“Seren­ity” was the key­word for this sleek new build near Napier.

Ev­ery­thing fell into place when these home­own­ers made the most of un­ex­pected op­por­tu­ni­ties


They say you can’t plan for in­spi­ra­tion – and Kelly and Ju­lian Davis are liv­ing proof. Since the mo­ment they saw the Napier sec­tion where they’d even­tu­ally build their fam­ily home, the cou­ple have been on a jour­ney in which ac­ci­dent has played al­most as big a role as de­sign.

Take their dis­cov­ery of the prop­erty for starters. Ju­lian, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion builder and owner of build­ing com­pany Dav­con, was show­ing his brother some of the firm’s work in a new sub­di­vi­sion in the Esk Hills. He de­cided, on a whim, to check out a sec­tion he’d prob­a­bly driven past a hun­dred times be­fore.

He’d al­ways as­sumed it was sec­ond-rate, with no sea view. In­stead, he found a gem: a north-fac­ing site with 270-de­gree views, vine­yards in the fore­ground, the Kaweka Ranges in the dis­tance, and just a sliver of coast­line. He thought Kelly would like it. “I loved it,” she says. “It had this calm feel. It just grabbed me.” That was 2013. The house was com­pleted in late 2015 – Ju­lian, who built the place with a small team be­tween projects, re­calls watch­ing the All Blacks play a World Cup semi-fi­nal the week­end they shifted in. >

De­signed by veteran Napier ar­chi­tect Graeme Weaver, in many ways it’s a tes­ta­ment to the virtues of painstak­ing plan­ning. Kelly and Ju­lian de­scribe a highly col­lab­o­ra­tive de­sign process, in which they were asked to pro­vide the ar­chi­tect with scrap­books full of their ideas and to book­mark el­e­ments that caught their eye in ar­chi­tec­tural jour­nals, then ex­plain why they liked or dis­liked them. As well, Graeme en­cour­aged them to sug­gest words that cap­tured what they were look­ing for in a house.

For Kelly, that was easy. “We’d been through some full-on times lead­ing up to it, so I was all about hav­ing some seren­ity.”

De­spite all those de­lib­er­a­tions, there was still plenty of room for chance. Build­ing the in-situ con­crete walls, for in­stance, took three months, and ev­ery time Ju­lian re­moved the form­work it was with a touch of trep­i­da­tion.

As it turned out, the raw­ness of the walls plays beau­ti­fully against the house’s other more im­mac­u­late fin­ishes. Al­though it

was a dif­fi­cult in­struc­tion for Ju­lian (a born per­fec­tion­ist) to fol­low, Graeme told him not to rem­edy any mi­nor flaws. “And he was right,” says Ju­lian.

That was a les­son for the ex­pe­ri­enced builder about giv­ing ar­chi­tects their due. “You don’t clip their wings; you hold your line and you build what they de­signed, be­cause it will turn out right.”

There were other happy ac­ci­dents. Well be­fore the roof went on the house, Ju­lian was pour­ing a con­crete fire­place when he no­ticed dark clouds gath­er­ing (watch­ing storms roll in is one of the great plea­sures of this ea­gle’s nest of a site). Rather than wait for clear weather, he chose to carry on.

“I said, ‘Let’s just let the rain rip across it and we’ll see what it looks like on Mon­day.’ We turned up on Mon­day morn­ing, and the hearth was per­fectly pitter-pat­tered. You couldn’t have repli­cated that tex­tured ef­fect with a hose; it had to be a hor­ri­ble southerly storm.” >

That asym­met­ri­cal fire­place is the fo­cus of the smaller of the house’s two liv­ing rooms, which Kelly has claimed as her own. With three sons (Louis, 11, and nine-year-old twins Felix and Rocco) she needed a sanc­tu­ary, she says.

“Some­times the boys will run down here and start wrestling, and I’ll kick them out. I try to have can­dles go­ing, and keep it lovely and calm. It’s be­come a re­ally fem­i­nine space.”

She has also felt free to in­dulge her love of colour with an ex­panse of mus­tard car­pet. “Colour is al­ways risky, but when I look at the places in this house where I’ve used it, I’m so happy I didn’t tone it down. If you feel in your gut that it’s the right colour it can make you so happy.”

Else­where, the palette is pared back, the key be­ing the use of tim­ber as a foil for the con­crete. In the kitchen, all of the join­ery is fin­ished in a warm, nut-hued Aus­tralian black­butt ve­neer.

Be­side the gran­ite-topped kitchen bench is an an­tique din­ing ta­ble that once be­longed to Kelly’s great-grand­par­ents. “When I was grow­ing up I thought that ta­ble was ab­so­lutely huge,” she says. “Now, if we have a din­ner party we have to squeeze peo­ple in.” >

There’s an­other fam­ily hand-me-down nearby – a baby grand pi­ano that a cousin gave her soon after the house was fin­ished.

“It just hap­pened by chance that he was get­ting rid of it. He of­fered it to a few schools but they all turned him down. When he asked me it was like, ‘God, yeah!’”

She told him she had the per­fect spot. “Graeme Weaver had asked me what would be my ab­so­lute dream if I could have any­thing in a house, and I said I’d love a mu­sic room – I play pi­ano and I sing, and I wanted a pri­vate space. Be­cause of bud­get con­straints I couldn’t get a sep­a­rate room, but Graeme de­signed me a nook in the liv­ing room, and the baby grand fits that space per­fectly. And now the boys are all learn­ing the pi­ano.”

You couldn’t have planned it bet­ter.

THESE PAGES (from left) The cou­ple chose black­butt for the kitchen join­ery after see­ing the tim­ber used im­pres­sively through­out an Aus­tralian house. The swivel chairs went with an old Formica din­ing ta­ble Kelly bought for their former house in Onekawa but pair well with this in­her­ited an­tique one, too; the pho­to­graphic print of the Whanganui River is by Hawke’s Bay artist Rakai Karaitiana – when Kelly, who grew up in Whanganui, first saw it hang­ing on a shop wall, she says,“It ab­so­lutely hit me in the soul.”

THIS PAGE (from top) Kelly used an is­land of car­pet to add some vis­ual in­ter­est and warmth to the main liv­ing area, which is home to her baby grand and a pho­to­graphic still life by Hawke’s Bay artist Bil­lie Culy. A fid­dle leaf fig in “the mus­tard room” stands be­low a pic­ture of Mary and baby Je­sus that Kelly in­her­ited from her mother.

OP­PO­SITE (from top) The deck over­looks the Esk Val­ley, a sig­nif­i­cant wine­grow­ing area; a patch of na­tive bush be­tween the Davis’ house and the neigh­bours’ is one of sev­eral in the sub­di­vi­sion, mak­ing it a great place for the boys to ex­plore. With three rough-and-tum­ble boys in res­i­dence, the couch was cho­sen for its hard-wear­ing qual­i­ties.

THIS PAGE (from top) Rocco is ob­sessed with huskies, Felix with po­lar bears, and the wall across from their bunk beds is dom­i­nated by a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic im­age of a bear and husky in­ter­act­ing. The heart-shaped flo­ral in­stal­la­tion in the mas­ter bed­room is by Napier’s Laura Jef­fares.

OP­PO­SITE (from top) Kelly and Ju­lian bought the cof­fee ta­ble in Chi­ang Mai, dur­ing a stop-off while re­turn­ing to New Zealand from their OE in Lon­don many years ago. This area of the hall­way was orig­i­nally in­tended as a play space for the boys, whose bed­rooms open onto it; the paint­ings are by Kelly’s brother Liam O’Sul­li­van, com­pleted back when he was at school.

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