Take note of the veranda as you come into Alex Lanning's charming two-storey cottage just off Ponsonby Rd. He fashioned the balustrades himself, using timber from other parts of the house, and it's just one of the many special touches Alex has added to his home of 30 years.
Alex and his wife Lucy bought the green and white cottage after an agent rang Lucy to tell her about the "do-up" property a few doors along from All Saints Church in Cowan St, and close to where she had grown up. It had been built around 1875 for or by a carpenter by the name of Mr Crisp. A builder was selling the rundown home because he had planned to do it up, but had run out of money.
They put their Mt Eden home on the market "obviously too lowly priced as it sold quicker than anticipated", says Alex, which meant moving into the Cowan St cottage sooner than planned.
"It had quite a disreputable look about the place," he recalls. "There was leaky plumbing, the window sash catches had been nailed up and the backyard was like a swamp. About six students had been living here. It wasn't really livable but we lived in it. It probably made us work harder and faster. It was rundown and a bit of a challenge."
That statement would have to be an understatement as Alex and Lucy embraced the daunting task of restoring the property. They re-blocked the front of the home, demolished the lean-to that had been added in the 1940s, building in its place the large open-plan living and L-shaped kitchen area, as well as adding an extra room upstairs.
"One of the first things Lucy did when we moved in was to scoot up the stairs and look out the window above the lean-to and she could see the upper harbour.
"She would come up here and sit on the roof and visualise what could be done."
Alex extended the upstairs attic-like space in keeping with Lucy's vision, following the existing roofline to make a large bedroom with a Juliet balcony in the new space, with the bathroom and Lucy's sewing and painting room in the existing space. From this bedroom's window, you can see the upper harbour, the Waitakeres, the Sky Tower and, on a fine day, aeroplanes landing at Auckland Airport.
Alex's skills as an engineer and his handiwork show up throughout the home. There are those balustrades he fashioned for the veranda, the tweaks he made to the stairway, the folding doors for the "awkward" spaces accessing the stairs and the upstairs bedroom.
On ground level are the three bedrooms, bathroom and then the living and kitchen with French doors to the veranda, deck and Alex's garden framed by feijoa and persimmon trees plus a tamarillo Alex has nurtured back to life after it was struck by a virus. The vege garden is lush, especially the self-sown tomatoes.
Original sash windows add to the cottage's charm, some salvaged from the demolition work, as is much of the timber which was saved and used in other parts of the house. The result is a home with its original character enhanced by the loving care of an owner who appreciates the value of keeping on top of maintenance.
But, ironically, maintenance is the reason Alex is selling. He has been "rattling around here" on his own since Lucy died some 10 years ago but is now shifting to a smaller place. "I would like to live here forever and be carried out the front door. But I can only afford to live here if I can do my own maintenance. And it's the practicality of getting up ladders - people are concerned about what would happen if I had an accident," says Alex.
"You come to the realisation that it's time for someone else to take over this nice place to live. So I am moving to a two-bedroom apartment. I have mixed feelings about it, I shall miss my garden but I know all sorts of people with gardens, so I will probably go and help them. Or people have told me that I could actually just enjoy being retired!"