When Liz Smith bought her central-Auckland home in September 1998, the house was a far cry form the type of place she wanted toile in. A good location made up for the fact that the 1940s structure was a ramshackle rabbit warren of rooms that were divided into two flats. Seeing the potential, Liz contacted architect Daniel Marshall to help make the house more liveable. Her main priority was making the layout feel as spacious as possible.
"I had quite fixed ideas - I wanted the house to be clean, minimal and low maintenance, with plenty of light and sun. I like things o be kept simple, without the need for rugs or any fussiness," Liz says. Liz pictured the top floor of the two storey house in a warehouse style, with a few walls possible. She wanted to be able to sit and relax in the living area at the front of the house and see the poplar trees in the back garden.
Renovations began I August 1999 and were finished in time for Christmas. Now the only visible link between the old and the new is the home's original Matai flooring. "I was intent on saving that, but pretty much everything else is completely different," says Liz. "Fortunately I have an excellent builder and I actually enjoy the renovation process." Liz admits she didn't realise the overhaul would be so extensive. Even though the back of the house had to be rebuilt, she is pleased she chose to renovate, rather than build. A new building would have required a different height-to-boundary ratio, whereas the renovation made it possible to retain the shape of the house. “Starting totally from scratch would have meant the house would look radically different," she says. "I wanted to keep the exterior proportions as they were."
In line with Liz's brief, Daniel Marshall's focus was on creating a sense of space. The aesthetics stemmed from there. One of the first things he turned his attention to was improving the front entry and creating a courtyard. The yard in front of the house was a steep slope and effectively wasted space. Daniel IeveIIed it out and laid concrete pavers to create a flow between the living area and the outdoors. As the house is quite close to the road, two painted concrete-block walls and a lockable front gate provide privacy and security. A concrete-block planter box softens the effect of the fence on the road frontage. A flat roof lurked under the home's gabled later addition. Daniel removed the gables to create cleaner lines and specified Resene 'Grey Chateau' for the board-and-batten cladding. Large new aluminium- framed windows were added to increase the amount of light in the house, while, to contain costs, some existing window joinery was retained and painted. One flat's kitchen was right at the front of the house, so Daniel removed it, which freed up the living room and entrance. Liz runs a luxury yacht charter business from home and often has meetings with clients in the living area.
Liz had an asymmetric sofa custom-made by Apartmento. The armless end fits in next to a basalt veneer ledge, which continues through as the hearth for the gas fire. 'Even though it's open-plan upstairs, the gas fire and the insulation in the ceiling keep the house beautifully warm" she says. The house is also cool in summer. Large sliding doors connect the living room and the front entrance, creating an easy indoor/outdoor flow. Plain white curtains provide privacy, yet don't interrupt the minimal style of the room.
Other ventilation in the living room is from Louvre windows, which are coated with opaque film for privacy, and doors that open onto a small balcony on the side of the house. The living area is separated form the dining space and kitchen by a change in level, which effectively marks out the formal and informal areas. The house has always been in split levels, with the original stairwell cutting across where the division between the rooms is now. The steps down to the kitchen and dining space are now near the new stairwell, which leads down to the master bedroom and en suite, two further bedrooms and a guest bathroom.
"We condensed the space that the new stairwell takes up to make the most of the available floor area," Daniel says. Above the stairs, a recess between a bulkhead and the ceiling is lit for dramatic effect at night, while a skylight floors the area with natural light during the day. The kitchen is finished in crisp pale blue, with an opaque glass splashback and end panels on the cabinetry. For the bench top, Daniel and Liz found Wilsonart 'Arrow', a laminate with the look of wenge timber. A wide strip of brushed stainless steel edging gives the chunky appearance that Liz was after. "As well as looking right, the Wilsonart is practical and plays on the retro 1950s Formica look," Daniel says.
Doors lead out from the dining area to a timber balcony, which features a barbecue and table and chairs for entertaining. Part of liz's brief was a separate space for her home office. Daniel designed it to be at the bottom of the stairs, with doors leading out to the garden. The laundry is neatly contained in a cupboard underneath the stairs. Here, terrazzo-effect concrete pavers echo those in the front courtyard. The walls and ceilings throughout the house are white with a blue tint (the painters experimented with mixing blue into white until the right shade was achieved). The only exception to the home's white theme is in the master bedroom, where Liz has painted a door and the feature wall that separates the bedroom form the wardrobe Alto Colour 'Gender Bender'.
"I'd always wanted pink and at one stage considered it for the front door, until Daniel persuaded me otherwise. I think my bedroom is the perfect place for it," she says. Blue duchesse silk curtains add texture and sheen to the bedroom, while a painting by Michael Hight decorates the space above the bed. The bedrooms are all carpeted. The home's neutral paint scheme is perfect for displaying Liz's collection of art. Daniel says he was aware of the artwork when he designed the renovation. Now a delicate installation by Liz Thomson holds pride of place in the stairwell. Other pieces in the house include works by Philip Trusttum, Jenny Dolezel and Garth Tapper. Liz says she loves her transformed home. "I don't enjoy being in dark houses. Here, it's full of light. I get the sun all day, and all I have to do to keep the house cool in summer is open up the doors at either end of the house to get cross breezes."
The compact, but spacious, home is just right for Liz Smith. It's an ideal place for her to live and work in - and a far cry form the ugly duckling it once was.