Plan­ning a no-fuss re­treat for your re­tire­ment? This East­bourne home is well worth look­ing at.

The brief to the ar­chi­tect was for the per­fect house to re­tire to – and that’s ex­actly what they got


It was rough weather that led Jackie and Keith Levy to their ideal prop­erty nine years ago. After sell­ing up in ru­ral Wairarapa, the Levys had moved in with a daugh­ter in Kel­burn, Welling­ton, while search­ing vainly for a place for their re­tire­ment. Early on they’d seen a promis­ing sec­tion at East­bourne across the har­bour, a north-fac­ing strip sub­di­vided from an es­tab­lished gar­den, but hadn’t been able to agree a price with the seller.

“One day it was blow­ing a gale in Kel­burn and Keith said, ‘Let’s go have an­other look at that East­bourne sec­tion,’” re­calls Jackie. “When we got over here it was dead calm.”

When a neigh­bour told them the area had a tem­per­ate mi­cro­cli­mate, a claim borne out by a tamar­illo tree in her gar­den drip­ping with fruit, they knew they’d found their fu­ture home.

The Levys were old hands at new houses: they’d built three, in­clud­ing two in the Wairarapa de­signed by the late ar­chi­tect Jon Craig. For this one, they went with Hugh Ten­nent of Ten­nent Brown Ar­chi­tects, who’d been re­spon­si­ble for Jackie’s sis­ter’s home, also in East­bourne. “She’d had such a lovely re­la­tion­ship with him, and I think that’s im­por­tant – to re­ally like the per­son. It turned out to be so easy.”

That pain­less process de­liv­ered a house that looks as if it’s al­ways been there, a slen­der cedar-and-con­crete form stretched across a long site, among es­tab­lished trees and a newly cre­ated gar­den. Re­tain­ing those ma­ture trees – in­clud­ing a cou­ple of kowhai, a large cab­bage tree, a camel­lia and a kauri – was im­por­tant to the Levys, whose last prop­erty in the Wairarapa was an ex­ten­sively planted lifestyle block. >

“I couldn’t have gone to a new sub­di­vi­sion. We did that as newly-weds, at­tempt­ing to make a gar­den in hill­side clay,” says Jackie. “Here, we had to de­mol­ish a huge pear tree, but we planted two new ones and we’re eat­ing the pears now.”

Their brief to Hugh was for a house tai­lor-made for re­tire­ment: low main­te­nance and easy to clean, but also en­ergy-ef­fi­cient and full of light. They opted for un­der­floor heat­ing pow­ered by a heat pump, sup­ple­mented by an open fire in the liv­ing room. Jackie says Keith wasn’t con­vinced about the fire. “But I pushed for it and I’m pleased I did, be­cause it’s so nice to have on a win­ter evening. Fun­nily enough, Keith’s of­ten the first to sug­gest it.”

As for light, they’ve got more than enough thanks to ex­ten­sive glaz­ing along the front of the house. De­spite all that floor-to­ceil­ing glass and the fact that this a sub­di­vided sec­tion, the house feels very pri­vate, with its back to the neigh­bours and its fo­cus firmly on the gar­den.

“De­spite hav­ing come here from a Wairarapa pad­dock with no­body in sight, it hasn’t felt strange at all,” says Jackie. “There’s a sense of be­ing in a lit­tle world of our own.”

Dur­ing the day, they tend to live in what Hugh Ten­nent dubbed “the gar­den room”, a glazed, pav­il­ion-like box off the kitchen that opens di­rectly to the out­doors. At the end ad­ja­cent to the front door is an opaque screen that can be folded back to al­low the spa­ces to flow, or left as a wall to heighten a sense of ar­rival for vis­i­tors. “Hugh feels it’s im­por­tant to have a real en­trance into a house, so that you’re not im­me­di­ately into the hurly-burly of the liv­ing room. To­mor­row I’ve got grand­chil­dren com­ing over so I’ll open it up and they can just have free rein.”

That kind of mind­ful de­tail­ing is ev­i­dent through­out the house: such as the pair of small win­dows – one set high in the liv­in­groom wall, the other above it up­stairs – that frame glimpses of a ma­ture pōhutukawa tree; and the fence pal­ings that are piv­oted to pro­vide both pri­vacy and trans­parency.

Up­stairs, there’s a guest bed­room that dou­bles as an of­fice for Keith (a char­tered ac­coun­tant, he keeps his hand in do­ing the books for their chil­dren’s busi­nesses), plus the mas­ter bed­room and en suite. From both rooms you can see a slice of Welling­ton Har­bour. After years in in­land Wairarapa, liv­ing so close to the wa­ter is won­der­ful, says Jackie, who grew up in Lower Hutt and would visit East­bourne to swim on hot sum­mer days. “It was al­ways lovely to come to; it felt like a hol­i­day place to me.”

It still does – theirs is an ac­tive re­tire­ment. If they’re not walk­ing the bush loop through the hills be­hind East­bourne, they’re rid­ing their bikes to Pen­car­row Light­house, look­ing after grand­chil­dren (they have five in Welling­ton, two in Auck­land), or see­ing a show in the city.

“It’s freed us up to do other things,” says Jackie, of down­siz­ing. “If we were still on our block of land we’d be beaver­ing away... now we’re free to pur­sue our in­ter­ests and en­joy our fam­ily.”

‘There’s a sense of be­ing in a lit­tle world of our own’

THIS PAGE To max­imise space on the sloped 700sqm site, the house was dug into the bank; here you can see the down­stairs guest bed­room lies be­low the level of the raised lawn. OP­PO­SITE (from top) At the front en­trance, ar­chi­tect Hugh Ten­nent...

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