19 April 2018

The Next Level

Over the past few years Ponsonby and Grey Lynn have seen their fair share of architectural gems emerge from the relics of many an old villa, but this home at 19 Brown Street raises the bar to a whole new level.


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Conceived and designed by local architect, Jonathan Smith, principal and owner of award-winning Matter Architects, this renovation and extension of a humble four-room villa has been a labour of love for the past four years – and the result is quite astonishing.

Unlike the many other examples of this style of home that come onto the market week in week out, this is no cookie-cutter, developer-driven project, nor is it a have-a-go, mum-and-dad renovation – it’s the real deal, having been recognised locally and internationally for its innovative architecture.

Since its completion last year, the house has taken out a string of awards, including the NZIA Award for Alterations and Additions; ArchDaily International Home of the Year, Finalist; Los Angeles Architecture Awards TBA; TIDA Architect-Designed Bathroom, Winner… the list goes on.

From the street, it doesn’t give too much away; it looks much like any of the other white-picket-fenced, villas along Brown St. The only hint of what lies beyond its innocuous façade is a thin seam running down the centre of one of the front rooms. Further inspection reveals not one, but two cars parked inside!

Anyone who lives in Ponsonby will tell you that finding a regular park is almost impossible, especially at the high end the narrow feeder streets off Ponsonby Road; and with the houses built so close together, there’s rarely room for a garage, assuming you can get it approved by the heritage board.

In this case, the architect’s ingenious solution was to convert one of his front rooms into a garage/workspace by installing a car stacker behind a cleverly disguised garage door. “We wanted to, and had to, keep the character of the front of the house, but we needed a practical solution for parking our cars,” he explains. “We just took off the front of the room, cut it in half and put it back together again. Everything is original, and you barely know it’s there.” Clearly there is much more to it than that, but in essence, that was his parking problem solved.

Beyond the façade, the original villa doesn’t last too far into the home. Within a few steps down the widened hallway – lit by a series of elegant Douglas & Bec brass pendants – past the stairs to lower level, two tastefully renovated guest bedrooms and adjoining bathroom, you enter into the kitchen and dining room, and into a whole new world of beautifully designed and finely detailed contemporary architecture.

The transition between the old and the new is immediate. Underfoot, the original Kauri flooring gives way to crisply laid, refurbished Kauri floorboards, and you are welcomed to a whole new palette of materials – pale, built-in furniture in American Ash, dark-stained Oak kitchen cabinetry, sharp white plaster, soft-grained marble benchtops, and contrasting orange brick work.

The quality and the source of the light that greets you in the new part of the house is also quite special. Given the cheek by jowl context of the existing housing in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, one of the key measure of success of any villa transformation in this area is designing a space that allows in light at all times of the day, yet maintains the privacy of its occupants.

This home has achieved this balance perfectly. From the upper floor, which is entirely dedicated to an extensive master suite, the architect has cleverly crafted a parent’s retreat that offers intimate views over the neighbourhood – out across the undulating landscape of tin roofs, through to Cox’s Bay, and out to the upper harbour – yet still maintains privacy, where needed. In addition, two large skylights have been placed directly above the bed, giving a quite different view whatever time of day or night.

“The night-time skies are just stunning,” says Jonathan. “They change so much – the stars, the moon, the clouds. It’s very cool.”

Stepping down a floor, back past the kitchen on the half landing and along the brick retaining wall, you arrive at the main living room. This is another glorious, light-filled room that can be opened up on two sides, revealing a mosaic-tiled plunge pool to the sunny north, and a covered outdoor seating area to the west – complete with open fire and a bagged-brick chimney that soars to three storeys above your head.

 Alongside the pool is a well-kept grassed area – not big enough for a game of footy, but certainly adequate for the kids to play in. The whole garden is bordered by a selection of carefully chosen plants that act as a natural filter to the neighbouring properties.

Back inside the house, there is one final floor to discover (and if you’re a teenager, this is your territory). Two double bedrooms, each with access to the back garden sit snuggly on opposite sides of a hallway that leads down to the home’s award-winning family bathroom that features a marble mosaic feature wall and a sculptural freestanding bathtub.

Finally, deep within the bowels of the house is Jonathan’s favourite room – a large, fully soundproofed media room/home theatre, complete with dedicated bar area. It’s the ultimate man cave, teenage hang out, or party room, and is fitting end to a tour of what has to be one of the finest villa renovations in Ponsonby.

Looking back at the house from the bottom of the garden is probably the best view of the house, architecturally. You get to see the full scale and the form of the building, with its timber-slatted, gable-roofed master bedroom hanging in mid air above the lounge, [seemingly] supported by only the concrete chimney stack. And on the other side of the lounge, the solid brick retaining wall – a nod to all the crumbling old retaining walls that are found along these streets, says the architect.

The property was purchased 10 years ago, when it was barely 90 square metres and a complete wreck. During the past four year’s it has been completely and utterly transformed by an architectural master class into a luxurious, 300-plus square metre family home.

“At our office, we say that we try to create homes, not just houses, and that’s exactly what we’ve made here. This home is a distillation of what I’ve learnt over the past 20 years of residential architecture – a release of ideas, if you like” he smiles. “To be honest, you’d have to be very game to do what we have done here. Why? Because we haven’t just done any old house, here – everything you see is bespoke and custom built. I’ve pushed myself at every stage and at every level.”

Jonathan goes onto say that it’s easily been the most challenging and rewarding renovation that his firm has completed. However, it’s time for him and his family to move on, ensuring that they are zoned appropriately for their son’s school. Will it be hard to leave? Hell, yes. “We love the area so much, the views, north facing aspect, being in the heart of Ponsonby, and we love this house so much – it’s been such a big part of our lives for the past four years. It’s going to be emotional leaving.”

To view the listing, click here

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