Homes

The heart of matters

An unforeseen twist led these first-home builders right back to where they belong.

When you marry a carpenter, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll build your own home one day. For newlyweds Clare and Simon Cato, that day came sooner than expected when they found themselves purchasing a piece of land in their coastal home town of Snells Beach.
“Simon has been bursting to construct his own home since the day he became a builder and began making homes for other people, just over a decade ago,” says Clare. “But it was quite by accident that we ended up building a house here.”

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KITCHEN Pendant lights from Città hang above the island with its chic marble detail; the bar stools are from Freedom. A butler’s pantry keeps the nitty-gritty out of sight of the adjoining living area.

KITCHEN Pendant lights from Città hang above the island with its chic marble detail; the bar stools are from Freedom. A butler’s pantry keeps the nitty-gritty out of sight of the adjoining living area.

Having grown up in Snells Beach, Simon has always had an affinity with the area. Clare spent her childhood in Taihape, but when her parents sold their farm and moved to Snells Beach during her university years, Cupid stepped in.
“We got married here and lived on Auckland’s North Shore for our first year. Then my mum sadly passed away, which unexpectedly brought us back up to Snells Beach to live with and support my dad and younger sister,” says Clare. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but we knew that if we wanted to get on the property ladder we needed to buy quickly as sections were few and prices were rising.”

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DINING The dining table is treasured for its sentimental value – it once belonged to Clare’s mother. Clare has teamed it with vintage chairs found on Trade Me softened with fluffy sheepskins from The Warehouse. “I wanted a clean, uncluttered look so the pieces I’d collected over the years would pop,” says Clare. “I can’t really pin down my style – it changes all the time and has morphed again since we started this build.”

DINING/LIVING The dining table is treasured for its sentimental value – it once belonged to Clare’s mother. Clare has teamed it with vintage chairs found on Trade Me softened with fluffy sheepskins from The Warehouse. “I wanted a clean, uncluttered look so the pieces I’d collected over the years would pop,” says Clare. “I can’t really pin down my style – it changes all the time and has morphed again since we started this build.”

Finding a site that was within their budget and close to their families, they turned their attention to making the very best of their changed circumstances. After drawing plenty of sketches to help them nut out the configuration and aesthetic they wanted for their home, they engaged architectural designer Martin Harnish, who tweaked and polished their drafts. Over the next 14 months, they spent evenings and weekends chipping away at the project, saving their pennies by dossing down in a boat shed.
“After knocking off from our day jobs, we’d head to the site to tile, paint or lay flooring. Dinner was often late-night takeaways, and we’d have to drop in on one of our parents on the way home for a shower, because the boat shed didn’t have hot water,” says Clare. “It was a crazy time, but so rewarding.”
The minute the plumbing was connected at their new place, they moved in. It was still a bare-bones operation at that stage, but one they were happy to finish with hot water on tap and a sound roof over their heads.

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LIVING Houseplants are an essential for Clare, who incorporates them into vignettes in every room. A recessed area off the hallway was originally intended to be a cupboard, but the installation of an in-built desk has seen it become an office that allows Clare to freelance from home.

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LIVING Houseplants are an essential for Clare, who incorporates them into vignettes in every room. The recessed area off the hallway (top) was originally intended to be a cupboard, but the installation of an in-built desk has seen it become an office that allows Clare to freelance from home.

LIVING Houseplants are an essential for Clare, who incorporates them into vignettes in every room. The recessed area off the hallway (top) was originally intended to be a cupboard, but the installation of an in-built desk has seen it become an office that allows Clare to freelance from home.

Undertaking such a big project for a first home could have been overwhelming, but Simon’s experience working with his builder father helped, as did the support of other family and friends. “It really gave us a sense of community,” says Clare. “We had friends help us barrow concrete for the foundations, and others up past midnight with us, tiling in the dark.”
To make the most of their steep site, the couple chose a split-level layout, with two pitched-roof pavilions interconnected by the entrance – one housing the open-plan living areas and the other with a guest wing that steps up to the master bedroom, walk-in wardrobe and ensuite. From the outside, this internal transition was cleverly hidden by raising the ceiling in the lower zone to create a continuous external roofline, or as Simon likes to put it: “a house designed for a tall person”.

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MASTER BEDROOM On the feature wall painted in Resene Fuscous Grey are a pair of illustrations designed by Clare. The pitched roof here echoes that in the living room pavilion. Behind the bed is a spacious walk-in wardrobe that Simon built himself using plywood, leaving it unpainted to allow the natural woodgrain to shine. The otherwise white ensuite is kept interesting with some inky black hexagonal tiles from Tile Space.

MASTER BEDROOM On the feature wall painted in Resene Fuscous Grey are a pair of illustrations designed by Clare. The pitched roof here echoes that in the living room pavilion. Behind the bed is a spacious walk-in wardrobe that Simon built himself using plywood, leaving it unpainted to allow the natural woodgrain to shine. The otherwise white ensuite is kept interesting with some inky black hexagonal tiles from Tile Space.

The home’s interior has been a passion project. The Scandi beach-house-style blank canvas with oak floors and pale walls has been enlivened with textural elements such as a grooved ply raked roof, exposed beams and a recycled-brick fireplace. The couple share a love of hunting for vintage pieces such as the gold art deco light in the living room, and Simon was often tasked with additional weekend building projects, such as the ply and chipboard bedheads and the sideboards in the hallway. The house really is ‘them’ through and through.

MASTER BEDROOM On the feature wall painted in Resene Fuscous Grey are a pair of illustrations designed by Clare. The pitched roof here echoes that in the living room pavilion. Behind the bed is a spacious walk-in wardrobe that Simon built himself using plywood, leaving it unpainted to allow the natural woodgrain to shine. The otherwise white ensuite is kept interesting with some inky black hexagonal tiles from Tile Space.

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BATHROOM The shared bathroom (top) features custom-made round mirrors and a duo of pendant lights with gold-dipped bulbs from Kiwi Living. The couple have been listing their spare bedrooms (above) on Airbnb, which they say has been a surprisingly fun and enriching experience.

BATHROOM The shared bathroom (top) features custom-made round mirrors and a duo of pendant lights with gold-dipped bulbs from Kiwi Living. The couple have been listing their spare bedrooms (above) on Airbnb, which they say has been a surprisingly fun and enriching experience.

 It might not have been the Catos’ initial ambition to build in Snells Beach, but they’re doing a fine job of settling in. “There’s a fantastic community of people here – we’ve made lifetime friends,” says Clare. “The longer we stay, the more we love it.”

Words Alice Lines
Photography Duncan Innes