Seeking perfection on cliff-top site


Joy and Geoff Cole are possibly the busiest retired couple you will ever meet.

Geoff keeps himself busy by helping community organisations and they both continue to find ways to tweak and improve their Camborne home and garden.

After major renovations when they first moved in, they have continued to fiddle by felling pines and replanting with lower growing natives. They confess neither can resist a challenge and instead of kicking back and relaxing, they keep seeing never-ending improvement opportunities.

It's hard to envisage what their cliff-side home was like when they bought it in 1999, but they say while the external shape hasn't altered much, internally it is now hardly recognisable.

The house, designed by architects TG Dykes and Associates, was built in 1977 and was changed and added to a dozen years later with the arrival of new owners.

When the Coles bought in 1999 after a year-long search for a new home, plans were immediately under way for big changes.

"I told Geoff I wasn't going to live in a house with brown tiles on the floor. They were too dark and too cold, so they were going to go," Joy says.

True to her word, they were gone within a year, she still has them stacked under the stairs, a reminder of what used to be. They have been replaced by wooden Tarkett rosegum floorboards.

The flooring change was part of the renovations, an upgrade designed by David Whyte, of Design Manoeuvres.

The couple say he interpreted their vision "brilliantly" and still sing his praises a dozen years on.

"We thought we'd run an upmarket homestay," says Geoff, "a plan for when we retired, but that has never eventuated."

The renovations to make more space and create a living area with a small kitchenette for guest use continued, despite the abandoning of the retirement homestay venture.

"One of the first things we did was get rid of the ivy that covered the brickwork, but as it came down, we saw we had to then repaint the mortar."

This was no mean feat when the structure towers up a cliff face.

The kitchen was relocated from a viewless position at the back of the house to centre stage with a window designed to enable Joy to look out to sea while cooking.

"I love working in it and looking out to sea. There's always something happening: wind surfers, yachts, boats. So much goes on in front of us at sea."

A small area of decking has been extended, providing an expansive al-fresco entertaining area with sufficient space to get out of the prevailing northwest wind.

But none of the changes on the exterior were easily achieved. The house stretches across much of the width of the section and with a steep terrain, it's a struggle, whatever the task.

"The garden was landscaped by Glenn Wright, Natural Revival Construction, about 10 or 11 years ago.

"We picked him because of his horticultural knowledge and his post-project maintenance. He still provides us with fantastic advice on plants, fertilisers and spraying, but more often than not he just gets on and does it himself.

"He is wonderful the way he gets around up and down trees. We used to do things ourselves, but it's a bit much for us now."

Doors and walls have been relocated to create sensible flow with bedrooms, bathrooms and varying living spaces.

"Our master bedroom has two ensuites: one for Joy – I call it her bathhouse because that's really all it's got, just a bath – and the other is a full ensuite with shower. But Joy can enjoy a bath looking out to sea. We even put in a slide-out extra step which can be hidden."

The mud-floor basement has been concreted and now houses part of Geoff's wine cellar. The rest is closer at hand, more suited to the former organiser of the wine club.

The Coles involved interior consultant Helen Pritchard in the selection of interior colours, choosing warm paint tones that parallel colours outside.

Retaining walls have been replaced and meaning has been given to meandering paths, adding a seat for contemplation, a garden shed and pagoda with a grapevine.

"We love art, so wherever we go on our travels, we are always looking out for bits to send home," says Joy with a twinkle in her eye.

When friends on a trip overseas became concerned that she wasn't doing her normal level of art buying, she remained circumspect, knowing that when the perfect piece presented, it was likely to be substantial both monetarily and in weight terms. She proved right. A large pottery work was sent home and is now a feature in the hall.

Other works have been commissioned locally from New Zealand artists, such as a wall hanging above the fire and a stainless-steel and sandpaper-coloured work in the bathroom.

Both Geoff and Joy have an eye for art and are confident they will always find another wall on which to hang a work.

Today, the home on top of the cliffs in Camborne is a huge 400 square metres, excluding extensive decking, and they're not finished yet. Most recently, a pair of raised vegetable gardens were developed that now grow a salad mix and robust curry plant.

"If we can keep up with the maintenance of the house, the garden and interior, we'll never leave. We really love it here. It's everything we've ever wanted and I can't imagine there's another place like it," says Joy kicking back to enjoy watching another day's activities on the sea.

The Dominion Post