No strangers to renos and hard work, a Manawatū couple pooled their formidable talents to build the perfect Bali-inspired retreat
Meet & greet
Blair and Rebecca McDonald (residential building company owners), Ryder, 11, Indy, eight, Tilly, six, and French bulldog Zinzan.
If lockdowns have taught us anything, it’s that a home you love being in is worth its weight in gold. And if that home also feels like the tropical retreat we’re all hankering for while borders are closed, well, that’s just priceless. Blair and Rebecca (Bec) McDonald nailed the holiday-while-you’re-at home vibe of their new-build by centring it around a key outdoor feature and its surrounding private entertaining area.
“The home was designed and built around the pool. Even though it’s in the middle of Palmerston North, I wanted you to be able to forget that and imagine you could be in Bali. Now, sitting under the umbrella on the deck, music playing, a yummy platter on the coffee table, pina coladas in hand while watching the kids in the pool really makes us feel like we are holidaying at home,” says Bec. “Having a pool was about us giving something back to our kids – they have been through a little bit of renovating with us in their time.”
“A little bit of renovating” is quite an understatement – the children have lived through several renovations including an old villa, which started when Indy was just four months old.
The couple are a prime example of “team work makes the dream work”, with Blair and his building crew on the tools and Bec in control of the design.
“We work surprisingly well together. I’m lucky in that Blair is very practical and he likes to find cheaper solutions to bring the various designs I cook up to life. I help him with the building (he’s in charge there) and he helps me with the designing (I’m in charge there). We both know who’s the most qualified in each area and let each other do their thing,” she explains.
For this project, Bec and Blair purchased a property with an old Tudor-style home, did that up, moved into it, then built their new home on the empty 399sqm section at the rear of the property.
The design process
The couple say “high impact on a small site” was their brief. “We wanted to pack a lot of punch into our highly desirable location and get the most out of our new home for family living. This was our chance to make something a little unique and truly ours,” explains Rebecca.
At the forefront of the design was the pool area. “This house would only be half as beautiful if it wasn’t lovingly built and focused around the pool. The pool serves as not only a little slice of fun, but it also creates a focal point for design and outlook,” says Bec. “And then I honed in on connecting the interior and exterior spaces with large windows and plantings. I wanted to blur the lines between in and out by connecting the pool and landscaping to the living areas as much as possible.”
The size of the site and that non-negotiable pool meant the McDonalds had to build upwards to fit in everything they needed. They ended up with a contemporary two-storey home, with a living room and main bedroom suite downstairs and three children’s bedrooms, a bathroom and media room/living room with balcony upstairs.
With so many builds and renovations under their belt, the couple had a fair idea of what they were doing when it came to the build and design of this home.
“I think every build and every renovation teaches you so much – we are always and forever learning,” says Bec. “We always take so much experience from one build to the next. Our previous home taught me that investing in quality where it matters and having a clear and precise design direction will pay dividends in the end result. Believe in yourself, love trends, but don’t follow them. Also, it’s okay to be uncompromising on some things – it’s all in the details at the end.”
When it came to the decor, Bec wanted a luxurious look but using materials that were low maintenance and hard wearing. Cue concrete floors, internal concrete block work and Dekton benchtops for the kitchen, scullery and vanity tops. These choices were softened by adding texture, such as linen drapes, throughout the home. The dreamy drapes were hung from the ceiling to exaggerate the feeling of height in the rooms and to add a touch of luxury.
“The right drapes can really make a space. I love drapes, especially these ones. They’re the number one thing visitors comment on.”
Bec says her decor style is most inspired by Scandinavian design. “I love simplicity in design with white walls, wood accents, and bursts of fun and colour. I love calm and curated spaces that aren’t fussy or pretentious and I’m a fan of classic design elements mixed with new,” she explains.
A cohesive flow was achieved between rooms by carrying the same design elements throughout, such as colour, flooring and window coverings. For this home, Bec went with brass in the kitchen, scullery and bathrooms.
“Brass was an easy choice because it has such a luxurious, beautiful, living finish. It’s like putting jewellery on when wearing a great outfit,” she says.
Personality in the kids’ rooms
Ryder, Indy and Tilly made design choices for their spaces but to deter any unicorn/car/Disney princess requests, Bec went for the “this or that” approach.
“Getting kids their age to choose from two or three options means they’re involved and make the space their own, but it allows you to remain in control of the cohesion of the overall design. As a result, each bedroom has features specific to its little occupant,” she shares.
Indy’s requests were a soft pink scalloped ceiling and a built-in desk and shelves; Tilly got her long-coveted bunk beds and soft violet walls; and Ryder is rapt with his black feature wall, guitar hung as art, and the big window overlooking the pool.
“I wanted their rooms to be somewhat minimalist so drawers and shelving are built into their wardrobes, which was great for both looks and practicality.”
The main retreat
When it came to Bec and Blair’s bedroom, it was all about that Balinese vibe. “This room was designed to be a complete retreat – a resort-inspired escape from the world. It was important for this room to have that connection to the pool and its tropical landscaping,” she says.
They achieved this with sliding doors that step directly from the deck into that outdoor entertaining space. The pared-back colour scheme of the main bedroom is serene and restful, allowing the eye to wander to the pool and tropical plantings just outside.
“Modern mum and family life is hectic at times and having this space – designed by us, for us – has often felt like a reprieve. It is the most calming, restful space and I love having a place for everything.”
Sitting at the centre of the living space and also being the hub of busy family life, Bec knew the house’s kitchen had to be beautiful but hard-wearing. “I wanted to create a great-looking kitchen that would look great for many, many years to come, standing up well to family life through the use of good materials for the benchtops, flooring and the concrete blockwork,” she explains.
Sticking with a timeless black, white and grey colour scheme, Bec added texture and interest through the concrete block splashback, the pendant lights and the striking black island. Choosing different colours for the cabinetry and benchtops of the island and rear wall sections was a deliberate choice, making the island feel more like a huge table and to separate the kitchen. Brass handles on the integrated fridge-freezer bring a touch of luxury.
“They’re so pretty. I love the combination of the brass on the Malibu-coloured cabinet doors, especially next to those soft grey linen drapes – divine. My thinking is, if you can elevate a utility area or item, why not?”
A butler’s pantry off the kitchen keeps any mess out of eyesight, plus it also cleverly doubles as a laundry.
“I tucked the washing machine away in the butler’s pantry. It’s so good having everything so handy and I would do it again in a heartbeat, especially with the door opening right out to the potager garden and washing line,” she says. “A well-designed house adds to your life though the way it easily enhances your day-to-day living. The location of the washing machine is an example of that, in fact the whole house is an example of that. Living here just makes life easy.”
However, the minute the couple downed tools and started enjoying their new home, their heads were turned again.
“We accidentally found the home of our dreams,” admits Bec. “Well, it will be after a wee bit of work. We found an old farmhouse set on an overgrown 4.5ha, only 10 minutes from the centre of town. It needs a full renovation, inside and outside, and we have big plans to make it a beautiful space, not only for us but also hopefully for events one day. Watch this space.”
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Anna Briggs.