Imagine spending years negotiating with 32 neighbours over easement issues and finding workable solutions for a house built on a Christchurch cliff, the Pacific Ocean rolling in at its feet.
With the help of builder Clive Barrington, Christchurch businesswomen and philanthropists Carolyn Hughes and Sandie O'Brien did it all and the result was The Rocks, a widely acclaimed and award-winning house on
Scarborough Hill in Christchurch's seaside suburb of Sumner.
It was beautiful - a judgment shared by the judges of the 2010 New Zealand House of the Year Awards. But on February 22, 2011 it was all gone. Five years in the creation, the home they were going to retire in was rendered unliveable in less than five minutes, courtesy of the Christchurch earthquakes.
"Really there was nothing for it but to sit around the table, pour a particularly good red and start again," says Clive.
Carolyn and Sandie were equally pragmatic. Leaving the city was not an option since both had friends, family and extensive business commitments in Christchurch, including the demolition and rebuild of some commercial property they owned.
The new site they bought in Merivale had building consent for a two-storey home in concrete - not really an option for Sandie and Carolyn. "Like that was going to happen," says Sandie, who was in The Rocks alone during the earthquake.
"Some things were non-negotiable," adds Carolyn. "We wanted it single storey and we wanted it made of wood which, because of the small site, meant we had to maximise the space available."
Clad in black cedar, this 98sqm home is about a quarter the size of The Rocks. But, thanks to its floor to ceiling glass doors and the enormous amount of light flooding through them, it appears much bigger, with skylights throwing dappled sun across the triple-layered oak flooring.
"It's incredibly well engineered," says Clive. "When you're building on this scale every detail is critical, because anything slightly out of sync is going to be glaringly obvious."
Carolyn and Sandie worked on the design with an expatriate Christchurch architect - now based in Sydney - Case Ornsby of Case Ornsby Architecture, in collaboration with Fiona Macpherson of Designworks Architecture in Christchurch. Over a series of clever spaces, the two-bedroom home seems to keep unfolding, from the bedrooms at the front, past the office, the long galley kitchen and dining area, through the large living area and across the wide decking at the rear of the house, stopping neatly at the large glass doors of Sandie's studio, where she works on her bold, vibrant paintings.
Despite the economy of scale and planning, the build hasn't been without its indulgences. "When Carolyn and Sandie decided they couldn't live without a massive potted palm, we had to strengthen that deck considerably," says Clive. "It had to be craned in. I think we were all holding our breath on that one."
"We're not big on compromise when it comes to the important stuff," says Carolyn, laughing. "And of course Clive doesn't compromise at all."
That lack of compromise saw their home take out the Gold Award at the 2012 Registered Master Builder's House of the Year Awards in Canterbury for best home under $250,000. And in November last year, Clive Barrington was again on the podium, this time in Auckland, when the house took out the same award at the nationals. For a home that wasn't even on the drawing board just over a year ago, that's seriously impressive.
Though their new home couldn't be more different from The Rocks in some ways, it has the same clean, spare lines and open spaces full of light. The long gallery walls, which have always been a defining feature of their homes, are full of carefully chosen art, including the raw, compelling work of New Zealand artist Trevor Moffitt.
"We've been collecting for about 30 years now," says Sandie. "Making gallery space in our homes is always a priority. There are three things we never argue about: art, furniture and design."
"Which is quite helpful really," adds Carolyn, "considering we do argue about everything else."
- NZ House & Garden
WIN! Thanks to NZ House & Garden we have four double passes to the 2013 NZ House & Garden Tours. The tours, which allow participants access to 40 of the country's loveliest homes, will be taking place in Wellington (March 1), Auckland (March 8), Nelson (March 15) and Christchurch (March 22). We have one double pass, worth $130, to give away for each region.
To enter, send us an email at email@example.com - be sure to put House & Garden Giveaway in the subject line and include your chosen region, along with your name and address, in the email. Entries close at 5pm on Tuesday February 19.
Winners will be contacted by email.
To find out more about homes in the NZ House & Garden Tours check out the latest issue of the magazine or visit www.nzhouseandgarden.co.nz
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