A downsizing move became a more ambitious project than anticipated for a retired Auckland couple and their wider familyHelen’s a big fan of greenery. “Plants, plants, plants. They’re economical, good for the environment, and my Dutch mother would say they’re ‘gezellig’, meaning ‘cosy’.”
Meet & greet: Helen (interior designer) and Greg Lay (retired).
The property: A three-bedroom villa, relocated to a site in Hauraki, on Auckland’s North Shore, and renovated.
It’s been two years since Helen and Greg Lay sold their family home in Hauraki on Auckland’s North Shore, and the journey to their new home has been a truly family affair.
In 2021, the couple looked to downsize to a lock-up-and-leave property in the same area, which would free them up to spend more time in their second home at Mangawhai, while keeping them close to their family.
At the same time, their daughter Jess Ryder and her husband Tom sold their home, bought a section in Hauraki, and began searching for a relocatable villa to place on it. Having moved and reworked other villas over the years, they knew what was involved.
One day, Tom, a commercial construction operations manager, spotted a 1910 villa on a site under development, a few streets from their section. He approached the developer, and a price was agreed, and it became theirs to move.
Natural Assets: “The marble benchtop was definitely a splurge,” says Helen, “but we had one in our previous home and loved the natural stone look and smooth texture. We understood the care involved, but that it also would develop a patina with age and last forever.”
Change of plans
Tom had the villa shepherded onto the new site, with a plan to renovate it as a family home for himself, Jess and their boys, Jack, 13, Ollie, 13, and Henry, 11.
But after the villa was shifted, the couple began to doubt it was the right house for them. They considering reselling it, or moving it to the rear of the section and developing it as a speculative home.
Helen and Greg saw a golden opportunity. “We said, ‘If you’re going to sell that villa, we’d be keen to buy it,’” Helen recalls.
The generous 1014 sqm section was large enough to fit the villa, with space remaining for a new home for Jess, Tom and the boys.
While the renovation took place, Tom and Jess rented a local home, and Greg and Helen lived up at Mangawhai. With Tom’s project management experience, plus Jess and Helen’s interior design skills, the project became a family collaboration.
Helen says that shifting the house was a seamless process, with features such as the ornate stained-glass windows on the front door and an arched internal coloured window remaining intact. “Even a water glass on the mantelpiece hadn’t moved – it remained in the same place during the transportation.”
“We scaffolded and then shrink-wrapped the house, leaving it for the summer and returning at the end of January to start the process,” she says. “There was a shortage of building products at the time, but with Tom being in the industry, he’d foreseen it and was prepared, putting a container on the site and filling it with Gib until we were ready to start the renovation.” By August 2022, the renovation was complete.
Back to before
Whereas most people increase a home’s footprint in a renovation, in this instance it was reduced. The villa had previously been added onto, and the roof area had been converted into small bedrooms. “There were a lot of funny add-ons, so we cut them back to the original home,” Helen says. “We removed the 1960s lean-to and low ceilings, reworking the rabbit-warren space.”
Jess adds: “The add-ons had spoilt the flow and character of the home. The goal was to restore it to its original beauty.”
Helen and daughter Jess have learned not to spend sleepless nights agonising over a colour. “If you have an overall picture in your mind, it will eventually become a cohesive and balanced look,” says Helen.
Council restrictions meant they were limited in what they could do with the footprint, but given Helen and Greg wanted a small home, that wasn’t an issue.
They kept the existing central hall, and every room was reconfigured to create three bedrooms, one with an ensuite, removing walls to open up the space. “Only a couple of internal walls were left,” Helen says.
Original features were kept, while modern conveniences were blended in. The rear of the home was reworked to include an open-plan living, kitchen and dining area, opening onto a deck and garden.
A collaborative approach
Jess and Helen approached the interior together, adopting a chic, clean aesthetic that gave the dated villa a contemporary feel. “The goal for the interior was simplicity, so we kept it light and minimal,” Helen says. “Although it’s a small villa, every room feels spacious due to the high ceilings and light colour palette.”
A black-and-white scheme flows throughout, balancing dark floorboards with white walls. “The monochromatic look suited our accessories too, so we used that as a starting point for the interior,” Helen says. “We have a bungalow in Mangawhai, where we’ve installed light-hued floors, so in this house we wanted a change, opting for a dark stain and keeping the walls white to make the space feel big and expansive.
Helen refers to the flooring as a “happy accident”. Covid restrictions meant they had to select the stain for the mataī flooring over Facetime. After it was applied, they were disappointed with the warm hue. However, when the interior painters later removed the protective matting they’d taped on the floor, they accidentally pulled off some varnish, which created an opportunity for the timber to be restained in the darker shade. “It’s a modern, classic style, whereas, by contrast, we have a beachy vibe where we are up north,” Helen says.
An inspired change
Acting as project manager, Tom oversaw the budget, with a commitment to keeping the integrity of the villa true to its heritage, but without spending a huge amount. Where they could, they reused materials and chose recycled products, such as decking from around the villa’s original pool area and second-hand window frames, which Jess bought from Trade Me. The two French doors in the living room are new, but the remaining joinery is second-hand.
“It felt right to recycle and save as much as possible,” says Helen. “Furniture was often sourced as seconds from furniture stores, and the existing curtains were dry-cleaned and reused.”
Helen and Greg were happy to spend a little more on quality finishing touches such as tapware, and door and window hardware. “We had made the mistake previously of purchasing these items cheaply and regretting it.”
Since the build, Helen and Jess have acted on a long-held goal and have begun studying interior design and setting up their own company, Mooi, which is Dutch for ‘beautiful’. (Helen’s mother was Dutch.)
“With our love for interior design, and after years of hands-on experience building and renovating our own homes, we have continued our interior design journey together to help others create their own mooi,” Jess says. “We’ve talked about it for years. Having done so many builds and renovations, we’re constantly bouncing ideas off each other.”
With the local school close by, and Jess and Tom living nearby while they make plans to move another, larger villa onto the site to sit alongside Helen and Greg’s, the family feel very much like part of the community.
“The orientation of the villa, facing the street, works in that way, as it offers a lovely street appeal,” Jess says. “We’ve had so many people stop and say that it’s so refreshing to see the house moved on and renovated, or, ‘I’ve got front-door envy.’ People also say they have friends who lived in this villa when it was in its previous location, so we’re keeping it in the community.”
Though this is a downsizing move for Helen and Greg, they still wanted a garden, which has been factored into the plans, along with a garage.
The villa, now more than 120 years old, was moved from elsewhere in the neighbourhood before restoration. It invites admiring comments from locals who recall its earlier form.
And of course, the eventual happy ending to this intergenerational saga will be two homes, side by side, within one large family property.
“The great thing is that at the end of it all, we’re going to have homes right next to each other,” Jess says. “Helen has built and renovated many houses over the years, but this one was the most rewarding. The villa just feels right. The space, although small, suits a retired couple perfectly. There is something so special about bringing a villa back to all its glory.”
Text Catherine Steel Photography Babiche Martens
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