Grey Lynn villa renovation involved moving the house, twice gallery

Grey Lynn villa renovation involved moving the house, twice gallery

Character villas line most streets in Grey Lynn, Auckland, but time isn’t always on their side.

The owners of this century-old villa had loved it for years, but they knew it needed major work before they could move in with their young family.

Dougal and Faye Swift, with children Rocco, 2, and Adan, 1, now have a house that looks and feels like new, but it’s been a long, hard slog to get there.

“I lived in the house next door for 10 years, and for the last year or so the house was tenanted,” says Dougal Swift. “I often said, jokingly, to the owners, ‘when are you going to let me buy your house?’. And then one Christmas they sent me a text and said they wanted to sell. So we jumped at the chance.”

“The house needed an entire makeover – there were even a couple of holes in the floor.”

The first job, however, was to maximise the space beneath the house, to create room for a double garage and games room.

But before the builders could excavate, the entire house was rolled right back on the site. The earth was excavated and new foundations were laid, and the entire house was rolled back again. And then the roof came off, while a second storey was added.

“We took out 80 truckloads of earth from the front excavation, and another 40 when we semi-levelled the section at the rear,” says Swift.

The original house itself, underwent extensive renovations, designed by architect Tim Dorrington of Dorrington Atcheson Architects. “Pretty much everything was rebuilt,” says Swift. “Almost every weatherboard on the exterior needed to be replaced, and quite a lot of the framing. I searched for window replacements on TradeMe and had some great finds.”

The house was also completely relined, with new insulation added to the walls and roof.

A large family room was added to the rear of the house. With the new second storey and lower level, the house nearly tripled in size, from 130 square metres to 349 square metres, including the double garage.

The family living area has a 3m-high ceiling, so the proportions are in keeping with the old villa, which was deliberate. “We renovated our former villa with a contemporary extension, but for this one, we wanted it to be a little more in keeping with the house. Even the deck upstairs is in character. And from the street, it blends in with the single-storey homes, because of the way the top level is tucked beneath the roof.”

The family did add a contemporary glossy black kitchen, to contrast the predominance of white in the house. “I think an all-white kitchen can be a little sterile,” says Swift. “The black island helps to define the kitchen area and we think it is less likely to date.”

To cater to modern living, the entire rear wall opens up to the north-facing backyard and swimming pool. A change in levels is accommodated by two wide steps and a gently sloping lawn.

“We did need to remove a few trees, because we wanted to let a lot more light into the house, but we have kept some and added more at the rear.”

Swift says one of the best things about undertaking a major renovation with an extension is having the space to create storage, which is invariably missing from old villas.

“We also decided to maximise the space around the garage, adding the games room and bar, a bathroom and wine cellar. The cellar was formed from the space leftover between two of the steel columns. We stained some aged macrocarpa with black timber wax and drilled out holes to hold the bottles. And because it’s like being underground, the temperature is consistent.”


* A sloping rear yard will look less daunting when the interior opens out to a level terrace with wide, low steps leading up to the lawn.

* It’s worth maximising more space beneath a house when you are excavating to add a garage – it will cost more to add it later.

* You can never have too much storage – this house now has massive amounts of concealed storage.

* American oak floorboards are a practical flooring for a young family – they can take plenty of “hard knocks”.

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