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An architect duo’s West Auckland reno

Waking up each day to a serene view of the sea while birds sing in surrounding native bush is something few of us can enjoy. And perhaps it is harder to appreciate if you haven’t experienced it. But Sarah Cutler, her husband Declan Ryan and their boys know just how beautiful their Wood Bay home is


Their west Auckland abode is tucked down a tree-laden bank that leads to Manukau Harbour. Sarah is originally from England, while Declan is from Limerick in Ireland. Their adopted sons Nat and Finn are from Thailand. Although they were all born abroad they’ve had no trouble finding out what makes New Zealand so special.

“We love west Auckland,” says Sarah. “We’re really outdoorsy people and love being close to the west-coast beaches.”

They lived nearby before buying the two-storey house six years ago. Wanting a change, they “drove around Mt Albert for six months trying to find a dream home that didn’t exist”, but always had Wood Bay on their radar. “We love it here, we have no desire to move back to the city,” she says.

After three years the couple undertook renovations. Sarah, an architect, designed and drew up the plans with Declan, an architectural draughtsman. The house was gutted and pared back to its concrete shell with the original window openings maintained.

In replacement of an old, dated conservatory, the home now features a new entrance, which steps down to the open living area featuring the lounge, dining and kitchen and a hidden laundry. The living area faces out to the new deck, which takes in breathtaking harbour views. Native bush surrounds the rest of the house, with steps leading down the bank into the trees. “Originally, there was no connection to the garden,” says Sarah. “We plan to pave this area and install a fire pit for entertaining.”

The home’s interior is in keeping with the exterior’s modernist style. Cement plaster covers the inside of the exterior walls. “We used cement plaster on a fireplace in our old house and really liked it,” says Sarah. “We wanted to use it again.” The interior partitions are lined in plasterboard. “We thought if we didn’t like it we could always paint it, but we love it.” American Oak floorboards have been laid, replacing the original carpet.

The living area is a long space, which prompted Sarah and Declan to rotate the kitchen that was formerly in line with the length of the room. It is now located in line with the width of the room, which is comprised of various textures in an industrial-eclectic aesthetic.


“We wanted a kitchen that would go with the house,” says Sarah. “It’s a masculine, heavy, ‘I’m here’ kind of a house. We wanted a kitchen that would work with that. The stone island has a heaviness that works – it’s an investment as well as a focal point for the living area.”

And with a nod to the past, the couple recycled the orange textured glass from the original conservatory and used it as cabinet doors in the kitchen.

“We like the idea of using something that was from here before,” she says. “Opaque works well, anything else would have been too boxy and heavy.” Plywood cabinetry and a stainless steel benchtop complete the space.
Upstairs is the main bedroom with ensuite, Nat and Finn’s shared bedroom, a spare bedroom, bathroom and lounge. All rooms except the bathroom and spare bedroom look out among the treetops and harbour.

It’s the upstairs lounge that Sarah considers her favourite space. “I love this level, looking through the trees,” she says. “I love the elevation and being disconnected from the ground.”
It was the view that dictated much of Sarah and Declan’s redesign. “We re-orientated the kitchen to address the view and to have a more direct relationship with the open-plan living area. We moved the master bedroom to the other side of the house so we can wake up to our beautiful view. It’s a lovely way to start each morning.”

Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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