After 11 builds this couple have completed their latest masterpiece on a Dunedin hilltop that blurs the lines between architecture and art
This hilltop Dunedin home is this couple’s 12th new-build
Art is a vital part of Doug and Shelley McConaughy’s life – they collect it, Shelley creates it and their home is an extension of it. So when Your Home and Garden visited their Dunedin home, it wasn’t a surprise to find the family Christmas tree adorned with a delightful collection of handmade treasures. Equally unsurprising is that this creative couple opted to sell their recently renovated villa in order to build a brand-new home.
In early 2016, Shelley and Doug bought a five-acre block on the outskirts of Dunedin. Part of a working farm right up until the time of sale, the site was still fenced into three paddocks when the couple took possession. Just a few months later, in September, the property, which had not a stick of planting on it and possessed breathtaking harbour views, began its journey from blank canvas to stunning contemporary home.
With Doug’s background as a structural engineer and artist Shelley’s natural flair, combined with a wealth of house-building experience (the pair have clocked up an astonishing 11 new-builds and one renovation), the McConaughys decided to design their new home entirely on their own. That’s right – no architect and no draughtsman, just a blank piece of paper and their joint creative powers.
“We designed everything from the floor plan to the cladding; from window placement to interior design. Even the council consent lodgements were done by us,” says Shelley. They were also keen to build a home that exceeded current building regulations for insulation and efficiency. “When considering a new-build, it’s important to think about future-proofing – such as installing an electric car plug outlet and choosing fittings and finishes that will last the distance,” she explains.
The build took six months and the family lived in their former villa home in Dunedin while it was underway. Not satisfied with simply designing their home, the couple also decided to project manage the build, despite being well aware that the role would require making daily – and often difficult – decisions on-site. But they weren’t daunted by the prospect and thoroughly enjoyed the whole building experience.
“We tried to help out on-site as much as possible – together we laid the cork flooring and stained over a kilometre of weatherboards,” says Shelley.
Art is definitely the focus of this impressive home. Clever lighting has been used throughout to highlight beautiful pieces created or collected by Shelley. The colour palette is earthy and natural to ensure the vast collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures are able to shine.
Shelley’s favourite design feature is the cinder-block walls between the lounge and dining area and the hallway and older son Oscar’s room. Not only do they look beautiful and provide an interesting backdrop, but the blocks also help to heat the home during winter.
“Just as stones soak up warmth, the cinder blocks absorb heat from the fire or the sun and release it throughout the day,” says Shelley.
As well as being designed with passive heating in mind, this home also takes maximum advantage of its position. Sunlight floods through huge windows which also frame views of rolling green pastures and the sparkling Otago Harbour, creating natural artworks that can be enjoyed from every room.
Every year, the McConaughy family Christmas tree tells a story. “I have some of my grandma’s decorations that she handmade and I love that we think about her every year when we decorate the tree,” says Shelley.
The family also treasure trinkets made by Oscar, 15, and his brother Eli, 13, when they were at Playcentre and primary school, baubles given to them by friends, and others that Shelley has made or repaired. “Decorating the tree this way is a lovely way to link some really special times and people to us every year,” she says.
Christmas this year will be spent at home with family, many of whom will be travelling to Dunedin from around the country and haven’t yet seen the finished house. A white linen tablecloth kept for special occasions will be draped over the dining table and Shelley will forage for greenery to arrange on top, alongside vintage deer ornaments, candles and fairy lights for a truly festive feel.
Although the McConaughys show signs of new-build addiction, they say this house may well be their last.
“We have a history of building, but this home is absolutely my favourite as far as location, function and form goes,” Shelley says. “We can never say never, but we have no intention of building again at this point.”
Christmas is sure to find this harbour house looking its best, and Shelley looks forward to many more within its walls. “We absolutely love it here. It’s peaceful, beautiful and endlessly changing.”
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald. Styling by: Alexandra Weston.