Homestyle New Zealand - - HOMES -

Sandii McDonald and her hus­band Jared Reynolds, owners of land­scape de­sign com­pany Baby­lon Gar­dens, ren­o­vated this three-bed­room unit in Auck­land’s St He­liers for them­selves and their daugh­ter Mercedes (11).

Semi-de­tached units are sel­dom thought of as sexy. Rather like mar­ket­ing a mild­man­nered, mid­dle-aged bloke, real es­tate firms pro­mote them as ‘solid and de­pend­able’. When Sandii McDonald and Jared Reynolds saw this prop­erty in the Auck­land sub­urb of St He­liers, a clas­sic two-bed­room unit with a car­port, they im­me­di­ately put in an of­fer, then set about trans­form­ing it.

With some parts yel­low-brick ve­neer, oth­ers weath­er­board, a few fi­bre-ce­ment pan­els and tim­ber-framed win­dows, it was a smor­gas­bord of ’60s ma­te­ri­als. Squeezed in be­tween a five-storey apart­ment build­ing, a Tu­dor-style villa and an ’80s plas­ter home, the 70m2 dwelling looked dinky in the do­mes­tic land­scape. “But we re­ally liked the area, it was within our bud­get and we thought, ‘We can do some­thing with this,’” says Sandii.

Ar­chi­tect Dion Gosling of Stu­dio 106 thought so too. “They have the abil­ity to pick up gems,” he says of the couple, who’ve ren­o­vated units be­fore. As land­scape de­sign­ers, they also bring a dis­cern­ing style and prac­ti­cal skills to the mix, and have turned this hum­ble jumble of a home into one that packs a whole lot of liv­ing into its sliver of sub­ur­bia.

The ba­sic idea was to pull down and push up. Some in­ter­nal walls were re­moved, the gable roof was lifted and an up­per level was added. It sounds sim­ple, but it wasn’t. With nine neigh­bours who could po­ten­tially have a prob­lem with it, they de­signed within the •

ex­ist­ing site con­trols so as not to re­quire re­source con­sent. This ne­ces­si­tated some in­no­va­tive think­ing.

A wrap of ver­ti­cal black weath­er­boards on the ex­ten­sion now ac­cen­tu­ates the build­ing’s up­ward ori­en­ta­tion. It climbs seam­lessly up into a roof of trough-sec­tion steel, which is an­gled to fall within the height-to-bound­ary re­stric­tion.

The jour­ney to the home’s en­trance is along a schist path. The sparkly stone spills over the thresh­old slightly, as if na­ture is en­croach­ing on the man-made. Visitors en­ter di­rectly into the liv­ing room, where a soar­ing dou­ble-height void makes an un­ex­pected first im­pres­sion. “We wanted to give it a real sense of vol­ume,” says Dion. Tall banks of lou­vres and big slid­ing doors make this com­pact area feel gen­er­ous.

With pri­vacy in mind, a con­nec­tion to the land has been care­fully mapped out us­ing pre­cisely placed glaz­ing with open cor­ners that al­low the home full ac­cess to day­light. A picture win­dow in the liv­ing room over­looks the gar­den, while a wood burner and ful­l­length shelv­ing are fo­cal points, to stop the TV be­com­ing the cen­tre of at­ten­tion.

More sur­pris­ing spa­tial ma­noeu­vres were made in the kitchen, where the ceil­ing drops to an in­ti­mate scale. Lined with dark tim­ber, this space has a gal­ley lay­out, with cook­ing and cab­i­netry on one side and ex­tra stor­age on the other. “Un­usu­ally, the kitchen is a thor­ough­fare, so we de­cided not to in­clude an island,” says Dion. Sandii sees it as a black tun­nel be­tween the two white liv­ing ar­eas. •

The se­cond liv­ing zone oc­cu­pies the for­mer car­port, which was sac­ri­ficed in or­der to cap­ture the morn­ing sun. Stepped down from the kitchen and in­clud­ing built-in seat­ing, “It’s our ver­sion of the sunken lounge,” says Sandii. “On Sun­days, we sit here to eat break­fast.” The view of the gar­den, plus hid­den stor­age in the bench seat and be­neath the floor, make it clear the de­ci­sion to con­vert was a good one. The car can make do on the street.

Stairs that dou­ble as a place to watch the cook at work lead from this lounge to two bed­rooms up­stairs. To ac­com­mo­date Sandii, Jared and their daugh­ter, Mercedes, the mez­za­nine land­ing be­comes a wide corridor, where you might find Mercedes prac­tis­ing her dance moves, or Sandii en­joy­ing a morn­ing yoga ses­sion.

The hall­way’s built-in desk over­look­ing the main lounge is com­man­deered on a first-come, first-served ba­sis. It has been a sewing ta­ble, a work­sta­tion and a place to put the doll’s house. Mean­while, with a door to the mas­ter bed­room not deemed nec­es­sary, Sandii and Jared can look through the clerestory win­dows of the land­ing to see the stars at night.

Res­cued and re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als bring char­ac­ter to the house. The couple was keen to re­use, not just from a sus­tain­abil­ity point of view but also to save money on the ren­o­va­tion. “That’s one rea­son we chose oak sec­onds for the floor­ing down­stairs,” says Sandii. “The cheaper boards have a lot more knots, but we like them.” •

Play­ing a long game, the pair’s idea is to up­grade the fin­ishes bit by bit. Not fans of plas­ter­board, they’re re­lin­ing the walls as their bud­get al­lows. Jared in­stalled cedar pan­els on one wall in the mas­ter bed­room, and he also made the con­crete sink in the black-tiled en­suite, which Sandii then pol­ished with a stone and coated in black wax. It goes beau­ti­fully with the brass tap­ware.“The taps will de­velop a gor­geous patina over time,” says Sandii, “and the best thing is, I don’t have to keep them sparkling clean.”

In the down­stairs bath­room, there’s an an­tique French mar­ble sink, which the couple had lugged from place to place for years. In the kitchen, Jared’s hand­i­work in­cludes a vin­tage shop counter (orig­i­nally in­tended to be the island that never was) that he turned into open shelv­ing. “We felt bad cut­ting it up, but we still love it,” he says.

Out in the gar­den, the care­ful plant­ing of hedges has re­sulted in im­proved pri­vacy. To the north, a set of float­ing con­crete steps leads to an area with raised vege gar­dens. But the real ac­tion takes places in the western court­yard. Wedged be­tween the edge of the liv­ing room and the fence is a swim­ming pool. “Our friends didn’t be­lieve us when we said there was space for one,” says Sandii. “But we could see the ex­tra me­tres a griselinia hedge was tak­ing up.”

Toasty in win­ter, with spa­ces to splash about in come sum­mer, this un­pre­ten­tious unit is now a cov­etable ur­ban re­treat – a di­a­mond find.

TOP LEFT & LEFT The old play­house has been turned into a home for some laven­der Arau­cana chick­ens. Mercedes has given all but one of them fem­i­nist names: He­len Clark sits on her shoul­der and there’s also Cleopa­tra, Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart. Nigel is the ex­cep­tion. ABOVE Among the plants in the gar­den on the eastern edge of the home are fluffy Aca­cia ‘Lime­light’ and Philo­den­dronmar­tianum. OP­PO­SITE The for­mer drive­way is now a gar­den with raised veg­etable beds that the chooks raid when­ever they get the chance.

ABOVE & RIGHT This ban­quette was a Trade Me find that once oc­cu­pied a café in Fort Street. Sandii re­uphol­stered it, then teamed it with a teak din­ing ta­ble from In­die Home Col­lec­tive and chairs also found on Trade Me. TOP RIGHT Black ply­wood and steel han­dles bring drama to the kitchen, which is a thor­ough­fare be­tween the din­ing zone and the se­cond liv­ing area. The bench­top is Brazil­ian slate from Arte­do­mus and the quilted-look splash­back is from Tile Space. OP­PO­SITE Sandii and Jared own land­scape de­sign com­pany Baby­lon Gar­dens and are avid plant lovers. A pot­ted Philo­den­dron xanadu sits pretty at the front door.

TOP LEFT The wide stairs in the se­cond liv­ing room dou­ble as seat­ing. Mercedes has reimag­ined the drinks trol­ley as a mo­bile art sta­tion. ABOVE Sandii’s paint­ing Flam­ing Dart hangs near an oak bench seat Jared built. This space oc­cu­pies the foot­print of the for­mer car­port and gets lots of morn­ing sun. LEFT & OP­PO­SITE The hero piece in the front liv­ing room is the Pump­kin chair by Pierre Paulin for Ligne Roset from Domo. The shelves hold a col­lec­tion of books and pot­tery (some of which was made by Sandii’s dad, who also painted the small flo­ral art­work), the pa­per and balsa wood Coma Lantern pen­dant lights by Dwarf were bought on a trip to Tokyo and the rug is from Free­dom.

ABOVE On the mez­za­nine, a sofa from Free­dom is cov­ered with a pre­cious heir­loom: a hand­wo­ven blan­ket be­long­ing to Sandii’s grandad. The linen cush­ions are from Mad­der & Rouge, and the rat­tan ot­toman by Franco Al­bini was a for­tu­itous an­tique find. TOP RIGHT A wall­pa­per mu­ral in Mercedes’ bed­room is a fan­tas­ti­cal back­drop to the bunks Jared de­signed and built. They’re teamed with bed linen from Ez­iBuy and vin­tage wooden boxes that once lived in Sandii’s fa­ther’s fac­tory. RIGHT & OP­PO­SITE Shelves dot­ted with pot­ted plants separate the mez­za­nine from the mas­ter suite, where tim­ber planks of vary­ing widths trans­form the wall be­hind the bed into a special fea­ture.

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