From the Tropics to Taranaki
Having lived all over the world, the owners of 202 Heta Rd had plenty of ideas on what they wanted their new build to look like.With near-dizzying vistas across the forest-clad valleys of Merrilands, a sneak peek of the sea on one side and a mountain backdrop on the other, Belinda and Hamish Brown have finally found home.
“We’ve thrown away the boxes the appliances came in,” Belinda confirms. “We’re staying.”
It’s a welcome statement for the family of four who has spent the last 15 years in South East Asia. The couple met in London and moved to Brisbane before starting a family in Kuala Lumpur.
The latter location was where the family oversaw the New Plymouth build from, something they were surprisingly not rattled about.
“We were either naïve, stupid or trusting, I’m not sure which,” Hamish jokes. “We took a lot of faith in the fact that New Plymouth is a town in which reputation is everything.”
An appreciation for the natural is evident from first glance. Outside, the house stands proud with its three tiers of height each defined by either spacious windows, bold cedar timber panelling or the dramatic dark axon of the tallest tier of the three-storey home.
A wild garden twists around the house with plans for ladders to run to the top of the sloped section to allow for the couple’s two young boys to explore and play.
Stepping inside, there is more of that cosy wooden panelling running up alongside the stairs, softening the look of the contrasting crisp white walls.
The tiles on the kitchen splashback grabs the eye with its Queenstown schist-like appearance. A nod to a favourite place frequented from a previous home.
“We knew we wanted a wooden house. Something easy to warm and keep clean, we didn’t want an ultra-modern house. We like to mix a bit of old with new, naturals with steel,” Belinda says.
Other points of difference are the use of wallpaper, a floral on one kitchen wall and a black and gold pattern in the romantic “formal dining room”.
The wall and floor tiles in the shared bathroom are a stunning dark chrome that reflects a copper, silver or rust pink depending on lighting and objects in the room.
Pieces of the world can be found everywhere, from the Jakarta ladder for hanging towels in the master ensuite to the artworks of Kuala Lumpur street scenes and place names in the boys’ rooms - a reminder of where they have come from.
Hamish’s work in the oil and gas industry took the couple to Jakarta and onto Kuala Lumpur where the boys spent their lives before the family upped sticks for New Plymouth in April.
What do the boys love about the space and kid-friendly set up of their new home?
“The media room!” Jack, 7, says. “And I like the big kitchen for when I’m baking.”
Harry, 5, loves kicking around in the big lawn and lying in the sun playing with his toys on the lounge floor.
The boys’ bedrooms are cleverly laid out to allow them to display their favourite toys on shelves and place the rest away in containers that are tucked into the shelves.
Hidden cupboards are everywhere. The entertainment unit is tucked away, the storage cupboards are secreted into a wall beside the stairs. Everything has its place.
The lounge has an offshoot where the boys play, with a big display shelf and cabinet containing hidden boxes of toys and showing off books, art and relics from the family’s travels.
They’re used to apartment living, with the spacious apartments of KL coming with communes full of children and “instant playdates” at the playground or pool.
At least now the kids can bike outside for 20 minutes without sweating in the heat, Belinda says.
“If it was just us, Hamish and I would have built a stone house in the middle of nowhere but we wanted the house to be closer to town for the kids.”
New Plymouth was not an obvious choice for the returning expats. Hamish is from Christchurch and Belinda from Auckland, with Hamish having only lived in Taranaki briefly while studying.
But after considering the big smokes of Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, New Plymouth turned out to be the biggest drawcard.
“We have lots of friends here and it’s a great place to raise a family. It’s a very easy place to live. And it fits in well with my work and gives Belinda a chance to start her business,” Hamish says.
The house with its cleverly designed storage spaces are an example of the headspace of Belinda’s new business in home organising and room refreshing.
The service is for those who want to modernise their home but are having a hard time letting precious possessions go.
“I love mixing old with new, taking old pieces that have been in a family for years and showcasing them,” Belinda says.
Her own home is full of relics – a dining table and chairs she stripped back from black shellac to reveal the pine beneath, formal dining chairs that have been reupholstered with suede from Malaysia, a Welsh dressing table from London, and coffee pots from around the world.
Belinda’s background is in designing computer systems, auditing accounts and as a business analyst. But being home with the boys, she decided to use her creative and organisational skills elsewhere.
It all started when friends started admiring her system for storing the kids’ toys in a way that eliminates the “tidy up time” drama.
She imagines clientele will typically be the cash-rich and time-poor who want to modernise a space without having to completely renovate it.
“I don’t want to compete, I want this to be a complimentary service,” Belinda says.
Her initial advice is simple: declutter, simplify and avoid conflicting patterns.
It gets even more primal than that. “Make your bed every day. It’s one of the key qualities of a successful person.
“When you go back to your bedroom to sleep and it’s an utter mess, that’s not relaxing,” Belinda says.
“The kitchen also needs to be tidy for when you come home from a busy day. That’s the thing that leads to takeaways I reckon. When you get home and finally tidy up the breakfast dishes, who can be bothered?
“Your house doesn’t have to be pristine and perfect but there are areas that need to be tidy. Good eating and good sleeping – if you get those two right you can face anything.”
While the house boasts cedar wood, there’s a lot of concrete to absorb and redistribute heat. Having come straight from the tropics, the Browns aren’t used to the cold.
Elliot Architects designer Jim Elliot took pains to create a home that would keep itself warm, from double glazed windows to panels that twist to let light in for warmth in winter or out to cool it in summer.
There’s a sun roof to let natural light into the kitchen and a heat recirculation system that pulls warm air from the roof and moves it to the bottom floor before bringing it back up again.
The external walls are 150mm, or six inches wide whereas a standard house has four inches. The extra space allows for thicker insulation and the Browns have double what is required by the Building Code, Andrew Bell of Bell Building says.
It’s the first three-storey home Andrew has built. “It’s a well-designed and well thought out house,” he says.
“When looking from outside, the cedar wood part of the entryway is sloping. It’s a bit different, it’s more interesting.”
The only concerns Andrew had was managing the traffic that “screams down” Heta Rd so his staff could work safely and having a detailed plan when building the retaining walls so that machinery could access the back of the house when needed.
He’s proud of how his team and Elliot Architects worked together and that the Browns were confident enough to leave them to it.
Andrew met the couple once to sign the agreement and then Belinda one other time when she chose the tiles and finally Hamish again to hand over the keys. There were also plenty of Skype calls.
“They put their trust in us to build while they were overseas which was a leap of faith for them and a testament to us. Within itself, it’s very pleasing and rewarding.
“They were the perfect clients, they were there to handover the keys to, they paid the bills and left us to it,” he laughs.
- Live magazine