“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.