Builder's own award-winning home 'Dark house' is a calm oasis
The central city might be awash with orange cones and subject to sudden road detours, but arriving at the contemporary St Albans home of Jeff and Kelly Root is like stepping into a relaxed, peaceful haven.
The sun's rays pour through sliding glass doors and double glazing silences the outside world.
In their home, dubbed the Dark House, the couple have successfully combined an industrial, ultra-modern look and central-city location with a warm, laid-back feel. But, that's not surprising; this is a couple who know what they're doing.
With more than 30 years in the construction industry, quantity surveyor and director of Casa Construction Jeff was well placed to take on his own building project.
He and Kelly had already built several homes for themselves, although they admit their priorities have changed since they were a young couple.
"Our first house was as much house as we could get for not many dollars, but our focus has changed now; we've absolutely gone for quality over size," Jeff says.
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The site is a compact 460sq metres, with the two-bedroom home taking up 220sq metres, but Kelly and Jeff love the proximity to the city. Christchurch born and bred, they have lived all over the city, but when they spotted this convenient Madras St site, they knew it was perfect for their lifestyle.
Their decisive approach, and knowing what they wanted from the start, made the building process simple.
"I've always wanted a black box on a black box. I've just always liked that box feel," Jeff says.They sketched up their ideas, positioning the garage on the property's boundary to provide some separation from the road. From there, it was a case of spreading out and adding in the other requirements, Jeff says. Then, he took the sketches to a designer and got the ball rolling.The build took just 23 weeks and met budget, says Jeff, who was on site most days. But the project wasn't without challenges. The high water table was the main one and it was exacerbated by the demolition of two neighbouring houses, which meant water flowed from those properties on to their site. Pumping chambers were temporarily installed to reduce the water table and enable ground remediation.
Acknowledging Christchurch's shaky times, the home has a RibRaft TC3 floor, which can be relevelled after an earthquake.
The kitchen was a key focus for Jeff and Kelly, both serious foodies who love entertaining. At weekends, they often cook up a storm, while guests relax with a glass of wine. They even put on an annual degustation dinner with wine matches.
Centrally positioned on the ground floor, the kitchen certainly feels like the heart of the home. With open-plan dining and an informal seating area with comfortable couches near the entrance, the cook for the evening is still in the middle of the party. Guests must pass through the kitchen to get to the main lounge or out on to the deck. A large, white island provides plenty of preparation space, as well as a handy counter for visitors to pull up a stool and chat. A separate pantry means the main kitchen area can be kept clutter-free. A single-width wine fridge is neatly fitted between cabinets, a small detail that speaks of careful thought.
Finishes are simple, with a focus on clean, hard surfaces. A polished concrete floor runs the length of the ground-floor living areas. The steel used in the front door is reflected in the cabinets in the living area. The wallpaper in the entranceway is similar to that upstairs and in the bedroom, but in a different colour.
"I like the honesty of the materials; the steel and the concrete," Jeff says. "We were purposefully aiming for an industrial feel to the home and these elements have achieved that."
Aesthetics and practicality have been combined with ease; polished concrete looks great but also absorbs the heat from the sun and is easy to clean, so guests can keep their shoes on and the family's bichon frise running around with dirty paws is no drama.
Where some people might agonise over details and finishes, seasoned builders Kelly and Jeff wasted no time making decisions.
"We decided the whole lot in an hour and a half," Kelly says with a laugh.
As with other aspects of the house, they knew what they wanted and were well aware of the options.
"We see all the new stuff all the time and we got pretty much everything we wanted into the house," Jeff says.
Buying art, however, has taken them a bit more time, but luckily, they have similar tastes, Jeff says.
They've chosen a couple of bright, street-art-style canvases, which fit with the urban, industrial-style of the home. But there are also some quirkier pieces. A low cabinet that sits by the wall between the living room and dining area is made of distressed wooden with scuffs of white and bluish paint. It was made by their son, Jacob, when he was in year 11. On the wall above hangs a circle of coloured feathers, beautiful in its intricacy. It's a juju hat, worn by tribal chiefs in Africa, Kelly says. She had always wanted one and bought the unusual piece online.
In the warmer months, the sliding glass doors in the dining room open on to a small outdoor deck with a couple of seats, giving extra space and the choice of al fresco entertaining on those balmy Canterbury evenings.
The outdoor area is deceptively spacious, accommodating an outdoor dining table and chairs down the side of the house; a leaner bar and comfortable, casual seating in one corner; an outdoor kitchen; and, tucked away at the end, a hot tub. They even have room for a vegetable garden with raised beds at the rear of the house.
The decking and dark fence are punctuated by spots of lush, dark green ligularia and the paler, spikes of yucca plants. Although these designer-style plants fit perfectly with the house, there is an underlying practicality to them; they are ideally suited to the high water table on the site.
The modern outdoor area has clean lines and simple planting, but removing older trees, particularly a pear tree, posed dilemmas.
"We were going to keep it and work around it, but then we spoke to the neighbours and they all said 'no, don't keep it'. Apparently, it attracted all these wasps," Kelly says.
Eventually, they made the decision to cut it down and discovered it was rotten inside.
"That sort of vindicated our decision, but we really did anguish over those trees," Jeff says.
They have also made some important decisions in terms of sustainability. Solar panels line the roof and they have an energy-efficient, heat-pump-controlled hot-water system. In addition, the house has been designed to make use of natural light and heat. The concrete floor holds the heat in the living areas and the position of the master bedroom upstairs means it also gets plenty of sun.
"We wanted to really focus on that passive solar design and it has worked really well," Jeff says. In fact, the success of the system has surprised them. "It's so much better than we thought it would be," he says.
Another surprise for the couple was to see the house pick up the builder's own home award at the 26th Registered Master Builders 2016 House of the Year Awards. Judges particularly praised the house's sustainability and energy efficiency. The awards were announced at a dinner in Auckland and the couple had flown up for a "good night out, really", Kelly says. "To actually win; that was massive for us."
But, perhaps the biggest win has been the pleasure of day-to-day living in this house. Jeff and Kelly love the low-maintenance modern home; their oasis in the city where they shrug off the stresses of the world at the door.
"I love it. As soon as I get home … I just love it," Kelly says.