Fendalton family home

A touch of the country brings a sense of tradition to this contemporary family home.

Under the old oak tree

Not many sections come with their own century-old protected oak tree. The responsibility of care might be too much for some, but homeowners Julie and Ben and their three children are proud of their leafy giant.
This former farming family, now settled in a quiet Fendalton street, say the oak is like a slice of country has come to town. A reliable companion through the passing seasons, it is also a tree of note in their neighbourhood.

"This tree isn't just ours - it belongs to the whole street. People even come along and hug it. It's beautiful," Ben says.

When construction of their new home began in June 2008, great care was taken to protect the special feature. The driveway was dug out by hand with an arborist on site to ensure no harm came to the old oak.

The family of five wanted their home to blend harmoniously into this 1100sqm corner of old Fendalton and so the design includes a rustic, stone garden wall along the front of the property and a chimney finished with West Coast river stones. The West Coast stone is also a reference to where Julie grew up on a dairy farm. "It's a bit of the West Coast in Fendalton."

Country life is also recalled in a larger-than-life painting of a bull by artist Daniel Smith, hanging in the entrance lobby. "Meet Bernie, our bull," smiles Julie. "He's our farm animal in town."

Care has been taken to include many practical features in this home, built over 18 months. Having experienced family life in an older farm cottage, Julie was determined to find a place for everything. So, when the children come in from school, there's a big cupboard waiting with a shelf for each of their bags and space for shoes, as well as a laundry chute.

There is a roomy office off the dining area, full of shelves and drawers and finished with a hardy stone benchtop that resists scratches and ink stains. It can also be closed off with sliding doors so no-one has to look at half-finished homework over dinner. The children's rooms all have generous wardrobes with shelving, drawers, and double hanging rails.

"We're quite a close family and that concept is also something I wanted to foster in the design. We didn't want the children to be miles away from us," says Julie, showing how the open-plan kitchen/dining/family room, floored with American oak, flows through to another big living area. "We knew we wanted these two areas, but we didn't want one to be more formal than the other. Our children are welcome to join us in either of these areas."

The entire project was designed and managed by Horncastle Homes, (the architect was Tim Devine and the builder Colin Gray). Bill and Mrrietta Horncastle are friends of the family and the section was purchased from them - hence the decision to go with Horncastle Homes. "A lot of people have said the finish is fantastic. We're very pleased with how everything went," Julie says.

Julie and Ben enjoy entertaining and their downstairs rooms work exceptionally well for hosting guests. Their solid oak Ashton Grove dining table can comfortably seat 12. "We had 60 or 70 guests here recently and you wouldn't have known it. Everyone was very relaxed and no-one got hidden," Ben says.

Sliding doors can be closed to separate the front living room from the main family room. Julie enjoys being able to change the feel of the house by using these doors. It is also easy to create a different look by rearranging their modular furniture and soft furnishings (from Belle Interiors). Built-in furniture, such as a long, low entertainment and storage unit in the front living room, means it is an easy area to keep tidy.

The couple appreciate New Zealand art and two of their favourites are a distinctive self-portrait by Mark Olsen and a special piece they commissioned from Christchurch artist Hamish Allan. It shows the Port Hills and the old Carlton Hotel, complete with mini works by Colin McCahon and Don Binney hanging on the walls inside the hotel. The home's neutral decor of Resene Quarter Black White is a good muted backdrop for art. Works by Bannockburn artist Alan Waters also add interest.

There is easy access to an outdoor entertainment area, sheltered by louvres that can be closed to provide shelter from rain or too much sun. The garden, designed by Ben McMaster, features classic tall white planters, but remains a country garden at heart, with rhododendrons, roses and magnolias.

The kitchen is notable for its clean uncluttered lines and a useful fridge drawer for drinks (all appliances in the home are from Award Appliances). The cooking action unfolds in an adjacent, roomy scullery, where there is a pleasant view of the backyard vegetable garden and an old carport that has been converted into a private outdoor family dining area. In summer, the children help themselves to raspberries and strawberries. The downstairs guest bedroom with ensuite looks out into this relaxing garden space. In the backyard, there is also room for the children's trampoline and a patch of artificial turf for games of hockey.

"People often ask us why we used zinc [a veneer sheeting] on the back of the house," says Julie. "But we like to sit out here and enjoy it."

Some very smart features in this family home include a C-Bus microprocessor-based wiring system to control lighting and heating. Lights automatically come on when someone steps into the scullery, for example. Home entertainment - from music to movies - is unified throughout the home via a Bang and Olufsen integrated sound system, so a favourite CD is only ever one easy tap away, whether inside or out. "Believe it or not, though, we're not really gadget people," Ben says.

Heating is by way of three internal heat pumps and two gas fires, although double glazing and sensible positioning mean this home is naturally fairly warm over winter. Bathrooms all have under-floor heating, and are fully tiled and finished with custom-made American oak vanity units.

From the lobby, handcrafted stairs by Hales Joinery lead to the upper level. Glass balustrades by Julie's brother at Metro Glass Tech give an airy and open feel and a nice touch is a family portrait gallery at the base of the stairs. (Julie's brother also made the glass canopy over the front entrance, offering an unobstructed view of the oak tree.)

All the family bedrooms are upstairs. The master bedroom has a walk-in wardrobe and a bathroom where there is a relaxing, deep bath, finished with a restful fleur-de-lis Italian tile surround, and music at hand, courtesy of the sound system.

The children's rooms are all beautifully furnished with bed linen and accessories from Christchurch store Patersonrose. Julie's sister-in-law is a co-owner of Patersonrose and the family adore this classic-looking linen with a modern twist. Julie and Ben's eldest daughter Georgia, 13, even has a bed made up with linen named after her. Chic details - clocks, lamps and cushions - are also from Patersonrose. Georgia shares a Jack and Jill ensuite with her sister, Victoria, 9, whose room is a pretty red. The ensuite's line of red tiles and red flower shower decals are inspired by this theme. Harrison, 11, also has an ensuite off his room and, like his sisters, has a spacious wardrobe, a built-in desk and a lovely view over the garden.

As the life of this family continues, the seasons unfold from spring to autumn, cherished and treasured under the slowly spreading limbs of a big old oak tree.