The art of home design

Enormous red jaffas tumble from an equally large box mounted on the wall of Jay and David Lingham's hallway.

A short distance away, giant licorice allsorts are doing the same.

The quirky artwork is the perfect greeting for visitors to this unique home, which completely reflects the tastes and personalities of its inhabitants. This is no surprise, as Jay was the one who designed "every square inch" of this home in Delta Lake Heights, west of Blenheim. High on a hill overlooking the water, the low grey corrugated iron structure of angled walls and large windows of tinted glass create a deceptive first impression to anyone driving up the hill towards it.

Approached from the road, the sloped corrugated iron exterior appears almost shed-like but venture down the driveway and, past the ultra-retro house bus, more of the unusual shapes of the house are revealed and colour emerges. The garage wall reveals a splash of green and the main entrance, announced by a tall angular archway, is a flamboyant orange against the backdrop of dry hills. Open the large front door and some of Jay's orange items, including a very large insect high on the wall, are revealed.

Colour continues inside, where Jay's love of all things 1970s is revealed within a bright and airy home, full of carefully thought-out and surprising features. Surprises such as the central glass-covered atrium full of plants that both the bathroom and ensuite look out on, creating an exotic twist. A walk down the hallway towards the kitchen reveals a sudden narrowing of the house where the outdoors intrudes, held back only by a curved wall of glass panels that wrap around a courtyard.

A truly unique structure, this house was not created with the help of an architect or a designer, but by Jay herself, whose only claim to any sort of construction knowledge is an interest in design and growing up with a builder as a father.

Currently a shift worker at Talley's in Havelock with David, Jay has designed and built three homes, all from humble beginnings on a piece of gridded maths paper. From paper, Jay's ideas take a more solid shape in the form of a model, which she also makes herself, and from there they are taken to engineers and builders. Jay has never failed to see one of her designs come to life, even if that means searching for the right tradesman willing to take on more unusual features.

"It's all do-able - everything's do-able."

What helps is that Jay knows exactly what she wants: "I've never changed anything from the day of conception.

"I'm just not a regular house person, I'm not into brick and tiles and what not, I just don't like normal."

Jay's first houses in the Wairarapa were "cubist and square": One was 36m long with a 17m hallway, so long that Jay used a trolley to cart the groceries from the car to the kitchen. The second house was 32m long and basically "a long box with a complete glass front", says Jay.

She prefers metal to wood for its solidity and look, particularly the rural feel of corrugated iron.

Jay says her Delta Lake home was inspired by a picture on a magazine cover and evolved from having curved walls to inward angled walls to outward angled walls. The result is her favourite design so far, though her initial vision of the building site was something different entirely.

"I had actually planned to have this house on a flat site with rocks because it's kind of bunker-ish looking, which is why it looks like it looks."

Jay always designs her houses before finding a building site, so when she and David saw the Delta Lake property on Trade Me for a very good price, she simply adapted her initial vision of her home's surroundings and did not change her design. It's worked out well, she said, because having the windows all on one side of the building has completely eliminated the road and other nearby properties from view.

In six months the house was built to lock-up stage so David and Jay could start on the interior. The Linghams do as much work themselves as possible, even if that means sacrificing any scrap of spare time and a certain level of comfort.

"We do a lot of it ourselves, it's more achievable in having your own house by doing it, when you think about what a paint job costs, all it costs us was time and paint.

"The more you do the cheaper it is, so long as you have the willpower and the stamina."

In the first house, this meant fitting only the kitchen and bathroom. But things were different the second time around, Jay remembers with a wry smile: "The second house it was just a lock-up shell, for a couple of months you could see from one end of the house through the framing. We decided we wouldn't do that again, it just about killed (Dave) and he just about killed me."

Dave and Jay took over their current house at the gibbed and plastered stage, leaving painting and outfitting to be done. However, things were made harder by the fact that they were living in their house bus at a beach in Christchurch doing EQC ( Earthquake Commission) painting

work. Each weekend they would drive to Marlborough, work on the house, then drive back for another week of painting. About two months ago the couple decided to move to Marlborough fulltime, despite lower wages, just to get the job done.

Now sitting in her nearly finished home, Jay can reflect on the result of her latest project. Though she loves the sloping walls, atrium and bathrooms, she does not have a favourite part: "It's all cohesive for me."

Each project has taught her something new, such as the need to include ensuites, which she dislikes, for on-selling purposes, and a third bedroom.

She learned that tiles are easier to clean than glass, so prefers using them in the bathroom.

A big fan of passive solar heating, Jay learned, by sheer chance, how to achieve good airflow in this home simply using louvres in the lounge and bedroom.

"It's really weird, it's just worked itself out really well. I didn't plan it that way."

Though Jay and Dave have only been in their new home for two months, they have already put it on the market as they plan to return north to be near family. Jay is a little sad to leave her special house so soon, particularly as she and David have not even finished unpacking from the last move.

"Out of the three houses it's my favourite, because of its quirkiness probably, its uniqueness."

However, Jay already has her sights set on a next possible project, this time a doer-upper in the form of old shearing quarters in the Wairarapa.

"I always look forward to the next challenge, once I've created something I seem to get bored and want to move on.

"And David's sort of long-suffering and patient, he's along for the ride."

The Marlborough Express