Building their new home in a laid-back setting was important for this family, and the arrival of a baby and puppy made it a priority
Ellen Wilburn and her now husband Adam realised they shared many things in common when they first met, but the one similarity that genuinely resonated was Titirangi, where they grew up. Nestled into the Waitākere Ranges, the leafy Auckland suburb comprises native bush, glorious birdsong and the wild West Coast beaches nearby – aspects they both enjoyed as children.
While living in nearby Sunnyvale, Ellen and Adam found themselves short on space in their home and knew they needed to move. Central Auckland house prices didn’t hold much appeal, so they looked further afield to the outskirts of the city, searching for that same laid-back setting they grew up in.
“We wanted to have that same lifestyle we had growing up as kids – space, bush and being close to the beach,” Ellen says. “Titirangi was out of our budget at the time, so Kumeu appealed as it was a growing area.”
The beauty of finding a section and building on it was a strong draw, allowing them to create a home with an aesthetic they loved and was practical too. “Building was a good opportunity for a blank canvas,” Ellen says. “Adam and I are both quite particular with our design choices. It felt like the right path to go down, especially after looking at different properties. When it came to bang for our buck, this was a better way to go.”
Also, with Adam working as an electrician all over Auckland and Ellen working as an IT service manager, both are used to commuting to the central city for jobs, so Kumeu being close to the motorway was handy.
“It’s a good area to stay in and raise a family,” says Ellen. “Once we moved here, we realised we’d made the right choice.”
The couple had a clear idea of what design features they wanted from their new build, so they drew a sketch and asked architect Alistair Watt to bring their vision to life.
The house was built by Maddren Homes and the process was seamless. “They were flexible and straightforward to deal with,” Ellen says. “We were kept in the loop with project managing and Adam was able to do the lighting plan and wiring through the house.”
What the couple wanted to do was to capture the sense of being indoors and outdoors simultaneously. “We wanted good flow. To achieve this, the main living area, office and main bedroom opened up to the outdoors with stacker doors.”
Knowing the house would eventually need to accommodate them starting a family, the couple had this in mind when designing the home. The H-shaped layout meant the main bedroom was tucked away from the other bedrooms at the opposite end for privacy. “We knew we wanted a quiet, private sanctuary at the end of the house, away from the living area and other bedrooms.”
Another feature that the couple love in the design is the high-vaulted ceiling in the open-plan living area, enhancing the sense of space and allowing a gallery wall to be a focal point for those walking through the space. “I’ve always collected art and painted,” Ellen says. “Also, it’s a great entertaining space. It has a lovely, airy feel, and the high stud makes the room feel a lot larger than it is. If we’d had a lower stud, it wouldn’t have had the same impact nor enabled us to do a gallery wall as a central, eye-catching piece.”
The couple are now parents to 10-month-old Dawson, and while they were conscious a young child might be on the horizon, they wanted a design that gave a sense of luxury but was still liveable. The house needed to suit their busy lifestyle and didn’t require anyone to be too precious about how they treated the house. “It didn’t matter if kids ran in from the outside with muddy feet as we used Flooring Extra Quick-Step laminate flooring in the main living area. It’s hard-wearing and delivered, in the sense that we didn’t need to worry about being too rough.”
An eclectic aesthetic reigns throughout the house. The couple like to display the art they’ve collected from travelling the world over the years and also like to keep their decor items on show, not hide them in cupboards.
Such a warm approach to decor and how they’ve brought their personality to the space is clear in their paint colour choices. Initially, most of the interior was painted in the warm white of Dulux Half Haast, but bolder hues soon made their way in, says Ellen. “We knew we wanted to bring in colour here and there.”
Knowing they wanted a bit of colour in the main bedroom, and with green being a favourite hue of Ellen and Adam, it was a no-brainer to choose Dulux Ohai as the feature wall colour.
“We had seen it used somewhere in another home in Your Home and Garden and loved how it was a grey-green, calming colour. We wanted something calming that wouldn’t date too easily, and this is still a relatively classic colour,” she says.
“It’s an easy tone and natural enough so we could mix and change furnishings. It gave us flexibility as I like to change the linen on the bed.” They decided to go with brass feature wall lights from early on, so the green colour perfectly fits that scheme. Cushions and a rug in terracotta tones evoke a relaxing, comforting setting – “I was tying those elements together,” Ellen says.
These chosen colours extend to the ensuite, with its amber feature lighting (which also appears in the main bathroom). Here, and in the main bathroom, the couple saved money by applying a groove panelling lining rather than wall tiles.
“A full wall of tiles can be expensive and was something we decided we would pass on this time around to save money. The waterproof panelling is still a nice feature and was, we felt, nicer than a plain plasterboard wall.”
In the office, the dark tones of Dulux Mt Messenger lend a dark gentleman’s green. “It reminded me of colours you see in old offices,” Ellen says. “Adam has a few collectable items, so we wanted a moody feel.”
The warm white walls in Dulux Half Haast within the living room provide a gentle setting upon which artwork and decor objects appear, while a touch of glam anchors the space by way of a central brass pendant. This pendant’s style is echoed in the lights above the kitchen island, sophisticated in their brass and glass features. The mixing of textures and colours works beautifully in the kitchen, in a muted, understated way. The different decor features here started with the brass handleware, Ellen says.
“We didn’t want a white kitchen. Instead, I tied in the wooden floorboards with the timber shelving and cabinetry. Additional coloured cabinetry in Melteca Fog and Melteca Southern Oak, and the benchtop in an engineered composite prime stone, give the palette character yet don’t overwhelm the space.
“We wanted shelving around the side of the island and overhead to add a few elements. Our style is eclectic – we like bits and bobs, and wanted someplace to bring those elements on display, not all tucked away. These features enabled us to do that.”
Dawson’s bedroom was a DIY job before he was born and the decor was inspired by the love Adam had for westerns as a boy. “That was Adam’s thing when he young, so we replicated that,” Ellen says. “I painted the Native American chief before he was born, it was one thing I wanted to do while I was pregnant. It was styled by an old-school paint-by-numbers kit.” The mustard tone of Dulux Thames on the wall was based on that and provided a setting in which Dawson could maintain as he matured. “It’s not too babyish, and if someone else wanted to come along it was an easy colour to keep.”
The main bedroom, living room and office all open out onto a patio and lawn. To embrace the couple’s love of relaxing outdoors, they installed a covered pergola. “It wasn’t in the original plan, but once we had the patio area and outdoor furniture there, we thought it’d be great to have cover there so we could sit out there on winter nights and have the fire going. It’s nice and cosy.”
With the backyard getting lots of sun, the pergola provides shade and protection in the summer months too. “On rainy summer evenings we can sit outside and enjoy the covered area, so we get lots of use of it. We purchased the ceiling and put it up ourselves in a day. Adam ran feature lighting through, using rattan pendants.”
The vertical cedar shiplap and black-painted brick used for the home’s exterior was fairly cost-effective, Ellen says, and the blend of different materials breaks up the surfaces visually. “It always looked sharp with the nearby greenery. The garden helps to soften it.”
As well as undertaking the landscaping themselves to save on the budget, Ellen and Adam ensure extra privacy at the front of the house by building a concrete wall of breeze blocks. The pattern adds more interest than an ordinary wall of bricks.
While the family have just moved on from their much-loved home, they’re about to undertake another new build in Waimauku, also in West Auckland. But their fond memories of their Kumeu home will always resonate, especially of the stunning open-plan living area, which held many gatherings with friends and family. “We used to get such nice compliments about the art wall, which always brought back happy memories of our travels,” Ellen says. “We spent so much time in this space. So much happened in the years that we lived there.”
Words by Catherine Steel. Photography by Helen Bankers