WORDS Patricia Moore IMAGES Scott Espie
New Zealand’s state houses are an element of Kiwiana, it’s easy to get nostalgic about, says Bill McKay, co-author of a recent book celebrating the character of the state house over the past 75 years.
But it’s not simply nostalgia that’s seeing canny home buyers snapping them up to renovate and, while still maintaining their essential character, bring them into the 21st century. They’re famously solid houses, often on generous sections, and in Auckland particularly, frequently offering great views at an affordable price.
A semi-detached house in Auckland’s Bays is one such property. For the buyers – who’d been house-hunting for a year - it wasn’t just about affordability, although that did play a part. “We also wanted a good investment and a place we could call home.” Some renovation had already been done and while they were slightly disappointed that it was attached, once they stepped inside they realised that was hardly noticeable – “and it was in a great neighbourhood.”
Initially the house suited the family, but with two growing children more space became desirable; adding a second story was the logical solution.
The fact that the house was attached made the project less than straightforward and while they discussed their plans with the neighbours, the owners say they didn’t fully appreciate the amount of disruption there would be. “Most of this came later when we needed access to the neighbouring property for scaffolding etc.”
It was also necessary to get resource consent from Housing New Zealand, owners of the attached house. Kris MacGregor of Refresh Renovations, who managed the project, says they also had to be mindful of the height in relation to boundary on the western side of the extension.”This was checked and passed at framing stage.”
Many a renovation project stumbles and falls when it comes to budgets. “We gave the architect a guideline of how much we wanted to spend and while his design was above that, when we looked at the extra value this renovation would give the house and how much repayments would be, we decided to go with it,” say the home’s owners.
They were very aware that there wasn’t a huge amount of space to work with, but managed to get “as much bang for our buck as possible. We didn’t go over budget too much and where we did it was for things we chose as upgrades rather than because of nasty surprises.”
As always, it’s the essential and largely unseen work that’s most expensive; framing and flooring, along with exterior linings and trim, electrical work, plumbing, drainage and gas, were major expenses. A new kitchen took a sizeable chunk of the budget although the owners are quick to point out that lack of space dictated there would be “no giant kitchen with butler’s pantry and double ovens.”
For Kris and his team the roof was probably the biggest challenge. “It was quite tricky because it was all hand-cut timber rafters. The guys did a great job on this and it came together really nicely – with a bit of good planning of course! There’s also a cantilevered deck off the master bedroom which proved very difficult to water-proof and keep looking respectable at the same time. Fortunately we have a great project manager on the team who also happens to be a qualified draughtsman and he came up with a robust, good looking solution.”
With Auckland’s changeable weather in mind, a scaffolding and shrink-wrap system was used to keep things dry. “This was great, but also meant we had to run it over the neighbouring property roof and make sure we kept their side sealed and weather-tight.”
While keeping renovations in sympathy with the attached house could have been an issue, Kris points out that the extensions and remodelling work carried out previously meant the house was already unlike its neighbour. “However it was important to ensure the second story we were adding was done in sympathy with what was already there. [cedar weatherboard cladding] We basically matched most of the details from the existing to the new second floor.”
Extending the firewall that separates the two houses up through the new second story was another challenge. “This meant using fire rated internal linings and non-combustible exterior materials on that particular elevation. We had to use cedar weatherboards on three of the elevations then James Hardie’s Linea board on the fire rated side. They have slightly different profiles but my guys managed to do a great job of lining them up. No-one has noticed they’re totally different materials!”
The previous renovation work meant the house had included polishing the timber floors, “state houses often have beautiful native timber floors that are hidden under lino and carpets,” says Kris. “We did have to replace the kitchen area though as it has had an extension that was built over an existing concrete patio area.”
For Kris, the overall space achieved by the renovation is a real highlight. “I was really worried that the upper floor was going to be too small, but once the linings were on, it became apparent that there was more room than first thought. We also managed to make the existing ground floor feel much bigger by removing walls and using the space carefully. It’s great testament to the designers and their careful consideration of the space available and the final layouts.
“The family now has more bedrooms with a decent walk in wardrobe and ensuite, more storage and a much better flowing open plan living space. Better living all around.”
While they ran slightly over the original time frame, and there were a few minor variations along the way, all in all these were small given the complexity of the project, says Kris. “Renovation projects like this one need very careful planning and a quality team with lots of previous experience is essential to a happy outcome for all parties.”
The owners tell us it’s hard to decide what’s given them most satisfaction, although knowing they’ve created a family home for their children to grow up in, and having enough space for people to stay, is way up there.
So would they do it all again? In spite of the inconvenience wrought by living in a fully wrapped house during the initial stages of the project, then moving elsewhere for two months – by which time they just wanted to see it done - they say the whole project was less stressful than they anticipated.
“Living in was a challenge due to the disruption to daily life. We both work full time and have pre-school children in day care so during the week it was more or less OK. Weekends were harder; because our home was fully wrapped we couldn’t even look out the windows!
“It certainly hasn’t put us off renovating again – but for now we’re happy with what we’ve got!”
Featured in Issue 012 - for more read there.