House of the week: Luxurious Coromandel retreat
Steve Joynes' original vision for his family's holiday home was a simple one: "I wanted something really cheap and small – like a hut," says the Hamilton-based builder, before cracking up with laughter. Needless to say, things didn't quite work out that way. But the luxurious retreat he's built, surrounded by native bush in the Coromandel, does evoke the spirit of a particularly sleek Department of Conservation hut.
The house is one of just a few properties on a protected subdivision in Mahakirau in the Coromandel Ranges. The isolated site appealed to Steve, who spent a lot of time in the bush with his mates as a kid. "There's seven or eight kilometres of road and only 24 properties," he says. "So you have to go quite deep into the bush to get to where you want to be. And then all around you is state forest. It backs onto the kauri sanctuary, which is 400 mature kauri, one of the last big stands in the Coromandel. They're pretty impressive – we've been in there with one of the local iwi."
Homeowners here are considered caretakers of the land. When Steve and his wife Linda are here, they spend a lot of their time clearing tracks (they have so far built more than 100m of boardwalks and stairs) as well as helping out with pest control in order to preserve the local kiwi population. "I got my first stoat on the weekend," says Steve proudly. "I love nature, so it's nice to give it a hand."
Steve and Linda look after 12ha. Their home sits in a clearing on an elevated ridge, overlooking what Linda refers to as the "never-ending view of the valley". Clad in a combination of cedar and black Colorsteel, the three-bedroom house almost disappears into the bush that surrounds it, but for the twinkling lights glimpsed through the enormous picture windows and the soaring cedar-lined entranceway.
The couple designed the house in collaboration with architectural designer Noel Jessop, who Steve has worked with for years. "We wanted to build something that suited the environment," says Steve. "I like doing something really different; something that you can't do on a normal section."
To him, that meant using wood anywhere and everywhere he possibly could. "The idea was, when you're looking out, all you can see is the timber and the bush," says Steve. "But even Noel said I was putting too much timber in it – until he saw it finished."
He reckons his affinity for timber is in part because he uses it every day, but also because it's natural. "Anything that comes out of the ground has got a really nice feeling to it and it's a pleasure to be around. Plus, the cedar has a lovely smell. When you walk in it's like, 'Oh, sweet, I'm here.'"
Steve did most of the building himself, taking Thursdays and Fridays off to work on the house for the first eight months or so, and after that doing some fine-tuning at the weekends.
He put a lot of thought into the details, trying to create a sense of history in the new house. He scoured eBay for mid-century Danish light fittings for months before the build even started. He bought and built furniture, including a couch to complement the two retro armchairs beside the fire in the living room, and he filled the wooden shelves with all the toys he said his parents never bought him.
"Stuff that my cousins had, like little steam engines. It's cool if little kids come up there now because I get them out and get to play with them. And I found an old doll Linda loved when she was a kid."
Steve reckons it's important to put yourself into a project. "Trust your own instincts. Heaps of people will tell you, 'Do this, or don't do that,' but if it's a holiday place and it's for you, do what you like," he says. "That's why this one has come up so well."
"As soon as you walk into it, you just relax. You can't not. It's away from everyone, so it's like our little escape. It's so busy in Hamilton, my phone's always ringing, but here I never even answer it. If someone rings my phone and they're not a friend
I just ignore it. A lot of the time I even ignore my friends' phone calls," he says with a laugh.
"It's like a little hideaway. A lot of our friends go up there and use it, just to have a break. Everyone just loves it. You can't hear anything, it's just birds and silence."
Our favourite way to entertain: Is to take people for a walk on the boardwalk down to the stream, searching for native frogs and walking to the waterfalls.
This weekend we will be: Heading down the tracks, checking traps and bait stations.
Best moments in the garden: When our plants started attracting native birds; then at night the bugs attract the morepork and we get to see them up close.
Best seat in the house: We couldn't choose between the kitchen, lounge and bedroom windows, all looking down the valley into the distance.
Our favourite local restaurant: There is so much on offer. Pepper Tree in Coromandel, Flock in Tairua, Hot Water Brewing Co and Salt in Whitianga and Luke's Kitchen in Kuaotunu.
- NZ House & Garden