We do love to live beside the seaside

The renovation of the McCaffery family's Eastbourne home was sparked by architect John Mills' use of decks.
The renovation of the McCaffery family's Eastbourne home was sparked by architect John Mills' use of decks.
The aubergine colour of the kitchen and charcoal walls create a colourful gathering point for the family.
The aubergine colour of the kitchen and charcoal walls create a colourful gathering point for the family.
Nicola at home by the sea, where she loves to spend time contemplating art projects.
Nicola at home by the sea, where she loves to spend time contemplating art projects.

Nicola McCafferty's focus is colour. As an artist, she loves to dabble with it, so when it came to house modifications, she was happy to commission an architect for change, but with the interior colour, she planned to take charge.

"It was an old original Eastbourne cottage, built about 1910. I remember when we first moved in, it was like living in a boat: we are just so close to the water. Every time we came home, I'd think, 'Oh my gosh'. It was an amazing feeling, a lovely feeling I still have it 18 years later every time I come home."

Changes started in the garage. The double wooden garage was recreated to make a wider approach with easier access.

The family then turned to friend and fellow Eastbourne resident architect John Mills to alter the house. "The criteria was to create a rumpus room at the end. They were the ideas we went to him with, but he came back with full-scale plans and said, 'This is what you need and you'll have to move out while it happens'."

John was right on the button. The McCaffertys loved his concept.

"We loved what he had to offer. We moved over the road, work started and it rained virtually non-stop while the house was a shell and work was proceeding."

Today people say they can see elements of the old house intertwined in the new and the family love that thought - it is just how they envisaged any change would be achieved.

"It would have been much cheaper to bowl the old house and start again, but how could we? It was beautiful. It even had those big picture windows that are still there in the lounge. It was too good, so we really just built around it and made some additions."

Roof lines have been altered, but John's design continues a low profile that merges easily into the cliffs behind, to make the build a part of the environment using a colour palette that helps with the perception of camouflage.

"It's weatherboard cladding and a long-run corrugated aluminium roof. The only part of aluminium in the joinery is in the addition connecting the original house to two new bedrooms. We didn't want to build up, we definitely didn't want a second storey, and we wanted materials that were the sort you'd use in boat building - wood, brass, copper, materials that would last in the conditions."

The marine theme reflecting the seaside location is featured in a connecting kids' rumpus room with an overhead round copper skylight, emitting masses of light into the space, ensuring all-day sun.

"We'd initially thought we'd add a rumpus room and in five years do the kitchen, but when John came with ideas, we thought they looked so nice we just went ahead. His process is that he makes you do a survey on yourselves and your lifestyle. So we had to write down what we did. Did we watch TV? Did we read? Did we eat as a family?"

Armed with that insight into the McCafferty family lifestyle, John developed a design to suit them.

"During the build process we had a meeting once a week.

"We talked out ideas and the project evolved from Mills' basic designs advancing through those weekly meetings.

"We talked about materials. We had network wiring built into the walls for broadband. Through those weekly meetings we had a lot of input."

Eight years after completion, they have found the additions and renovations perfect for their lifestyle. With three children, and two professional parents with busy lifestyles, there is plenty of room for privacy, quiet areas for studying or communal space to get together and share.

"We have big parties and people flow out on to the verandas because they're covered with overhead glass, so it just creates extra room and the chance to really enjoy our seaside situation."

Nicola determined the interior colours. While the build was still just a shell with few walls, she worked around the workmen with colours in hand, contemplating options at various times of the day.

"When we moved back in, the first thing I did was hand-paint all the curtains and blinds. The kids knew they had to just pin something over their windows while I hand-painted, and they did."

When it came to choosing colours, Nicola appreciated the quirkiness of John's own house and its colour palette.

"I was prepared to be brave and put different colours on different walls. I'm not a white person. My neutral colour was a sage-beige green and all the other colours flowed from that neutral colour.

"The colours continue outside, so where a wall is red and is attached to a window frame, the frame is also red. It cost more to do but it has created a flow."

So passionate is artist Nicola about her palette that eight years on she still easily reels off names of colours: Resene's Lemon Ginger, Skooter Turquoise, Revolver Charcoal and Dulux Sforzia.

"The floorboards tell the history of the house, so we have matai which are the original floorboards. Then there are others as various owners have renovated.

"There were big brick pillars on the front veranda and the veranda was square, but John isn't a square man. Actually, I'd noticed his cool decks on houses. I first appreciated his architecture through his decks.

"He pushed our deck out, made it round and got rid of the awful corrugated plastic and put glass overhead in wooden framing."

For this professional artist and her pathologist husband, an easy- care native garden was important.

"It needed to be beach hardy, to be happy to grow without care and in difficult conditions, because I spend my life painting. None of us have time for the garden.

"There's an original old concrete wall with old-fashioned lattice top at the end of the garden with holes in and I remember the last owners saying only once did the sea wash through the holes.

"Well, like them, it's happened to us, just once, but it's amazing, the sea washing into the garden."

The changes to the McCafferty family home have proved ideal. For the trio of children, it is a base they love to return to and, for the parents, it's a refuge next to the sea where they can find peace and an endless and ever-changing canvas over the garden gate.

Nicola McCafferty with fellow local artists Suzanne Herschell and Richard Ponder will exhibit at Eastbourne's Rona Gallery on November 8.

The Dominion Post