The North Shore home is in a class of its own, but big on ideas (travertine! Texture!) you can borrow.
Alex and Corban Walls are big ideas people, and when they chanced on an empty section in Island Bay on Auckland’s North Shore that to others may have presented only challenges, they inevitably saw opportunity. Having grown up nearby, to Alex this coastal area with pockets of native bush has always been home, so on discovering a site that their budget could manageably stretch to, she and Corban jumped at the chance to let life come full circle and give their kids Austen and Goldie a childhood like the one she treasured.
TOP In their quest to build something exceptional, the couple sourced materials and design ideas from Europe. The 11kW solar panel system on the roof has a Tesla battery backup. “There are enough luxuries in our house to create quite big power bills, so it was worth investing in solar,” says Corban. “In summer, we generate an average of 60kW of energy; we use about half of that and fully charge the battery.” Another clever feature: not only do the full-size windows enhance the view, they also have minimal joinery to reduce heat loss from inside. ABOVE MIDDLE Designed by Corban, the infinity pool is surrounded by travertine and lined with ceramic Marvel Carrara tiles from Tile Space. This neat rattan seat is from A&C Homestore. ABOVE The artificial grass from Teamturf was a savvy solution for the backyard. Rather than having soil underneath it, the couple filled the gap with recycled polystyrene that would otherwise go to waste, an initiative employed in commercial projects such as our motorway on-ramps. The turf makes the home’s outdoor spaces usable all year round — plus it’s low-maintenance. The trampoline is recessed into the ground for an aesthetically pleasing effect that’s safer for kids as well.
Designing a house to fit this steep swathe of land was no mean feat. Teaming up with friend and architect Fraser Horton, the couple faced height restrictions, a public sewer, a power pole in the middle of the driveway… “Everything was against us, including the council consent process,” says Corban. But two years of jumping through hoops couldn’t deter this tenacious pair from building a house that used smart technology to exceed the expectations of the building code, from solid timber XLam panels for structural rigidity, to external insulation for maximum thermal efficiency.
TOP The project: Alex Walls, director of A&C Homestore, and her husband Corban, director/designer/engineer at Special Projects, built this three-bedroom home in Auckland’s Island Bay for themselves and their children Austen (4) and baby Goldie. ABOVE The décor details in the main living area include a Portobello chair and Miller sofa from Dawson & Co, curtains in Laconia Air linen from James Dunlop Textiles, a Line Duo floor lamp by Douglas & Bec and a second-hand side table with a mug by Gidon Bing. On the coffee table from A&C Homestore is a dish from Città, an urn from Babelogue and a vase by Ceramics by Jodie. The rug is by Armadillo & Co from The Ivy House.
“The sites around here are rather unique and can make for the best houses, as they offer more scope to push the boundaries than flat sections,” says Corban. Working with a 40-degree gradient in some areas, the primary architectural consideration was to establish a footprint that was big enough for a family home, while taking full advantage of the expansive view of the Waitematā Harbour beyond the trees. As is often the case with hilly sites, the most effective way to achieve this was by carving out a great chunk of earth.
TOP Occupying a corner of the main living area is a hanging chair by HK Living. ABOVE MIDDLE In the powder room, Appiani mosaic tiles from Artedomus climb the walls up to a skylight, while the Compact 02 light by Douglas & Bec copycats the one in the scullery. ABOVE The home’s tucked-away spaces each have their own personality. The scullery, for example, is the kitchen’s sister rather than its twin, with handmade Spanish subway tiles from Surface Gallery lining the walls above an Empira White benchtop by Caesarstone, and cabinetry in Classic Oak by Melteca with brass button handles by Katalog. The open shelves are another of Corban’s creations.
“I’d estimated $10,000 for earthworks, but then we had to remove 750 tonnes of dirt in the first few days,” says Corban. “When you’ve blown the budget in the first week and you’ve only dug a hole, you know you’re going to have to use a little ingenuity to get the job done.” Luckily, his strength lies in creative thinking, so alongside their builders at Buildstrong Construction, he project-managed the process, problem-solving along the way.
TOP The kitchen island and splashback are crafted from Laminam, an Italian porcelain product from Laminex that was able to accommodate the need for an oversized slab. The island’s finger tiles are from Artedomus, while overhead the lighting was designed by Alex and custom-made by Corban. He also designed and made the family’s dining table with slabs of American oak from South Pacific Timber. The Inlay chairs and Odd bar stools are from Dawson & Co. ABOVE “I always knew I wanted a green kitchen, and Melteca in Possum was the perfect shade for our cabinetry — and durable too,” says Alex. The brass handles by Powersurge and brass tap from The Kitchen Hub team so well with this hue. The rear wall is a plastered concrete render by Ambitec, created in place. The appliances are by Fisher & Paykel.
“I 100% trust Alex’s aesthetic, so she just tells me what she wants and I make it happen,” he says. “The whole house is bespoke, so nothing she wanted was off the shelf. Once she’d figured out what she needed at each step, it was my job to sort out how to get it machined, designed, sprayed…”
TOP Here, the slatted Rosenfeld Kidson cedar cladding, finished with Dryden WoodOil, lets in diffused light and provides privacy. This space functions mainly as a kid-friendly play zone. Alex designed and had the L-shaped sofa custom-made; Allium Bronze fabric from James Dunlop Textiles was used to finish the squabs and the cushions are from A&C Homestore. The coffee table is from Dawson & Co and the rug is by Armadillo & Co from The Ivy House. ABOVE MIDDLE The outdoor kitchen on the Outdure deck features the same Laminam as the island inside. The dining table and chairs from A&C Homestore sit beneath a powdercoated steel sun shelter that Corban had custom-made. ABOVE Floating travertine steps lead up from the driveway.
The home’s floorplan comes together across two levels, with the ground-floor bedrooms and other private areas set into the hillside, surrounded by bush. The lofty living spaces above are cantilevered out to take in that sea view, 32 concrete piles supporting the house to reach the treetops. Black cedar clads the exterior, contrasting with the split-face travertine that wraps the perimeter of the property and continues inside, giving new meaning to the term ‘feature wall’.
Various textural finishes — paint, plaster, stone and more — catch the eye at every turn, but the effect is anything but busy, thanks to Alex’s elegant and restrained aesthetic.
TOP Seen here in the stair treads, American oak planks by VidaSpace create visual continuity throughout the living spaces. ABOVE Alex didn’t want to dedicate a whole room to the laundry, so she loves this hideaway space off the hallway, where Fisher & Paykel appliances make light work of the washing.
She has an innate ability to pull everything together within pared-back palettes, to which she’s added soft furnishings in her trademark earthy hues. “I’m really satisfied that what we’ve done here has lasting appeal,” she says.
ABOVE Machined dowels that echo the circular motif seen elsewhere in the house form a partition between the master bedroom and walk-in wardrobe. Their wall lights were made out of some leftover travertine. Bedding from A&C Homestore and curtains in Laconia Air linen from James Dunlop Textiles complement the colours of the bush beyond.
As they settle into life in their new home, Alex and Corban are continually discovering the everyday value of the details they agonised over during the design process.“The evenings after the kids are in bed are our favourite time of day here — but isn’t that what all parents say?!” says Alex. “We do love the five o’clock rush hour, though. The light is so serene that it’s really beautiful amid the chaos.”
TOP With a large picture window and Round Outline mirror by Joska & Sons from A&C Homestore, this amazing space brings the outside right on in, where it meets terrazzo floor tiles from Surface Gallery with a subtle green hue. The brass tapware by Astra Walker is from The Kitchen Hub. ABOVE MIDDLE The bathrooms’ travertine vanities were another custom-designed collaboration between Alex and Corban. ABOVE Alex says the tiles were the trickiest things to lock in. “I had a clear idea of what I wanted, but it was hard to find them at an affordable price. Here, it was all about getting the right texture. Anyone can use white subway tiles, but I wanted that handmade finish. We laid these Brick tiles from Artedomus vertically to reference the kitchen island.” The towel rail was designed and made by Corban — the hot water system runs through it to keep the towels warm.
Most nights when they go off duty, this mum and dad retreat to their master bedroom. “Its like, ‘Right, get your snacks, let’s go to bed and watch the sunset,’” says Alex. “As the sun goes down, it glows through the trees.”
TOP Austen’s bedroom is in Dulux Lyttelton Double, a grey with green undertones that becomes deeper as it picks up the colour of the foliage outside. The couple built his timber shelf and hanging rail themselves and teamed them with storage boxes from Città. ABOVE In Goldie’s room, a Kalon Caravan cot from Nature Baby — with a fitted sheet by Kip & Co and blanket from Città — sits below a dried floral installation Alex made and a print bought by her mother when Alex was a child. The rattan toy basket is from Freedom, the octopus toy is from Father Rabbit and Alex found the doll’s house on Trade Me and painted it with Dulux Raymonds Gap.
To find out more about Alex and Corban’s colour and material choices, read our interview with Alex here.
Words Alice Lines
Photography Sophia Bayly