House of the week: Lyttleton rebuild called for creative compromises
Compromise has negative connotations. It implies sacrifice, relinquishing dreams, begrudgingly settling for the middle ground. So it came as a surprise, not least to owners Melanie Betts and Dave Nicholl, when a post-quake Lyttelton rebuild, riddled with compromises, resulted in a house that has made everyone happy.
From the street, the house seems typical of the quaint villas dotted around the hillsides of the Canterbury port town. In reality, the metal fretwork of its verandah, visible just above the fence, is all that remains of the original. The rest of it went to the dump.
"In the September 2010 quake, the concrete pad separated from the house and the ground fell away, but the house was sort of okay," says Melanie.
Dalman Architecture was lined up to do the repairs when the more devastating quake struck the following February. "We stayed in the house for about six weeks, all five of us in one bedroom, before we were told it had to be completely bowled."
Melanie and Dave moved out with their three children, Lili, then aged seven, and four-year-old twins Adam and Alex, while Dalman readjusted its brief from repair to rebuild.
It took three years to construct another small house where their previous one had been, during which time they moved around rental properties. "At least it was a good way to pare down our belongings," says Melanie, an English-born GP.
The months rolled by as they manoeuvred through EQC and insurance obstacles as well as heritage constraints. "There were many restrictions," says Dalman architect John McGrail. "It had to be exactly the same floor area for insurance purposes, but there were also restraints because it's in a heritage precinct."
After much deliberation, Melanie and Dave chose living space over sleeping space. "The whole thing was essentially a compromise. We had to build on the same footprint with the same roofline and the only way to get more living space was to make our four already-small bedrooms smaller," says Melanie.
The architects added light and space by including a deck and putting a loft in the roof cavity. "It's space that was there in the old house but full of cobwebs and dust," says John.
Previously the only half-decent view had been from the kitchen sink. Now large windows take in panoramic harbour views and the living room opens on to a deck that doubles as a herb garden. "When you live in a port it can be busy and noisy, but there's always something going on," says Melanie. "You never tire of the view."
Much of the interior is clad with plywood, another concession. "I wanted wooden floors but Dave was keen on underfloor heating and wooden floors make it inefficient," says Melanie, who decided that if she couldn't have wood on the floor she would put it on the walls.
They both like the simplicity and natural look of the varnished plywood – and Melanie concedes the underfloor heating and concrete-tiled floor has been great. "We spent ages choosing our log burner for its efficiency and low emission, but it's really only used for ambience."
Externally, cedar weatherboards have been used on the front and back, while long-run corrugated steel clads the sides of the house. "It fits with the character of Lyttelton buildings of that vintage, especially commercial ones, as well as being cost-effective," says John. (In other words, a compromise, says Melanie.)
The small lawn below the house is dominated by a large trampoline and a little-used kennel belonging to their recently acquired pound-rescue pooch.
While the family debated whether she would be an inside or outside dog, Layla, who wasn't about to accept any compromises after her stint on death row, moved into Adam's bedroom.
Like the rest of the household, Layla had travelled a long and rocky road – and she could see instantly that this house was made for living in.
MELANIE'S HARD-WON REBUILD LESSONS
We wish we'd known: How replacement insurance works. If you upgrade you pay for it, but if you downgrade you don't save anything. We chose basic fixtures in the bathroom thinking we could put the money we saved into other things, but you can't.
To help the kids cope with the upheaval: We tried to keep them excited (and not involved in the stresses) about the new house and gave them choices about their rooms.
It was disappointing: That we couldn't save the old floorboards. We couldn't, for health and safety reasons, so they got chucked out.
Best thing about the renovation: There's so much more light and the house now makes the most of the views.
Bravest thing we did around the house: Putting in masses of plywood and making our bedrooms tiny. On the positive side, the children don't stay in their rooms – and they can just squeeze in a mattress for sleepovers.
Biggest renovation regret: Head-height hazards such as the kitchen cupboards.
This house is eco-friendly because: The concrete floor is a fantastic heat sink.
Best seat in the house: The sofa in the loft is hard to beat for its view of the harbour and sky through the high window.
Most-loved garden plant: Lavender. It's easy and effective.
- NZ House & Garden