To find the sun

A Wellington couple looked beyond the rundown villa they bought on the hill in Roseneath, charmed by its position and rambling and overgrown site. Sarah Catherall visited to see how it’s changed.

By Sarah Catherall
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #62
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When Sarah Harrow and her husband, Rob Douglas, bought their new home on The Crescent six years ago, they had glimpses of Oriental Parade and across Wellington harbour, but their view of the sea was obscured by a forest of pine trees. “It was like a little bit of the country in the city,” recalls Sarah. The section and the house lost the sun, permanently blocked by the trees.

For the first two years after they moved in, the couple and their children – Sam, now 13, and Scout, now 11 – had two diggers permanently on site removing the large trees and bush covering much of the 930-square-metre property. With a second entrance off Grass Street, their property has eight adjoining neighbours and eight boundaries. Their neighbours also pitched in to clear the trees on their site and one below it, so they could collectively enjoy sweeping sea views. Today, a stack of firewood beside the sliders to the renovated house is a physical reminder of the trees.

Sarah and Rob spent many weekends weeding and landscaping, and today they enjoy the fruits of their efforts – a lush, natural garden full of natives. Rengarengas line a new stone pathway, and grasses wave in the breeze. “We hauled sacks and sacks of branches off the property to get it this way,” Sarah groans.

It’s hard to imagine the Roseneath property the way it used to be, although there are remnants of its former life. Along with the stack of firewood, a tyre swing hangs from a pohutakawa tree, while a massive rhododedron takes pride of place on the manicured front lawn.

The house had been a rental for many years, and had been added to and renovated in its lifetime. Sarah and Rob had rented a house across the road, buying their home privately from its owners whose home adjoins their property and overlooks their section. When they bought the house, Sarah says: “It was pretty horrible, with a dark kitchen and vinyl wallpaper. It had been a rental for so long it wasn’t in a great state.” The house wasn’t big enough, didn’t make good use of the sun, and had poor insulation and gaps in the exterior so was freezing cold. The couple employed architect David Melling, of Melling Architects, to revive their home and give it a contemporary look. David didn’t bother retaining existing windows, doors, bathrooms or kitchen joinery, describing much of the more than century-old house as well past its use-by date. He also decided to remove an addition from the front of the living area and a lean-to from the back. “The original part of the house from the turn of the century was the part we wanted to keep and restore to its former glory,” he says.

However, with the additions gone the original cottage was no longer big enough for the family of four. David adds that the house was well positioned on the site, however, with plenty of room to add an extension.

His objective was to create a modern family home, making the most of the sun and stunning views over the harbour and city. He designed a seamless modern extension to the original villa, connecting the two buildings by an internal hallway with a flat roof. This hallway is the first point of contact for visitors, with a main entrance at one end, and opening to a view at the other.

Sarah loves her open-plan kitchen and living area. It’s a modern, fresh space, with recycled rimu floorboards from the demolished parts of the house.One of the standout features is the macrocarpa kitchen ceiling, complete with an extraction fan hidden behind it. It is a simple but stylish space, with a stainless steel bench and white subway tiles as a splashback.

David tried to reuse the native timber in the house. The kitchen features an island bench, shelves, and fridge and pantry surrounds in recycled rims.

Outside the kitchen and living area, a louvred canopy extends to the perfectly flat lawn.

The new wing used to house a 1970s addition including a man-cave. Once the structure was bowled, the resident diggers carved out more room beneath, sending the spare dirt down a ramp on to the neighbour’s property below. Before Sarah and Rob’s renovation, the neighbour below had a steep site; they also now have a flat lawn.

The couple’s master bedroom is on the top floor of the new wing, an understated space with a deck, a dressing room and an ensuite. The extension is covered in vertical shiplap macrocarpa weatherboards. Beneath the house where the man-cave used to be there are now a spare bedroom, study, ensuite and utility room. The last houses the solar battery storing power from the 24 solar panels on the roof, which have reduced the family’s power bill to about $150 a month.

Solar power is a fitting choice, as everything about this house is stylishly understated and as natural as possible. Even the entrance is low key and hidden: from the road, you wouldn’t know this beauty is 25 steps away.

Rob enjoys the way his renovated home opens up and flows to the outside. “The property is in such a unique position on the hill and we wanted to capitalise on its position by getting the best of the views and sunlight. At the same time though it was important to have privacy from our neighbours who are on all sides.”

Asked if she is a keen gardener, Sarah shrugs her shoulders. However, she grew up on a Canterbury berry farm, and she spends about a third of the year there, running her family’s berry shop over summer. Along with the expansive spaces she is drawn to, she tends her urban vegetable garden near the front door. “We fell in love with this place. I just love being home,” she says.

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