A true labour of love

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 08:52 19/06/2013
Wellington house
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ

END PRODUCT: Architect Andrew McKay hand-built his York Bay house after the death of his wife. Starting in 2003, he has now completed it.

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Sometimes beautiful things can come out of grief.

A house rising in the bush-clad backblocks of York Bay helped architect Andrew McKay cope after the death of his wife and build a new life out of a dark time.

Mr McKay's wife of 11 years, Victoria, died in a skiing accident in Switzerland in 2003.

The couple had been living in London but, in shock and grief-stricken, Mr McKay decided to return to New Zealand.

"I spent six months figuring out what I wanted to do with my life," he said.

The couple had bought 24 hectares at York Bay, Lower Hutt, in 1994. There was a house already on the site but there was enough room to build another, more modern place.

Before going overseas they had built a simple "box" garage on the site, which is now the ground floor of the house. Mr McKay decided to act on the plans he had drawn up to expand it.

"I got busy. This was all about getting busy, it takes your mind off things," he said. "I always wanted to build a house and I was very lucky to get to do it."

The four-storey, three-bedroom house is a true labour of love, built out of renewable materials with a striking design fitted to its surroundings.

Over the course of 10 years, Mr McKay has done everything from laying concrete slabs to cladding the walls in zinc, to laying floorboards and sealing the roof.

"The only thing I didn't build was the kitchen," he said.

The relationship between architect, engineer, builder and client can be a fractious one but since Mr McKay combined all four roles in one man, things were easier.

It was not always a smooth process. For a while, he was living in the shell of the building, with only a cold water tap and windows missing. "I was having cold showers and living on microwave meals for three months."

He thinks the house could be worth about $650,000 but he has no intention of selling.

Mr McKay's work as an architect has included designing affordable housing apartments in London, a townhouse on a subdivided Ngaio section and the major renovation of a multi-level Eastbourne home.

He describes his York Bay house as an "apartment in the bush" - it does not have a garden, and he has tried to minimise its impact on the bush surrounds.

"The house can be recycled . . . I'm not a hippy but I like to do the right thing."

Mr McKay said he tried not to ask what Victoria would have thought about the house.

"I have always deliberately tried to focus on the future and not dwell on looking back too much.

"I hope that she would have liked it."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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