project with a focus on sustainability and environmental-friendliness. It's an aspect of home ownership that is becoming more prominent and Kiwibank is backing those who incorporate a sustainable energy system into their home with the Sustainable Energy Loan.

If you top up your home loan to install a sustainable energy system, Kiwibank will kick in some cash to help you pay it off faster. You can use the loan for solar power, wind energy, small-scale hydro and/or geothermal resources. If you're borrowing more than $5,000, we'll contribute up to $2,000 (over four years) towards the cost of the system - $800 at the end of the first year, and $400 at the end of each of the three years after that.

Kiwibank can also offer the Sustainable Energy Loan to people refinancing their mortgage or building a new house - take a look at your options by searching 'sustainable' at kiwibank.co.nz or call 0800 000 654 to talk to someone who can help. Keep following Ben & Kylie's Brave New Build for more sustainable inspiration!

The system purchased with your Kiwibank Sustainable Energy Loan must be commercially available to the general public, supplied and installed by a member of the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand or Solar Association of New Zealand, and have at least a 10 year manufacturer's warranty. Kiwibank's lending criteria, terms and conditions, and fees apply.
• Find out more about Ben and Kylie's dream home at ourdreamhome.co.nz

For more information on the Kiwibank First Home Buyer's Guide visit: kiwibank.co.nz and search for "first home".