Some things are just meant to be. When Michael Grace had a hankering to live in the countryside 45 years ago, he went for a drive around the rural area south of Manurewa in his Morris Minor convertible and spotted an old kauri cottage in Brookby.
It looked unlived in, so Michael asked his lawyer to find out who owned it. It was a former school teachers' house belonging to the Auckland Education Board and when Michael turned up at the board's office to find out if it was for sale, it turned out it was.
"The tender closed that day at four o'clock and it was three o'clock. I got in just in time."
Initially planning to put in an offer of $5000, at the last minute he upped it to $5011 and won, by $11.
The first time he saw inside the four-room cottage, which dated back to 1892, was when he took over possession. "It was rundown and in a field of gorse and blackberries," recalls Michael. "A few people - my mother included - thought I was mad."
But Michael had a clear vision of how the tiny home and the expanse of land it sat on could be turned into a gracious country estate. All these years later, his property - which he has called Brookby Estate - is exactly as he imagined it could be.
Now it's a beautiful two-storey bay villa with a traditional wraparound veranda sitting in park-like landscaped gardens alongside several outbuildings. While it looks as if this is the original house, in fact it is a masterful renovation of the cottage that was carried out in 1986. Michael hired architect and villa expert Chris Murphy to draw up the plans that transformed the house and tripled it in size.
"A lot of people don't believe me when I say that what you can see dates back to 1986," says Michael as he surveys the house from the front lawn. "It looks very authentic which, of course, is what we wanted."
As much of the original house was recycled as possible, including doors, skirting boards and even the ceiling moldings, which Michael carefully preserved. But other features, like some of the sash windows, were newly made with great care taken to ensure they matched the originals.
The house not only has abundant character and appeal, but it is practical to live in. The spacious laundry/utility room by the back door is well positioned for when Michael and his wife, Dulcie, come in from the garden, and is the ideal spot for arranging flowers. A cupboard between the laundry and bathroom next door has two-way doors so fresh towels are always on hand when you're in the bathroom. The luxury bathroom is huge, with a spa bath and separate shower, and serves as both a family bathroom and en suite for the master bedroom. Meanwhile, the dressing room that links the en suite and master bedroom has pull-out cupboards.
There are two living areas - one smaller lounge, called the red room after its decor, and a bigger, open-plan living/dining/kitchen with a traditional bay window. The rimu kitchen features an energy-efficient Stanley Super Star solid fuel range that Michael describes as "the warm heart of the home".
Upstairs are two further bedrooms including one that has a kind of ante-room with a built-in day bed. There's also a bathroom and another room that is currently unused but offers all kinds of possibilities.
An enormous workshop has been the ideal spot for Michael to indulge in his passion for woodworking. His hobby has become a bit of a sideline, and he says the spirit of the property encourages creativity. As well as crafting items such as trellis fences and garden obelisks, which he sells, he has built the summer house and bridge leading to it that sit beside the front lawn, and a pavilion that forms part of the formal courtyard garden at the rear of the house.
Brookby Estate has been a wonderful family home for the five Grace children, all now grown up with their own families and scattered far and wide. Michael and Dulcie plan to spend time visiting family, so after four and a half decades, it's time for someone else to enjoy the property.