Victoria Silwood had always dreamed of living in a villa estate, especially one with sea views to remind her of a childhood home where she could see the sea at the bottom of the street. So five years ago, when she and husband Matt returned to Auckland after 10 years abroad, the 1915 villa on the corner of Stanley Bay Rd was almost too good to be true.

"As we stood on the lawn, it looked like something from Country Life magazine, with great trees (a swamp cypress, wisteria climbing over the front porch) and gravel driveway," she says. "I'd always wanted a house with window seats and this had four."

The couple were even more blown away when they climbed gracious stairs in the double-height lobby to the main living on the top floor — the whole Auckland harbour front was at their feet.

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They have never tired of watching the constant activity on the waterfront, from giant cruise ships to the dozens of sailing races (and insider glimpses of the Emirates America's Cup yacht when the cycling sailors were trying out their new technology).

Their New Year's Eve parties are popular and the Silwoods have hosted many events for charities they are involved in.

Sailing friends use their house as a beacon as they head out of the harbour; the lit-up floor-to-ceiling glass bay is hard to miss.

Not so dreamy was the amount of work the old house needed. Previous owners had modernised the back of the house, putting in a huge kitchen and casual dining area and replacing the back wall with a dramatic curved sweep of glass opening to an elegant balcony.

But Matt says though the beautiful structure was still there, they decided to be sure the house could survive another 100 years. Their renovation plan started at the top of the house and worked its way down.

Built in 1915 by a ship's captain called Nilsson (whose vessel disappeared in 1919), the historic house still had many of its original features — bay window seats, leadlight windows, extravagant Victorian fireplace surrounds, many original doors and windows, ceiling roses and mouldings.

The huge estate was carved off in the 1940s, but the house still sits on nearly 1800 sq m of land, surrounded by trees full of birdlife.

Stone walls were overgrown, so the garden was overhauled and planted with crisp new hedging and ground covers (maintained by automatic watering systems) to complement the big trees. Fresh gravel on the driveway reinforces the sense of arrival, helped by lighting and sculpture pads.

The careful couple — Matt's a trustee of the museum but a lover of design; Victoria has a background in fashion design — didn't rush things.

They spent three years planning the renovations to the house and gardens and two years on the rebuild.

Every detail was carefully considered ("Don't start me on how many whites there are", says Victoria), the couple wanting to keep the uniqueness of the old property, but remove any need for further work.

This meant bringing in the new — a striking modern refit of en-suite bathroom and dressing room in their upstairs master (topped by a black and bronze light fixture and black faux-crocodile curtains); drifts of modern grey linen curtains in the living room, to complement the antique marble mantle piece, and, everywhere old-meets-new
chandeliers — while restoring the old (the three ornate fireplaces, the wood floors finished in a creamy, low-gloss polish).

They underpinned the stylish decorating with insulation and six-star heating, new plumbing, roofing and guttering. Every item of window and door hardware was refinished with bespoke pieces, with new stylish handles for the existing panelled kauri kitchen.

They debated whether to replace the kitchen entirely, but over the years grew to enjoy its period-look features, especially the generous stainless steel-topped island that worked as a servery for parties and great gathering spot.

Outside, they under-pinned the cliff face, edging it with glass balustrades and selectively pruning the old pohutukawas to frame the harbour views for another few generations.

A sloping lawn that didn't get much use was replaced by a garden of Japanese-style white gravel and rocks that Matt designed, and a boardwalk and deck made from salt-resistant garapa wood.

It took every workman on site to lug in the 550kg of German pizza oven, now the focal point of the outdoor living.

The grand five-bedroom house is arranged for spread-out living. On the ground floor, there's a second casual sitting area opening to the garden terrace, as well as three bedrooms and a family bathroom (with a spa that is much loved by guests).

Upstairs, there's a fourth bedroom and a study — with more window seats — while the master bedroom shares the harbour views with the formal living and dining rooms.

The Silwoods envisaged the estate as perfect for their children and grandchildren. But the young ones remain in the UK, and Victoria travels there for long stretches to play grandmother, so the house is too big for just the two of them.

They've loved the neighbourhood — the path down to the beach is just along the road, there's the ferry to the city, the parks and charms of Devonport — but are moving across town to work on a smaller project for just the two of them.

55 STANLEY POINT RD
• 5 bedrooms, 2 bathroom, 2* parking spaces.
• House 380sq m, Land 1764sq m.
• Tender: Dec 20.
• Inspect: Sun 12.30-1pm or phone for viewing.
• Schools: Stanley Bay Primary, Belmont Intermediate, Takapuna Grammar.
• Contact: Leila MacDonald, Barfoot & Thomson, 021 928 926, David MacDonald, 021 650 901