Photography by Jamie Cobel and Michael Ng
However, he has taken his fondness for these vestiges of a bygone era a step further by turning his passion into a successful business.
He says he derives great enjoyment from improving these often outdated and rundown homes, making them appealing and comfortable for today’s families to live in. There’s also a satisfaction in retaining or improving the street appeal and restoring the city’s historic legacy.
“I’ve always appreciated beautiful things, and I guess this is where my inspiration stems from,” he says.
“I was also lucky enough to have travelled extensively when I was younger, working on luxury yachts around the world, and my training on board these incredible boats really honed my outlook and skills – particularly when it comes to attention to detail and finishing a job to the highest standard.”
For Andy, it’s all about the quality and the detail. “I’ve found that if you do a quality job, someone will want to purchase what you have to offer. Put simply, it never pays to cut corners,” he says.
“I remember our first renovation as clear as day – it was an original 1930’s bungalow,” says Andy.
“Walking through the door was like stepping back in time. I remember how dark it was inside, the smell of the damp and the signature creaking floorboards that come with the homes from this era. It was beautiful.”
Even though he’d had no experience with renovating a house at that point, Andy could see the finished result in his mind’s eye. He wanted to double its size with a substantial addition to allow for open-plan living, plus a spacious master retreat. But, unlike many of the other extended villas in the area that had contemporary additions put on the back, he wanted the extension and the existing house to appear as one seamless home – a larger, updated version of itself.
“For continuity, we used the same materials in the extension as the original house – the floorboards, weatherboards, wooden joinery and internal doors, batten ceilings – all of those original features that are so appealing and give these homes their character,” he says. “Then we added features and technologies that are necessary and expected by today’s families – insulation, heating, garaging, modern fixtures and appliances throughout, plus a practical layout, with indoor-outdoor flow.”
“I got a huge sense of satisfaction from this renovation,” he says. “It was an absolute dump – a rotten, broken-down, old house with overgrown garden – and we transformed it into a comfortable, contemporary family home. People in the street even thanked me for adding value and visual appeal to the street.”
One of the keys to success when tackling an unpredictable project, such as a complete villa renovation or rebuild, is having a team of professional consultants and highly skilled tradies at your disposal. And that team is something Andy has built up over the years, along with the experience to recognise the potential – or not – in a property.
“I’m often approached by neighbours or passersby during the course of one of our project, who are intrigued by what we do, and are genuinely interested in the process of developing a project,” says Andy. “Firstly, it’s really important to do your homework and, rather than embarking on a new build or large renovation on your own, seek professional advice."
I’m a big believer in getting the right person for the job.” He says.
Finding or highlighting the maximum potential in a property, understanding the finished product, knowing how to allocate budget, and having the ability to manage a multitude of trades and professionals to achieve a high-end result, on time, to budget and, ultimately, to give a return on investment – these are all essential parts of the bigger picture.
The challenges Andy has faced with renovating and re-building have varied greatly, and none have been the same. He says he tries to plan forward as much as he possibly can.
“It’s time consuming, but ensures my budget is spent wisely. It also allows me an opportunity to improve on the plan and details before the work gets started,” he adds.
“Although planning ahead helps to limit budget blowouts, there are always unforeseen factors that need to be dealt with, especially as you begin to pull apart these older homes,” he says. “I’ve been caught out by numerous things – borer, rot and structural defects are common and they all need to be rectified and managed efficiently to minimise the impact on the budget and timeline.”
Andy goes on to say that much of the money he spends is on the stuff you can’t see. “By the time you’re at the finishing stage the original budget is gone, so it pays to add a contingency of 15-20 percent over and above your budget. That way you ensure you can afford quality products and a top finish… because that’s where most people will see the value. Don’t fool yourself, it will get used!”
Andy Blyth is the director of VillaVilla, a boutique residential property development consultancy company specialising in luxury, high-end, character homes. His team of professional consultants and tradespeople have successfully produced several award-winning homes and achieved record sale prices within Auckland’s inner city suburbs. www.villavilla.co.nz