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See inside this beautifully renovated state house in Auckland

From the outside, new meets old at this ’60s state house in Auckland, but it’s an entirely different matter on the inside

Meet & greet
Matt (brand and creative consultant and co-founder of RAAD) and Rebecca Saunders (marketing contractor and co-founder of RAAD), Zoe, seven, and Issy, three.

When Rebecca and Matt Saunders found their first home nine years ago, they couldn’t believe their luck. They’d been searching for months for a home they could call their own and had settled on Auckland’s Te Atatū Peninsula as an area where they wanted to live. For them, the peninsula had the small-town vibe they were used to when growing up in rural New Zealand, but it was just a short commute to the city.

“Te Atatū really resonated with us because it’s got that real community feel, schools are within walking distance, and the local shops have everything you need so you don’t need to leave the suburb if you don’t want to. It’s a destination place, not a throughway for people trying to get to other suburbs, but it’s also close enough to Auckland city, where Matt and I have always worked,” explains Rebecca.

Finding their dream home in their preferred suburb, however, wasn’t quite so simple. At the time, most houses on the market were do-ups and Rebecca and Matt didn’t have the capacity to oversee a renovation. Luckily, Rebecca’s brother came through with the jackpot when he mentioned that his friend Simon had just finished work on a ’60s former state house. Simon had gutted and fully renovated the 82sqm house, complete with polished floors and a new bathroom and kitchen. With 2.5 bedrooms and a 405sqm section, it was just what the couple had been looking for.

“It was the dream house for us. It was a proper house, after years of apartment living, with enough land for us to enjoy and start our own garden. Then, in 2014, we had our first daughter Zoe. While the house was still great for our small family of three, we started to feel like we needed something bigger. In true ’60s style, the house had small windows and no indoor-outdoor flow. You were either inside or you were out; for Zoe to play outdoors, we had to be out there too, otherwise we couldn’t keep an eye on her. It just didn’t work for family life.”

The couple started searching for a larger home in the area but soon came to the conclusion that a renovation would be cheaper and would give them the opportunity to create a home that really worked for them.

The reno plans
Matt originally trained as an architect and Rebecca has always been creative, so from day one they brainstormed ideas of what they’d do with the space if they renovated.

“We’re pleased we lived in it for a few years first because it meant we got to really understand the house and how it might work better for us as a family,” says Rebecca. “In Zoe’s early years she was an incredibly light sleeper – and because there was no buffer between our living area and the bedrooms, Matt and I would spend our nights whispering with the TV volume turned down low. That was something we wanted to address with the renovation.”

An architect friend turned the couple’s concepts into plans and they started work in 2017. The renovation included building a new extension, which included a two-car garage, a hallway connecting new with old, a new bedroom downstairs, and a main bedroom with a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite upstairs. A new laundry was incorporated into the garage, removing it from its previous home in the kitchen.

The couple gently rejigged the layout of the original home without touching the structure too much. They didn’t change the kitchen or bathroom, which would have pushed the cost up – instead, they got a lot more bang for buck by keeping it simple. By removing the smallest existing bedroom from the centre of the house, they suddenly had space for a dining room, which also created better flow between the kitchen and lounge.

“That small room had been Zoe’s and it received so much sun in summer that it would be roasting in there. Removing those walls and using that space as a dining room meant we suddenly had all that gorgeous sunshine flooding into our open-plan area,” Rebecca says. Previously, a bank of kitchen cabinets had sat along the exterior wall of Zoe’s bedroom – when they went, it turned the narrow galley kitchen into a more open L-shape.

The couple agree that their best move was replacing the back wall to the garden with a massive four-metre stacking slider that leads out onto a new deck.

“When the sliding door went in, it was a transformational moment. It opened up the house so much and gave us that indoor-outdoor flow we were desperate for. Now, our backyard courtyard is another room and a great social space in summer. In winter, when the doors are shut, there’s so much glass that you still feel like you’re connected with outside – when it’s raining, you can be indoors feeling cosy but not completely shut off from the garden.”

The new addition
There was a lot of debate about whether to have the new extension blend in with the original white state house or to go big and bold instead.

“We decided we weren’t going to try to match it or pretend it wasn’t an extension. Instead, it was a deliberate move to make a distinction between “this is new, this is old”, juxtaposing the two styles of modern and traditional, black and white. We have some black weatherboards at the entrance as a nod to the weatherboard on the original house, but otherwise they are two very different styles,” she says.

The original house was built on piles and the steps that led to the original front door are now in the hallway that joins the new extension to the existing house. All three bedrooms downstairs are stacked to one side of the hallway and a new sliding door separates the living zone from the open-plan living, giving them that much-needed ability to close off the areas at night, in time for the arrival of second daughter, Issy.

Externally, it’s obvious which part is new and which part is original, but inside it’s seamless due to their design choices. The couple used the same carpet, paint, lighting and flooring throughout to create a cohesive feel.

An unexpected bonus has been the functionality of their new garage. Laid with marine carpet and fully insulated, it’s used as a second lounge/playroom. While the parents are entertaining guests on the deck outside, Zoe, Issy and their friends love to pull up bean bags and watch a movie on the big screen using their projector. It’s also where Rebecca and Matt have set up their home office, for contract marketing work and to work on their business, RAAD – a range of scented plant-based cleaning products they launched in 2020.

The outdoors
With Rebecca and Matt coming from families of keen gardeners, they knew they wanted a garden and set about transforming the initial bare section into a serene space. They’ve achieved a lot within their small footprint, with clever planting choices and hard landscaping. A gate and Photinia ‘Red Robin’ hedge they planted early on their roadside boundary has quickly grown to give them privacy from passers-by as well as enclosing their property completely to allow their girls to safely play on bikes on the driveway. A row of olive trees has been added along the side of the new extension, providing both softness and a feature as you walk up the path to the front door.

But it’s out the back that has the real wow factor, thanks to the couple’s creativity and Matt’s hard labour. While the building renovation was left to the experts, Matt got stuck in and DIYed most of the outdoor landscaping, including building a retaining wall along the side of the house, adding built-in seating to the deck, and laying astroturf out the back.

“Having artificial grass was a contentious choice – especially with our dads who both take pride in their lawns. But because the backyard is small, it’s often shaded by the house and olive trees, which made it hard to grow grass. Matt laid it himself using YouTube tutorials and a swathe of hired tools. It’s always green and lush and feels like carpet, which was great when our kids were toddlers,” Rebecca says.

A concrete pad was replaced with a deck that flows off the new dining area and gets lots of use as an entertaining area. Above the built-in deck seating they’ve planted star jasmine, which smells amazing on summer evenings.

Privacy from neighbours is achieved with a row of espaliered olive trees, which the couple planted within months of moving in – the olives were hand-me-downs from a friend, and traded for a bottle of whisky.

“We’re so grateful we planted those early on because it gives us a beautiful green outlook from inside, rather than looking at a fence. The whole courtyard is a dream for us – our home is still quite small, but because you can open it right up to this courtyard it’s like another room. When we have kids’ birthday parties or entertain here, I can be in the kitchen without being separated from the guests. It’s a great social area,” Rebecca says.

Future plans
After briefly toying with a move to another town to be closer to their family, Rebecca and Matt decided they weren’t ready to leave their home – and community – just yet.

“We feel so lucky to be bringing our kids up here, in this house and in this community. Our home truly feels like a sanctuary to us, especially through Covid and lockdowns. We’re in no hurry to say goodbye to it just yet.”

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Babiche Martens.

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