A Christchurch townhouse has been designed for all senses and a guide dog

Last updated 05:00 31/03/2017

Lynne Smith, who is visually impaired, enjoys the splashes of tangerine throughout the living areas of her townhouse.

A mezzanine floor overlooks an open and sunny sitting room with comfortable old furniture.
Sunflowers and lilies brighten up living areas.
The Mairehau town house opens out to a lush and tranquil outdoor area.
Lynne's off-duty guide dog, Vegas, soaks up the sun on the wooden decking.
The white, open-plan kitchen is decorated with splashes of orange and country-style features.
Lynne Smith's master bedroom is decorated with throws, pillows and artworks, which are rich in texture.
A generous wooden decking offers plenty of space for gatherings and outdoor dining.
A bench seat made out of recycled skis brightens the garden.

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First to greet me when I arrive at Lynne Smith's cedar-clad townhouse is her guide dog, Vegas, which has temporarily vacated a sunny spot on the deck outside the kitchen to see who is at the front door.

As Lynne opens the door, Vegas brushes by on her way back to resume her snooze.

"Come on through," Lynne says, leading me along a hallway to a light airy sitting room by the kitchen deck, overlooking a leafy back garden.

The sitting room is part of a large open-plan area. Behind us is the kitchen and next to us, also facing out into the garden, is a spacious dining room with a comfortable lounge beyond.

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Lynne and her then partner, Ian, first moved to this site 22 years ago when it was part of an intentional community called Creekside.

"We had an 8-year-old son at that time and I was pregnant with our second son. Ian's parents lived overseas and my mother had died, so we really liked the idea of moving into a community where there would be a kind of extended family for our boys."

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The community operated with shared assets. For example, instead of five households with a lawnmower apiece, one lawnmower was shared by all five.

"We found this approach of sharing land and resources really appealing."

In those days, Creekside had no fences and pathways crisscrossed land held in common. Lynne says it was a great family environment.

"If you had to pop out, you'd know there'd always be someone there looking out for your kids."

Private fences have since gone up, but Creekside remains a friendly sort of place. Lynne usually has dinner with neighbours every week and people still look out for each other.

Lynne, who lost her original townhouse in the earthquakes, says it took time to negotiate insurance to rebuild as a result of cross-lease title complications. There were also delays arising from flooding in the Flockton Basin (thankfully, that problem has since been laid to rest). Lynne was lucky to find a nearby flat, where she was able to live during the rebuild.

"I was also lucky in that I was one of three community members in these townhouses with the same insurer, so we were able to collectively select a builder."

Her replacement townhouse shares the same modest footprint as her previous home and the exterior style is much the same, but Lynne changed the internal design to accommodate her congenital deteriorating eye disease and make life easier for her and Vegas. The biggest change has been to open up the main living area and make it much lighter, facing the north-west.

"I always said that if I got the chance to reconfigure the interior, then I'd know what to do."

In effect, her old dining room has been converted into a lounge and her old kitchen into a dining room, with a wall removed between those two spaces. A spacious pantry has been built where previously there was a toilet.

"I chose to have an open pantry without doors, because it is convenient for me and I know exactly where everything is. It works so well for me and the kitchen is functional and easy."

Central heating has been installed, along with more windows and lights. Blinds were chosen over curtains to maximise the outward orientation to sun and garden.

"When you look outside, all you can see is green; it is an uncluttered view."

The deck area has been substantially extended, with double-door access from both the lounge and sitting room/kitchen and steps down to a paved garden. The kitchen deck space is covered by a retractable awning that provides an outdoor dining room. Even if it's raining, Lynne and Vegas can sit outside without getting wet. (Incidentally, Vegas has the pick of three comfortable beds: one outside, one in the dining room and another upstairs).

There is a lovely swing seat in the easy-care garden, given to Lynne by her sons.

"It's incredibly relaxing; I love it."

Interior walls are white, making it easier for Lynne to appreciate treasured pieces, such as a silk print of a medieval knight that used to belong to her late brother. Many favourite possessions, such as a preserved armadillo, are souvenirs from overseas travels to North America, the Middle East and Europe in her younger years. She has kept some lovely prints from Haida Gwaii, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.

A close friend sometimes picks out decorative items she knows Lynne will like, such as textured cushions, a large round medallion hanging above the stairs and an antique-style painted panel by the kitchen (sourced from Vast Interior).

"Aesthetics are still incredibly important for me. I like the brightness of tangerine orange. A lot of things I have, such as that panel, are very tactile. I love natural materials like linen, leather and wood that I can feel."

One of her favourite pieces in the house is a carved wooden mantel, mounted on a wall at the foot of the stairs. Lynne loves touching the curling leaves and round berries that have been worked into the wood.

Pops of tangerine – for example, on cushions – and the engineered oak floor add warmth to the interior.

Vases of fragrant fresh flowers are a constant in Lynne's life and are usually sourced from florist Miss Feaver.

"They always help me to pick out flowers – I'm usually looking for something with fragrance or texture. I love lilies. Sunflowers, when they are in season, are another favourite."

Lynne says the small collection of stringed instruments in the lounge reflects her former partner's vocation as a musician.

"We're still good friends; I also still have the ottoman that was Ian's grandmother's – it has been kept all these years. I feel a house should reflect the history of the person or family who lives there."

Her son, George, has recently moved back in for a few months and Lynne says guests often come to stay, too. The house works really well for social occasions, Lynne having celebrated her 60th birthday there following the rebuild.

As well her son's room and a bathroom, Lynne has a spare room upstairs that she also uses as a work space. This overlooks the downstairs area and has a skylight above. The open rails of the previous house have been replaced with a partial wall for safety's sake.

In the master bedroom, Lynne has added a large well-organised walk-in wardrobe and bathroom, making use of space where there used to be another bedroom in her previous home. Bedroom doors open on to a balcony, where Vegas has one of her beds.

"Again, the walk-in wardrobe works really well for me, because it's so open. I can go straight to any piece of clothing I want. I know where everything is. It has made life so much easier … You feel very private up here; it really doesn't feel as though you're living in the middle of a city."

Upstairs skylights contribute to the spacious feel of the upper storey and are equipped with sensors to ensure they automatically shut if it starts raining.

Lynne loves the sense of the garden beyond the bedroom window. Her deteriorating vision has made keeping a garden almost impossible, but the addition of easy-care paving and boxing means she can still enjoy spending time there. She adores the boundary of tall trees and little touches, such as the bright chair and table made by her brother, Steve, out of recycled skis.

"The outdoor area before was smaller and not as easy to use . . . I'm out on the deck all the time, too. I've put in a hedge to box in the end of the deck so that will grow up and frame it."

Some things, such as the suite in the lounge, haven't changed since Lynne first moved to Creekside. Much remains familiar about this new house that has replaced the old.

"Sometimes, when I'm sitting here, I still have my memory of how it was. It was a fantastic family home and it's still home for my boys, now with the added advantage that everything works so much better for me."


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