A metic­u­lous 50-page brief kick-started the de­sign process for a fam­ily-friendly Ti­ti­rangi home.


A mum of three knew ex­actly what she needed af­ter sur­viv­ing the baby years in a home that was any­thing but fam­ily-friendly

When Matt and Misty John­ston first set eyes on each other at The Chapel (a pub on Auck­land’s Pon­sonby Road) over Wai­tangi week­end in 2011, lit­tle did they know that they’d soon be headed for an al­tar of a dif­fer­ent kind. Ex­actly one year later, Matt char­tered a he­li­copter and, in a high-stakes move, pro­posed on top of The Re­mark­ables. “He had the idea that if I de­clined, he’d just leave me up there,” laughs Misty.

By the third year, the cou­ple were al­ready im­mersed in what she calls a “baby bub­ble” with their “Irish twins” – two girls born 11 months apart. So it was only on Wai­tangi week­end 2016 that they of­fi­cially tied the knot.

By then they were liv­ing in a house in Ti­ti­rangi with 180-de­gree views of the wa­ter, a play­house and a pool that would be per­fect for teach­ing the girls to swim. The the­ory was good; the prac­tice less so. Be­cause the play area was dis­con­nected from the house, it proved un­work­able. The front ac­cess was not much bet­ter. Misty had to carry a new­born and a one-year-old up 40 steps (she counted) ev­ery time she came in or went out. Some­thing had to change.

Matt, whose fam­ily has a stone-im­port­ing com­pany (Ital­ian Stone Lim­ited), and Misty, who owns a bou­tique ad­ver­tis­ing, events and PR busi­ness, made the de­ci­sion to build. Al­though she says it was spon­ta­neous, it’s ob­vi­ous she had been think­ing about it for some time. The John­stons bought a sunny sec­tion in Ti­ti­rangi and, be­fore you could say Jack Robin­son, Misty had com­piled a 50-page Pow­erPoint pre­sen­ta­tion con­tain­ing, she ad­mits, a “re­ally spe­cific” brief. It in­cluded an over­view, a run­down of re­quire­ments for each room and lots of pho­tos. >

‘I think we have about 12 bench­tops worth of stone on the en­trance wall’

With their for­mer home in mind, their ba­sic re­quire­ment was a sin­gle-storey dwelling that flowed out to a flat lawn.

Which is where ar­chi­tects Kate Ro­gan and Eva Nash came in. They were thrilled with Misty’s metic­u­lous­ness. So they mea­sured and plot­ted, de­signed and de­fined, re­vised and re­vis­ited, de­lib­er­ated and re­drew – but they just could not fit the ex­pan­sive rooms the cou­ple wanted into one level. Was Misty dis­ap­pointed? She was not. “I saw the video fly-through and I loved it,” she says.

In an un­usual col­lab­o­ra­tion, the ar­chi­tects sup­plied the plans to group builders Land­mark Homes. So be­gan the roller coaster ride that is build­ing: days of ela­tion (when the fram­ing went up and the roof went on), fol­lowed by times of frus­tra­tion when progress seemed slow. To be fair, this was no or­di­nary home. Since Matt was in the mar­ble and gran­ite busi­ness, he had in­cor­po­rated many stand-out el­e­ments. “I think we have about 12 bench­tops worth of stone on the en­trance wall,” says Misty. Choos­ing gran­ite for the kitchen bench or a par­tic­u­lar pat­tern on the mar­ble for the splash­back was a high­light of the process.

A year later, the cou­ple and their young­sters – Eden, now four, Char­lotte, now three, and Misty’s daugh­ter from a pre­vi­ous mar­riage, Ella, nine, – moved in. It was an­other spon­ta­neous de­ci­sion. The house was al­most but not quite fin­ished and there was a set of scaf­fold­ing and a lad­der to ac­cess the up­stairs. The balustrade was ply­wood sheet­ing held on by ca­ble ties. >

Those pre­car­i­ous days are now well be­hind them. The dou­ble­height en­trance leads to a can­tilevered stair­well where float­ing treads are sus­pended in space and a pic­ture win­dow frames a snap­shot of bush in­clud­ing a tall cab­bage tree. Matt and Misty wake to a view of the South Ti­ti­rangi hills as big, fat wood pi­geons swoop like fly­ing chick­ens beyond the win­dows. At night, the twin­kle of lights stretches all the way to One­hunga.

Down­stairs, the main liv­ing zone has acres of Amer­i­can oak flooring, which, when their par­ents aren’t look­ing, be­comes a tri­cy­cle cir­cuit for Eden and Char­lotte as they pelt across the seam­less thresh­old to the wrap­around decks and the lawn. For Misty, who works from her home of­fice, kindy is just a two-minute drive away and she’s thrilled with the ex­tra room where the girls can run and have fun.

“Their play pat­terns have changed since we moved here. They used to stay in and watch TV a lot, but in this free and easy space, they’re into imag­i­na­tive play.” That in­cludes dress-ups ga­lore when their world be­comes a stage, and craft projects such as mak­ing “slime” on the din­ing room ta­ble. “I’ve given up be­ing pre­cious about it – it’s full of pen marks and glit­ter paint.” >

Be­ing sur­rounded by na­ture has brought a spe­cial free­dom. In beds around the lawn, where Matt has planted na­tives, there are sight­ings of Louie the tūī and Perky the pūkeko. In­side, pop­corn par­ties, curled up on the sofa in the TV snug with their big sis­ter, are a treat – but even the pow­der room pro­vides en­ter­tain­ment. “They like to find pic­tures in the pat­terns of the stone tiles,” says Misty. “We’ve al­ready dis­cov­ered an owl, a dog and a skull.”

Fin­ish­ing the home is an on­go­ing cre­ative project. The cou­ple’s main pur­chase was a bul­let­proof leather sofa that doesn’t get swamped within the ca­pa­cious pro­por­tions of the 330sqm home. A can­vas of stretched Marimekko fab­ric brings happy colour to the din­ing zone. And the spa pool is fi­nally in­stalled in time for nights un­der the stars. As for the pool that was on that ini­tial 50page brief? It will just have to wait.

When life gets crazy as it some­times does when you’re jug­gling full-time work and a young fam­ily, Misty need only glance at the breast­feed­ing chair that has a spe­cial place in one cor­ner of the liv­ing room. It evokes mem­o­ries of long, sleep­less nights in the old, cold bun­ga­low they were rent­ing while the house was built. It’s a vis­ual re­minder of how far they’ve come.

THIS PAGE (from top) The ex­te­rior of the house is painted in Du­lux ‘Black­wood Bay’. The John­stons wanted a “big black in­dus­trial look”, they knew it would con­trast beau­ti­fully with the lush Ti­ti­rangi green­ery that sur­rounds them.

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