Written by John Williams
Photography by Kallan MacLeod
It was a drone shot that first caught Frances Valintine’s attention; a single listing amongst hundreds of others in a property supplement. Where is that, she thought? Oh, Hillsborough. Where’s Hillsborough? “Curiosity got the better of me. I had to see it,” she smiles. “This much land, with those views, just six kilometres from where I work? If it looks as good on the ground as it does from the air, it would be amazing.” It did, and it was. Frances walked in and immediately said to herself, I’m buying it. That was five years ago.
The house sits quietly at the end of a 250-metre, tree-lined drive on three-quarters of an acre of land, surrounded by Goodall Street Reserve, with unobstructed views out over the Manukau Harbour. Looking at it on the satellite setting on Google Maps, it’s easy to share Frances’ enthusiasm.
“It was a do up,” she admits, but that didn’t phase her. “I wanted to create my vision of contemporary living. I’ve been designing things for as long as I can remember. I’m a Wearable Arts (WOW) designer, I’ve designed and built my own house from the ground up, from scratch, and I also have offices around the country, for which I design all the fit outs. I just love it. I love physical spaces.”
Frances’ vision for the house was all about light and quality finishes. She started with a transformative renovation of the lower floor, which included taking the whole space back to the studs and installing full-height glass doors that open out onto an enormous new hardwood deck; effectively creating a separate three-bedroom apartment, complete with its own fully tiled bathroom, lounge area and kitchenette.
The ‘ground’ floor above is a large, meandering space, containing an elegant formal lounge, a large designer kitchen, a separate dining room, an intimate snug, and a sunny conservatory. It’s not entirely open-plan, but a series of partially connected rooms and nooks, where everyone can relax and be in the same space, but not, says Frances. This floor also has two bedrooms.
The top floor master suite comprises a walk-through office, king-size bedroom, ensuite bathroom, walk-in wardrobe, and Juliette balcony – a perfect retreat away from the rest of the house.
Outside, Frances has had all the decks that surround the house rebuilt using quality hardwood, then painted grey to match the house. The deck off the living spaces is particularly special, she says, as it contains the original kidney-shaped concrete pool, complete with a fully tiled hot tub. A modern freestanding pergola finishes off the look – a perfect spot to kick back with a G’n’T.
“We are way up in the trees, here, with great views out to the Manukau Harbour. You literally cannot see any neighbours – it’s completely private,” she says. “This is my place to retreat to… especially at this time of the year. I walk in the door, jump into a swimsuit and dive into the pool. When I pop up, all I can hear are the native birds and the cicadas, and the whole world of work is forgotten.”
Looking out from her deck, Frances says the land can be subdivided, but quickly adds that she couldn’t imagine why anyone ever would… “You’d have to be insane. The whole reason you’d buy this place is to have your own private oasis. You could build some pretty amazing tree houses out there, though,” she smiles.
Considering the absolute tranquillity and sense of isolation you feel walking around this house, it’s easy to forget how close you are to the city, says Frances. It’s just a couple of minute’s drive to the new tunnel, and when you pop out the other side, you’re in Grey Lynn and Ponsonby. And that’s where Frances believes their new buyer may come from – families looking at villas, but concerned about the lack of privacy and size of section and house. There’s no comparison to what’s on offer here – it’s a genuine, alternative option to the city’s western fringe suburbs.
“We’re a blended family, and we think our home would appeal to a family in a similar situation. When we moved in five years ago, our four kids ranged from 8 to 16; now they’re 14 to 21 – two have left home, and we only have the other two every second week. Our circumstances have changed – we are now a couple living in a six-bedroom house,” she says. “William [Frances’ partner] and I have a strong viewpoint on sustainability, and we believe that you can’t just have a huge resource to yourself that you don’t need or use.”
“We reflected on who and what we are as a family now and realised that this house is simply too big for our needs. It’s time to give someone else a chance to enjoy it and use all of it to its maximum potential, as we have during our five years of living here. We love, absolutely love this place, but it’s a little indulgent.”
Reflecting back on her decision to buy in a suburb she knew little about, Frances admits it was a risk, but it all came down to the fact that she was willing to ‘break postcode’, as she puts it, to invest in something with potential that had been built well and looked after well.
“I was prepared to do all that, and the discoveries I’ve made are just amazing,” she says. “What I love is the diversity of people in the area. For me, that’s what living is all about. There are also lots of good, local cafés, and less than a kilometre away is the wonderful Pah Homestead, home to the James Wallace Gallery, café and gardens. And 3km away is Mt Eden, now our local village, which we can walk to.”
There’s a bus stop into the city, and all the main schools right at the top of the driveway, which she says has been for the kids during their time here. St Cuthberts, EGGSs, Auckland Grammar, St Peters, St Kents… there are buses serving them all. However, with children now all but gone, Frances says it’s time for their next stage in life.
“The happiness this place has brought us is immeasurable,” she says, with a hint of sadness in her voice. But in the same breath, she says that they don’t mind change. “My work is all about change and disruption; about moving on and not standing still. Why fall into line with what everyone else does when the choices you have are infinite?”