Alex and Corban Walls’ new build is a real bespoke beauty
The North Shore home is in a class of its own, but big on ideas (travertine! Texture!) you can borrow.
Alex and Corban Walls are big ideas people, and when they chanced on an empty section in Island Bay on Auckland’s North Shore that to others may have presented only challenges, they inevitably saw opportunity. Having grown up nearby, to Alex this coastal area with pockets of native bush has always been home, so on discovering a site that their budget could manageably stretch to, she and Corban jumped at the chance to let life come full circle and give their kids Austen and Goldie a childhood like the one she treasured.
Designing a house to fit this steep swathe of land was no mean feat. Teaming up with friend and architect Fraser Horton, the couple faced height restrictions, a public sewer, a power pole in the middle of the driveway… “Everything was against us, including the council consent process,” says Corban. But two years of jumping through hoops couldn’t deter this tenacious pair from building a house that used smart technology to exceed the expectations of the building code, from solid timber XLam panels for structural rigidity, to external insulation for maximum thermal efficiency.
“The sites around here are rather unique and can make for the best houses, as they offer more scope to push the boundaries than flat sections,” says Corban. Working with a 40-degree gradient in some areas, the primary architectural consideration was to establish a footprint that was big enough for a family home, while taking full advantage of the expansive view of the Waitematā Harbour beyond the trees. As is often the case with hilly sites, the most effective way to achieve this was by carving out a great chunk of earth.
“I’d estimated $10,000 for earthworks, but then we had to remove 750 tonnes of dirt in the first few days,” says Corban. “When you’ve blown the budget in the first week and you’ve only dug a hole, you know you’re going to have to use a little ingenuity to get the job done.” Luckily, his strength lies in creative thinking, so alongside their builders at Buildstrong Construction, he project-managed the process, problem-solving along the way.
“I 100% trust Alex’s aesthetic, so she just tells me what she wants and I make it happen,” he says. “The whole house is bespoke, so nothing she wanted was off the shelf. Once she’d figured out what she needed at each step, it was my job to sort out how to get it machined, designed, sprayed…”
The home’s floorplan comes together across two levels, with the ground-floor bedrooms and other private areas set into the hillside, surrounded by bush. The lofty living spaces above are cantilevered out to take in that sea view, 32 concrete piles supporting the house to reach the treetops. Black cedar clads the exterior, contrasting with the split-face travertine that wraps the perimeter of the property and continues inside, giving new meaning to the term ‘feature wall’.
Various textural finishes — paint, plaster, stone and more — catch the eye at every turn, but the effect is anything but busy, thanks to Alex’s elegant and restrained aesthetic.
She has an innate ability to pull everything together within pared-back palettes, to which she’s added soft furnishings in her trademark earthy hues. “I’m really satisfied that what we’ve done here has lasting appeal,” she says.
As they settle into life in their new home, Alex and Corban are continually discovering the everyday value of the details they agonised over during the design process.“The evenings after the kids are in bed are our favourite time of day here — but isn’t that what all parents say?!” says Alex. “We do love the five o’clock rush hour, though. The light is so serene that it’s really beautiful amid the chaos.”
Most nights when they go off duty, this mum and dad retreat to their master bedroom. “Its like, ‘Right, get your snacks, let’s go to bed and watch the sunset,’” says Alex. “As the sun goes down, it glows through the trees.”
To find out more about Alex and Corban’s colour and material choices, read our interview with Alex here.