How to Build a House: Step 1

21:13, Oct 04 2012

Before we begin, a serious warning: I am writing this blog on Microsoft Word despite just now ignoring the Microsoft Updater telling me that an update of my software is "critical" so if, while trying to finish this post, I die in a PC apocalypse that also takes out the rest of the blogging pit, I apologise.

I am going to carry on writing, heedless of the danger, just like the holidaymakers who despite a sewage warning at the beach, went on swimming, undeterred.

When I started this blog I jumped right into the shock we got when we first read the quantity surveyor's estimate of how much the house would cost to build. Since then I've posted about heating and builders without giving you the start of the story. I feel a bit as though we've had a one-night stand without even knowing what primary school each other went to. Wrong.

Today I'm going to go back to the beginning and fill you in on how we got ourselves into this whole amazing adventure in the first place. The past few weeks have been Star Wars, Empire Strikes Back and the Return of the Jedi; this is the Phantom Menace.

There will be no Jar Jar Binks.

My name is Jon Bridges.


Apart from being an indentured blog servant in the blogging pit, I am a TTV producer making a programme called 7 Days.

This is my wife Gemma.


This is one of my bikes.

And this is a pen I've got.

Gemma and I got married in 2010 but even before then we were looking for a place to build a house. When we got together Gemma moved in with me at my majestic 1910 Edwardian (tautological) Villa.

So we have always wanted a place that was really just "ours". It would have been easier to buy a house that somebody had already built, but Kevin from Grand Designs came to us in a dream and dared us to build a house. (Well that's how he appeared to Gemma. In my dream he put ice cream in a hole in the floor of my old bedroom from when I was a kid, only it wasn't my bedroom, it was also sort of my office, but I was still wearing my pyjamas.)

We both had a childhood dream to build a house. Gemma had grown up with architecture. Her father is an architect with Warren and Mahoney, who have built most of New Zealand. Roy built things like the Michael Fowler centre, so despite running the risk of Dame Malvina Major showing up to do a concert in our new house, it felt like we'd get the project off to a good family start.

My childhood building dream started with a book I read called The House That Beebo Built - a fantastical French book with amazing illustrations that has sunk deep into my subconscious. It is long out of print but after about two years of looking I recently bought an old copy on the internet.

There was no real hurry for Gemma and me to find a section, which was good because it took us a few years. I like to ride my bike to work and only drive if I have to carry a large box or if it is really raining, so I'd like to live within the Auckland isthmus somewhere. All our friends are buying in places like Te Atatu Peninsula and Te Atatu South and of course also in Te Atatu, but I'm too lazy to bike that far.

For Gemma's part, she was dead set on having a nice view like the house her parents built in Wellington has. If you have ever tried to buy a house or a section in Auckland you'll know that the definition of stupidity reads: Stupidity, noun, trying to buy a section with a view within 10km of the Sky Tower. So really our wants exceeded our budgets. On some level, like lots of fools, we think we are richer than we are. Our eyes are bigger than our pockets. We think we are Kardashian, but then it turns out we're only Ridges. Stink. But still, like the Ridges would, we saved a search for "section Auckland" on Trademe and watched what came up.

One time we found a section in Mt Albert that looked fantastic. It was about 600 sq m on the north side of the mountain, but it was also on the north side of $600,000. We put in a low offer in the hope that the real estate agent would tell them they're dreaming, but it was hopeless. He told us we were dreaming. Here is the view of that despair.

Two years later, in June 2011, I took Gemma for a drive through Three Kings, a suburb I've always liked for its meandering streets and the fact that it's tucked away, with lots of character old state houses, it's leafy and has an old volcano in the middle of it. Coming around a corner we saw a sign that read "Section for Sale". We'd never seen this section on Trademe. We both just stared at it. It was so tiny and so steep. We got out of the car quietly and climbed up the section like Hillary and Tenzing. When we got to the top we sat there and looked out. Here's a re-creation of that moment that was done for an article in the Listener a while ago:

We both knew we really wanted to build a house there if it was physically, financially, logically, legally, geotechnically or even biologically possible. We phoned the vendor, who was subdividing the section from the old state house above it. Let's call him Roosterpuppy for now because I haven't asked him if it's okay to put him in the blog. Roosterpuppy was himself an architect, and a darn excellent guy. He'd drawn up designs for a couple of different houses to go on the section and even obtained resource consent for one of them. His drawings weren't quite right for us, but proved that the Holy Council (we praise you and ask forgiveness) thought it would be possible to build there.

We sent Roosterpuppy's drawings to Roy and he thought the section looked good. He and Gemma's mother Sandy came up to see the section and gave it the thumbs up and so by the end of July we had bought it for $300,000 - neither a bargain, nor exhorbitant for land on the isthmus. We felt very lucky and we knew we'd taken a step that we couldn't un-take.

Before long Roy had drawn the first sketches of our house.

Three levels: garage off the street, bedrooms and office on the midfloor, and living area, deck and master bedroom on the top floor. All levels of the building are effectively "ground floor" since the devilish ground won't stay on just one level. The plans showed a house about 250 sq m-ish, in as much of a midcentury modernist style as the limitations of the section, our budget and decency would allow.

We employed Karl Fenning to draw the proper CAD drawings that we would need, first for a resource consent and later for the building consent. He got to work on the resource consent drawings.

The big questions were, would the neighbours and the Council (accept our offerings O divine lord) agree to this new plan of ours for the section and could we even afford to build it? Those questions are by way of a cliffhanger, which is more than is usually included in a blog (so I hope you feel you've got your money's worth on this blogging post).

In the next exciting post find out what the Council (may we always sing thy name with praise!) said about our resource consent

Don't forget to watch 7 Days tonight. It's our 100th episode and we're doing a special Best of 7 Days special that is really good I promise.

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