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This home celebrates the view with a well-positioned outdoor bath

A home in the hills above Muriwai provides the ideal rural retreat for a couple in need of an escape from city living

In the quest to find balance between city and country life, Hannah Gordon and her husband Brooke found it was possible to combine the best of both worlds. Together, they have created an escapist beach retreat on the wild west coast, overlooking rolling green hills and kauri forest,
40 minutes’ drive west of Auckland.

Six years ago, Hannah and Brooke were living in the Auckland suburb of Pt Chevalier, in a bungalow that they had just revamped. Entrenched in an urban life, with Hannah running a busy graphic design business and Brooke working in the city, the keen surfers found themselves spending a lot of their spare time driving to the coast in the weekend. This prompted them to begin searching for somewhere handy to the surf, a place that could act as a counter-balance to their fast-paced lifestyle.

When Hannah and Brooke discovered the simple yet striking contemporary home perched on a Muriwai hillside, it was love at first sight. “We could instantly see how we could make it our own,” says Hannah. The couple were experienced renovators having transformed four homes between them, from a loft conversion in London to a cottage in Waterview, but this would be the first modern home they had owned together.

It proved to be the ideal breathing space from the city, with the open-plan living room’s floor-to-ceiling glazing providing stunning views of Muriwai. “It’s a house that’s thoughtfully designed and a striking piece of architecture that engages the landscape in every way,” says Hannah.

A sweeping driveway guides visitors to a main entrance that is both sophisticated and welcoming. Inside there are vases of fresh flowers, sofas to sink into and plenty of space for youngsters to run about freely. A couple of years after they bought the beach house, the couple started their family. “The boys just love being here,” says Hannah. Pre-schoolers Sol and Albee enjoy romping around the property, playing outside on the vast lawn and feeding the sheep next door. “I really wanted them to experience the freedom that comes with rural living and it’s been lovely being able to watch them do that.”

When it came to adding her style, Hannah took her cue from nature. “I chose to decorate and furnish the house in earthy tones, using lots of texture to add a tactile quality and soften the space. I love how the decor blends so well with the outside. There’s also a splash of blue here and there to give it a bit of a coastal vibe.”

Keen to keep the furnishings on the light side, in harmony with the home’s streamlined design, Hannah has found subtle ways to inject personality into the interior. “One of the first things I did was hang some art. There’s a lot of wall space here and I could see how it could be used to showcase pieces that we have collected over the years. Once I put up our artworks, the place really started to feel like ours.”

Designed by The Block NZ winner Corban Walls, with architect Fraser Horton, the house is essentially a glass box that cleverly captures the panoramic views. Made from reused shipping containers with an applied macrocarpa facade, it’s perfect for indoor/outdoor living.

As a designer, Hannah appreciates the layout, palette and materials that Corban and Fraser selected. The well-arranged German-made kitchen, with raw stainless-steel benches topping two kitchen islands, provides ample storage. It’s part of the central living area that flows to a sheltered courtyard in one direction and a wooden deck in the other. Bedroom wings and a bathroom project off each end, and the east-facing wing also has a second living room overlooking the outdoor bath.

“It is the epitome of peaceful and conscious living, a real sanctuary,” says Hannah. “It’s a place that has all the comforts of modern living without too many things to distract you. Any stress from the day soon evaporates as we come up the driveway. It’s a lovely and relaxing spot.”
She’s delighted that they found such an idyllic bolt-hole for their young family, but as Sol and Albee get older the couple is considering their next chapter. “Now that the boys are enjoying being at the beach we want to switch to the east coast for next summer, because it’s better swimming for them,” she says. “Whatever happens in the future, the time we’ve spent here as a family will always be special to us.”

Hannah’s style tips

  • Creative space. I love colour and texture. As an artist and graphic designer, I’m inspired by pairing unexpected tones together. Having said that, I decided to keep the decor quiet and subdued at this place. With so much glass, there’s a lot of natural light and that, combined with the white walls, created a wonderful light and bright canvas for me to work from. I wanted to keep the sophisticated yet relaxed vibe that gives this house a calm feeling. I opted for lighter colours in most of the furnishings, with pops of blue referencing the nearby ocean. I’m drawn to the tactile quality of materials, and this certainly influenced my decision making, including the pronounced extra soft loop of the rug in our bathroom. With two small boys who have lots of energy, I’m always thinking about them, too. The black leather sofa in the main lounge is perfect for Sol and Albee. It’s taken a lot of wear and tear from the two of them and it still looks great.

  • Work of art. I’m a big believer in buying art I feel a connection to, rather than selecting pieces as an investment. For me, building a collection of art is something that should occur gradually, as a form of self-expression. The black and white Florence Broadhurst print in the lounge is from an exhibition of her work I went to about 15 years ago in Auckland. I really admire her bold use of pattern and colour and this custom print of her iconic ‘Japanese Fans’ design is a great example of her work. When she was running her wallpaper company in Sydney back in the ’60s she came up with so many amazing designs – she really was a woman ahead of her time. I was equally drawn to the large artwork in our bedroom. It’s by Auckland artist Amanda Gruenwald and I bought it at an exhibition at the Sanderson Gallery. It really struck a chord with me, especially the way the colours echo the Muriwai environment.

  • Planet-friendly. One of the things I love about this place is that it looks good, but it’s also got eco-friendly features built into the design. We like the fact that it’s been constructed from repurposed shipping containers and that it has tanks to collect the rainwater from the roof. It also has double glazing and the tile flooring traps the heat from the day, providing passive heating at night. Living in a home that leaves a light footprint was a big attraction to us.

Text by: Leanne Moore/Cave Bureau. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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