House of the week: Easy-care Ponsonby apartment with views that wow
Auckland architects Lindy and Colin Leuschke were looking to simplify their lives. Little did they know that "simple" would involve picking up someone else's abandoned project.
They'd been house hunting for a while, and when they saw a vacant corner site on Ponsonby Road, Auckland, they immediately liked its outlook and position.
It turned out that the vendor already had a resource consent for retail and two levels of apartments but had been worn down by the consent process.
"We bought the empty site complete with plans that we could amend," says Lindy, "and these included space for a new apartment on the third floor."
Having progressed through various family homes, both old and new, including a warehouse they renovated, the couple decided that with the children gone and a beach house beckoning most weekends, a lock-up-and-leave city apartment would be perfect.
"I love the vibrancy of Ponsonby Road. We had been in Parnell, but this area is much more quirky. When we are here, we try to walk everywhere. There are lots of restaurants and cafes, and it's lovely to go out in the evening, somewhere we can take Panda [their six-year-old Jack Russell], enjoy a glass of wine in the setting sun and walk home," says Lindy.
"Because we had moved house several times, we'd already pared back. A lot had been given away to our kids and their friends – it's good to see things recirculating," she says.
"Since moving in a year ago, we have really discovered how happy we are with a smaller space and fewer possessions. Life is simpler and this apartment feels like a celebration of a simpler life," says Lindy.
The apartment has a large kitchen, dining and living area, two bedrooms and a flexible space at one end of the living area that can be transformed into a third bedroom or study by pulling sliding doors across the extra-large opening. Two of Colin and Lindy's sons live in Auckland, and the third is in Vanuatu, so this arrangement means there's space if they want to stay.
"We tend to go up north most weekends, and I love the contrast between weekend living and my city fix. In town, we get up most mornings at 6.30am to walk Panda. We step out onto the street door to cars, noise and asphalt. We have no lawns, garden or hedges. Instead, we have a huge view and we're really enjoying the connection with the city, the lights and the harbour. But we still get our garden therapy at our beach house."
You'd think that as architects Lindy and Colin would have preferred to start their new project from scratch, but they're happy with the end result.
"The notified consent process had taken the previous owners a year and they were exhausted from it. We knew we needed to compromise and work with what was already approved externally or we would face the same problems they had experienced," says Lindy. "So we met with council planners and made a few amendments to the resource consent to reflect our personalities and preferences. We couldn't alter the footprint of the building or its shape so we worked within these parameters. We completely redesigned the interior planning."
The resulting apartment is very long and fairly narrow – 22 x 4.8m – which was a challenge architecturally, so Lindy decided the best way to deal with the length was to embrace it. "We have played on the dimensions, exaggerating them. We made the living area, which runs the full length of the apartment, completely open plan. Floor boards run lengthways, recessed pelmets run along the full length of each side of the ceiling, and we designed an extra-long steel lighting channel over the kitchen island and dining table as well."
With floor to ceiling windows along one long wall of the apartment, they have fantastic views from the Sky Tower to the east, right around past the Chelsea Sugar Refinery in Birkenhead to the Waitakere Ranges, and, on a good day, as far as the Awhitu Peninsula – and sun pours in from morning to night. Because of the amazing outlook, Lindy says, they ended up dialling down the interior colours to let the view dominate.
The apartment provides great people-watching opportunities, she says, but to protect their privacy, large bifolding screens cover the windows facing Ponsonby Road. "These are adjustable and easy to move and open, and because of their cut-out design, people on the street can't see in but from the apartment we can see out," she says.
"We made cut-out paper models and lived with them to make sure we got the right mix of open and solid elements in the pattern. Because they are made from aluminium, you only get one chance to get them right."
A large terrace opens off the living area, but as they are on the third floor on a windy ridge, they chose a solid concrete balustrade, with glass at one end, for protection from the elements. "We wanted a softer, greener look for the terrace than you might find in a classic apartment, so we covered it with artificial grass, and planted trees and shrubs in huge steel pots," says Lindy.
So how do two architects manage the design process for their own home? Lindy says it's an art form they have developed over the years. "I mostly do residential architecture and Colin does commercial work, and a building like this is a mix of both. We are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses and take them into account, and you have to be mature and professional and treat each other like another client."
The look we were after: Organic, rather than slick.
High point of the build: We knew the view would be pretty good, so when the floor was in place and we could actually see it for the first time, it was very exciting to realise just how fantastic it was.
Best money we spent: The timber floor from Brasell + Ojala, which has boards in different widths. Because the floor area is really big, using one material throughout makes the apartment feel even more spacious. The timber has texture and is a beautiful, soft honey colour and it looks old and scratched.
Most debated decision: The en suite was a really tricky shape because it sort of wraps around the lift and stairwell. Getting it to work and the logistics of fitting everything in took a huge amount of discussion.
Best design tip: Go to an architect. We don't get caught up in the detail until you get to the detail stage. We look at the broad picture, consider constraints, the exterior, council requirements, the sun, and then get into the interior planning. Often by then you realise you don't really need so much detail. There are always options.
- NZ House & Garden