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.