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...