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See inside this light and spacious Riverhead home

Sustainability and a love of nature are some of the design elements that inspired this countryside-loving family’s new-build

Meet & greet
Kate Crooks (interior designer at Kate Crooks Design), Jesse Crooks (builder and co-owner of Astute Build), Willow, six, and Siena, four.

An interior designer and a builder make a handy combination. Throw in an ability to hunt down stylish second-hand bargains and a penchant for gathering treasures and you’ve got all the ingredients for something special. The confluence of Kate and Jesse Crooks’ talents and skills is their Riverhead property, a stone’s throw from the upper reaches of the Waitematā Harbour. Their twin-gabled family home is all about open, airy spaces, being close to nature, and sustainability. The style? “It’s a modern farmhouse with an eclectic mix of furniture,” says Kate, who grew up near this once-rural north-west pocket of Auckland.

Breathing space
After living in London and central Auckland, Kate and Jesse decided to head west to be closer to the countryside. Riverhead, says Kate, has a small-town feel to it, so they bought a corner section there and set about designing a family home to suit them and their “outdoor kids”.

“Before our build, we’d often go for walks and bike rides in the area – down by the river and boardwalk,” she says. “A lot of the design elements within the home reference back to the textures, patterns and contrasts from the river and surrounds. We love being out in nature so having the river, walkways, pond and mountain-bike tracks close by is perfect.”

They wanted their house to have a sense of presence, as if it had been there for a while, so chose roughly pointed white bricks and shou sugi ban (Japanese-style charred wood) for the front. Five years living in the British capital had changed their minds about the beauty of brick, which also proved to be cost-effective.

Indoor-outdoor living was also important, and the couple wanted flow from both ends of their 255sqm four-bedroom house. The open-plan living space spills on to a wide deck and generous front lawn, and out the back, the kitchen overlooks an enclosed garden with raised beds and a sheltered dining and entertaining space.

Inside job
Step into the living, dining and kitchen zone and the impression is one of fresh air and space. Light filters through skylights, windows and sliders, the latter connecting the living area to the deck that runs along the base of both gable forms. “We love having the high, pitched ceilings and exposed trusses and the option of two outdoor areas at either end of the house,” says Kate.

The white expanse is punctuated with black tapware, plus replica Constance Guisset light pendants that hover over the kitchen island like flying saucers. “Because we chose these [black] windows we decided to keep the theme, with brass trim. It was important to have good quality fittings. We’re all about sustainability and hard-wearing, so we put more money into that.”

While they love their open zones, the couple also planned for private spaces, such as their bedroom, an upstairs retreat with views to the water. “That’s why we did the double storey.” Their serene space also has an ensuite and walk-in wardrobe. At the top of the stairs is a wide study, which is kitted out for both businesses and can be tucked away behind sliding doors.

Towards the foot of the stairs you’ll find Kate’s must-haves – treads that wind around the side of the stairwell and into the foyer. She says Jesse wasn’t so keen on the idea because of the work involved in curves, but the extra effort has been worth it.

Gather and cherish
When the budget gets tough, the tough get resourceful. “We were on quite a tight budget so finding a few items and materials second hand, and using furniture we already had, meant we could splurge on a few things.”

Walk around the house with Kate and she’ll point out the Trade Me buys, including a bed and matching side cabinets, a chair, art, lamps, the dining suite and parallelogram-shaped tiles used for the fireplace hearth and floors of the ensuite and powder room.

And when the budget runs out, the tough also get inventive. Above the stairwell is a beautiful trio of lampshades – made by Kate from baskets.

You’ll also find evidence of Kate and Jesse’s travels. “We moved to London in 2007 and worked doing retail design, including creative store windows, department stores, malls, pop-ups, shops, fixture design, and I also worked on high-end residential jobs,” Kate explains. “I got the opportunity to work on projects all around the world, including England, Korea, Russia, China, India, Mexico and Sweden.

“Jesse and I brought back a container load of furniture from India on our way back to New Zealand, so a few of these pieces were used in this home.”

In terms of precious pieces, in pride of place in the living room is the coffee table made by Kate’s late opa. Her grandfather was Johannes La Grouw Snr who, with fellow Dutch immigrant Johannes Van Loghem, founded Lockwood Group in 1951.

Opa’s coffee table, she says, is of sentimental value, and at night its petal-like forms create shadows on the ground. His coffee-making machine sits on her kitchen benchtop. An antique child’s desk and chair set sits off to the side in the kitchen, a birthday gift to Siena from Poppa, Jesse’s father.

Kate’s design flair is everywhere in a relaxed, understated way. She has a wealth of experience to draw on: “When I moved back to New Zealand I continued to do a lot of retail design, then moved into hotel design. After having kids I went out on my own and started Kate Crooks Design where I now do mainly residential design.”

Garden to table
Stand in the kitchen and through sliding windows above the benchtop you can choose what’s for dinner. Kate and Jesse have always had gardens and out the back you’ll find raised beds bursting with produce that also form attractive borders for their sheltered dining and entertaining area. “This is quite a small garden for us.”

Kate says Jesse studied horticulture, so is a big gardener, and she comes from a family that always had gardens. As a result, the kids are growing up knowing about garden produce. You can ask the girls to pick veggies and herbs, and they’ll know exactly what you’ve asked for, says Kate. “The kids are growing up gardening.”

With both parents from the country (Jesse hails from the Hokianga), the Crooks are keen to give their children a life on the land. The family is now on the hunt for a rural property with more scope for gardens and trees.

Words by: Fiona Barber. Photography by: Kate Battersby.

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