An artist plus a builder equals a perfect creative partnership to construct this cosmopolitan-meets-rural retreat from scratch
Meet & greet
Rae (artist) and Nick Prentis (builder) and their dogs, Dougal, Huckleberry and Beauregard.
When people wax lyrical about their dream home, what they usually mean is a house that ticks all the practical boxes for every member of their family. But with no one to please except themselves, empty nesters Rae and Nick Prentis were able to create a home that brought their fantasies to life.
Perched on a hill in rural Kaukapakapa, northwest of Auckland, the home is equal parts introvert’s retreat and extrovert’s party palace – there’s privacy and pastoral peace aplenty, but also a wealth of entertaining spaces, which are thoroughly utilised by Rae’s family, who virtually live on their doorstep. “My parents bought nearly 16 hectares and subdivided some of it – our section is part of it and my siblings have other parts,” Rae explains. “We all live here, like some sort of hippie commune. It’s nice to have my folks close, but we are independent as well.”
A shack was built to begin with, giving the couple the opportunity to live on the land and cement their vision, so by the time they started building the ‘big house’ four years ago, they knew exactly where and how to take advantage of the magnificent location.
Room with a view
Architect Mark Butler of MD Design was brought in to put their ideas on paper, nailing the brief with an H-shaped home that combines generous living spaces, sheltered outdoor zones and decadent creature comforts.
A wealth of windows was high on the wish list, to take advantage of the bucolic location. “We wanted a lot of glass to make the most of the view and the rural setting. It’s not the kind of house you’d build in town because the whole front of it is glass,” says Rae. The enormous windows also welcome in sunlight to warm the concrete floors, which in conjunction with hydronic heating, keeps the home toasty all year round.
Made from scratch
The greatest gift going into a new build or renovation is experience, and with Nick’s decades in the building industry to draw on, the couple were able to launch into the project with a sense of confidence and calm. Though Rae says they had their stresses – no build is totally drama-free – they often had cause to reflect on their good fortune in knowing the building process inside out. “It can be so stressful, but we kind of knew what to expect,” says Rae. “We knew a lot of our tradies as well, which made the process so much easier.”
Tackling the build themselves (bar a bit of help from friends, family and specialist trades), in between their full-time jobs, meant the project took a full year from beginning to end. “I was dying to move in,” says Rae. “We actually moved in before the kitchen was finished. I couldn’t wait any longer.”
As all their chicks have flown the coop, Nick and Rae were able to design a home just for themselves, ticking off everything on their must-have list. “We wanted something that was quite grown-up and our own thing,” Rae explains. The initial build included well-earned luxuries like Rae’s longed-for, room-sized walk-in wardrobe, and an enviable ensuite bathroom, complete with outdoor bath.
Strategic planting gives privacy for a relaxing soak on the deck. “For the first six months, while the plants grew, if someone came up the front, you had to make a quick dash to the bedroom otherwise you’d get caught. Now that the planting has grown, it gives you a bit of camouflage,” says Rae.
Next on the to-build list were the outbuildings – a cosy ‘shed’ for Nick, complete with bar and pool table, and a studio for Rae. The latter was a lockdown project, constructed by Nick and fitted out to be a space for Rae to paint, catch up on paperwork, or relax with sleepy dogs and a good book.
Neutral tones – white walls throughout the house, with black bathrooms and kitchen – allow Rae’s quirky furnishings and offbeat collectables to pop. “That’s basically all the colour in the house. My style is quite eclectic and I wanted my ‘things’ to do the talking,” says Rae. An incurable collector, Rae adores scouring Trade Me for vintage furniture and discovering eccentric objects – everything from cigarette cards to bird skulls, which she displays under glass cloches.
A career as a flight attendant gave her the opportunity to add an extra layer of charm to the home, from stone basins brought home from Bali, to rolls of velvet sourced from the Shanghai fabric markets and used to cover sofas and a bedhead.
Art of display
Acres of gallery-style white space is de rigueur for an artist’s house – and the one thing the Prentis’ place is lacking. “One thing I didn’t realise with all the glass is that I would lose a bit of wall space,” says Rae. But still, there’s no shortage of fascinating art on display, a combination of retro art prints and, of course, Rae’s own contemporary abstract works, which she sells on Instagram @raeprentis_art. Often inspired by the surrounding landscape or her own flower-filled garden, they combine wild and chaotic shapes with soothing hues, bringing a punch of life and colour to the neutral-toned rooms.
Though the home is complete, right down to the charming decor details, Nick and Rae are firm believers in the adage ‘a change is as good as holiday’, and always have a little building project or a garden overhaul on the agenda. Inside the house, rooms are reconfigured from season to season, and frequently on a whim. “One of our favourite things to do is have a couple of glasses of wine, put some music on and move furniture,” says Rae. “Nothing is really static in our house, it’s always changing.” And that’s just the way they like it.
Words by: Shelley Tustin. Photography by: Babiche Martens.