Home Tours

How this mum got creative with her pre-fab new-build in Mangawhai

This creative young entrepreneur looked beyond Auckland’s limits and built a brand-new home for herself and her daughter – on a budget

Loading the player...

Meet and greet

Jessica Whiting, art director and owner of Oh Gosh; ohgosh.co.nz and Grace, 11, plus Jasper the pup and Primrose the cat.

How this mum got creative with her pre-fab new-build in Mangawhai

Jessica Whiting’s journey to home ownership has been anything but average. While living in a small rental home on Auckland’s North Shore with her daughter, Grace, Jessica watched her dream of buying a place of her own go up in smoke as property prices rocketed out of reach.


“I became increasingly frustrated with the housing market,” she says. “I quickly realised I’d be unlikely to afford much in the city I’d grown up in. I didn’t have wealthy parents who could give me a leg up by utilising their mortgage, so I needed to get creative with my solution.”

Not one to be discouraged, Jessica’s entrepreneurial spirit was ignited as she searched for alternative ways to tackle her property predicament. Due to the nature of her work – which includes running her own successful graphic design studio, Oh Gosh – she realised she could potentially move anywhere within an hour or so from Auckland.

“I began looking further afield where I had friends or family, including Tauranga, but that was too far to reach Auckland for a day trip during school hours. Kerikeri again was too far. Matakana and Warkworth were too expensive for my budget. But by looking in those places, I realised it was going to be cheaper to build than to buy brand new.”


Towns on the outskirts of Auckland are ripe with freshly subdivided areas ready to accommodate both permanent residents and holidaymakers, so when Jessica found a well-priced section a few minutes’ walk from Mangawhai township, she crunched the numbers and did some research.

“I started looking at alternative building solutions and realised I could have exactly what I wanted within my budget,” she says. “I decided to look for land I could build on using that method. I’d been to Mangawhai on a day trip the summer before and it had such a lovely feel, like it was home already. I began taking day trips to look at sections and within a month or so, after many frustrations and missing out at the eleventh hour, I’d purchased a 632-square-metre slice of land in a lovely subdivision and my building company and I were finalising my plans.”


Best-laid plans

With a close eye on her budget, Jessica looked for a way to build from scratch that avoided the possibility of spiralling costs. She settled on Advance Build, a Northland-based company which specialises in prefabricated homes built in a factory then transported and completed on site. Advance Build has a clear commitment to community and good design – two things at the top of Jessica’s list.

Key to the success of the home was being able to tweak off-the-shelf plans to suit her lifestyle and design aesthetic. Once she knew the features of her site (elevated, north-facing), the next step was to customise the house to suit. She flipped the kitchen layout to soak up a sunny, tree-lined outlook, and also reclaimed space from the laundry to create a separate bath area (a cupboard-style laundry was incorporated instead).


This also allowed for a formal entrance, which gives better access to the driveway and parking area. “I flipped the layout of all the bedrooms to take privacy and the sun into account,” says Jessica. “For instance, Grace is on the east side of the home so her bedroom stays cooler in the summer evenings.”

Luckily Advance Build was more than happy to make changes and allowed for special requests in the early stages of the build. “I didn’t have to compromise at all with my plans,” Jessica says. “Most people think that building with a pre-fab company means you are restricted – my only restriction was my budget! I worked closely with the company when it came to the layout and design. I started with one of their plans, then was able to change pretty much everything to suit our lifestyle.”


Running a work-from-home business meant it was important for Jessica to have a dedicated work space integrated into her open-plan area rather than being relegated to a spare room – especially as she often has guests visiting from Auckland. The design details were carefully considered and, as a result, the house avoids looking like every other prefabricated home.

A bespoke colour palette of Taubmans ‘White Clay’ and ‘Silver Fox’ created a neutral canvas for the home and was complemented by whitewashed oak flooring to ensure the aesthetic remained light and bright. Additional changes to the standard plans are evident throughout the home including Ikea kitchen handles, exposed ply-edge countertops and hand-picked pendant lights.


Jessica’s home was built on time and on budget in less than six months during the winter of 2015. The majority of the build took place in a large factory in Kaitaia before the home was driven to Mangawhai and completed in early December 2015 – just in time for Christmas.

It’s personal

After eight years spent organising the Auckland Fair (an annual market for handmade items) and working closely with clients and businesses on design-led work, Jessica’s style is eclectic, with heirloom pieces sitting comfortably alongside designer items and a bumper collection of art prints.


Her home is characterised by its strong focus on textures and a simple, neutral colour palette. “I prefer textures and neutrals to bright colours, but it’s all about comfort,” she says. “I mix off-the-shelf items with vintage pieces. The old radio was my great-grandmother’s; my black tea set I bought when I was in primary school from a local fair.”

A recent splurge on pure linen curtains has created a luxe feel in the living area and the fine fabric filters sun and adds warmth on winter evenings. Space is also a luxury that Jessica and Grace are now revelling in. “Since moving from my tiny North Shore flat, it’s been great to spread out,” says Jessica. “This is a space that I both live and work in, so it’s important that I love it and love being in it.”


Greenery is liberally applied throughout Jessica’s home due to the impact it can make on a space. “Being a designer, I pay attention to small details and am quite particular,” she admits. Another quirk is Jessica’s penchant for rare and collectible sneakers, which she displays on open shelving. It comes as no surprise that since our shoot, plans are now in place for a dedicated master bedroom extension with more wardrobe space.


The future 

In a time when owning your own home has become unattainable for many, Jessica’s creative approach not only achieved the goal but produced a home which is smart, elegant and personal. She is rightfully proud of the final result and has not looked back after her move north. “It’s a home I created for myself and my daughter; it’s comfortable and warm, it’s filled with things we love and is part of a community we love as well.”

Total Budget (land and build):  around $360,000


Jessica’s design secrets 

  • Trust the experts. Don’t try to do everything yourself; use a project manager you trust and listen to their advice.
  • You can never have too many power points – I wish I had a few more.
  • Put your time into the things you can’t change later such as bathroom layouts, tapware, wardrobe sizes etc.
  • Look at what you can do later to help your budget. A garage is nice to have but can easily be added later, saving you thousands in the meantime.
  • Know the value of your home and don’t overcapitalise even if it’s where you plan to live for ever.


Created by: Tina Stephen. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

Create the home of your dreams with Shop Your Home and Garden