This split-level, ’70s-style home at Lake Tarawera is amazing (and for hire via Airbnb)

When, in October 2020, the new owners of this Lake Tarawera property walked into the home they’d bought remotely, they’d only just stepped off a plane from Melbourne and out of quarantine. The daylight was fading fast and butterflies of excitement churned their insides like a tumble dryer.

TOP Adding to the home’s character are tiles by Matakana’s Morris & James. The guy who laid them said, “These tiles are all uneven”, and when original owners Jan and Wayne replied that, yes, they’re handmade, he said, “I reckon they’re on the wacky backy!” ABOVE The tiled conservatory runs along the front of the kitchen.

Until then, they’d relied on a family member making visits to the for-sale property. The real-estate photos had been imbued with a red tinge and the floorplans they’d been emailed had some discrepancies, but still the home’s design credentials shone through.

ABOVE A red beech island meets mataī flooring and Tasmanian blackwood cabinetry in the kitchen, plus a Platform stool from Città that provides a place to perch.

Although built in 1983, the four-bedroom dwelling tucked into native bush was a showcase of late-’70s style. Beneath a soaring monopitch roof, there were multiple levels (mezzanine upon mezzanine of sunken and raised spaces), a wealth of rich timbers that were native and solid, and best of all, a tropical indoor garden that rose through the home’s heart and up to the ceiling. In awe of their good fortune, the pair set about exploring, seeking out a hidden staircase that led to the top storey. What was a bit of a gamble had come up trumps.

ABOVE Arranged on the vintage travertine dining table (with bentwood chairs sourced from Melbourne vintage reseller Goodspace, beneath a Formakami JH5 pendant light by &Tradition) are a Tapered candle by Marloe Marloe in a Bowl candleholder by Ferm Living, both from Slow, a vase by Anchor Ceramics, and a Macchia su Macchia tumbler by Stories of Italy from Faradays. Engaging with an artwork by Tom Mackie, some of the other finds on display include a green candle by Loewe from Faradays (top shelf) and a Gallery object 07 jar by Louise Roe from Slow (bottom shelf).

The couple consider themselves kaitiaki/guardians of this home and as only its second owners, they’re respectful of its history. It was originally designed by architect Simon Carnachan for Jan and Wayne Miller, who were inspired by the houses they’d seen during their time living in California in the 1970s. They stayed for 37 years and brought up two children here.
Jan was a physiotherapist and Wayne a chemical engineer who worked at the Scion institute for forestry research. He was a timber nut — and it shows. Exposed-beam ceilings lined with Douglas fir, mataī floors and a rimu-panelled feature wall are soulful parts of the material make-up.

TOP The pole-framed house spans a gully and includes plenty of skylights to let in as much natural light as possible; at the time the house was built, the skylights used emerging technology from Crystal Glass Industries. ABOVE Doug the dog moseys along the corridor on the balcony. Above him you can see a Hamilton ceiling fan by Martec (also pictured in the shot of the kitchen further up this page), installed by the homeowners to combat the downside of the skylights — how hot it can get when cooking below them. The fans also help to draw in air through the full-height casement windows in the conservatory.

Also a keen woodworker, Wayne could lose himself for hours in the workshop under the house. He built the kitchen — an interjection within the mid-level living space — with love and care. The current homeowners admire the workmanship in the dovetail-jointed drawer fronts and acres of hand-crafted cabinetry. “It was cutting edge for its time, and it’s great cooking with a view.”

TOP Pseudopanax arboreus (five finger) plants grow up around the kentia palm in the internal garden alongside an early artwork by Keren M Cook. ABOVE The Millers wanted to keep the house as open-plan as they could, with no cross-beams. In the living room, a rice-paper shade by Hay floats above an Alva chair by Sarah Ellison that’s counterbalanced by a pair of Frank chairs by McMullan & Co. The coffee table and rug were both purchased at Coco Republic and bring natural texture to the scheme. On the table is a candleholder by Stoff Nagel from Good Form.

Certainly, this is not a house that champions contemporary values — health and safety would have a field day. Although it has been retrofitted with 80% double glazing and is surprisingly well insulated, the conservatory’s floor-to-ceiling casement windows open to a sheer drop. And with so many sets of stairs, these days some would say it’s not a home best suited to young children.

TOP At night, an Akari E light by Isamu Noguchi glows through the greenery in the stairwell void. ABOVE The homeowners asked Mark Henderson of Casmark Landscaping to crazy-pave around the Topaz woodburner by Firenzo in the snug. A Huggy chair by Sarah Ellison is a sweet spot beside the Plischke Chair Back artwork by Erica van Zon from Melanie Roger Gallery.

There’s much to forgive — but also plenty of reasons to. One of the homeowners, who works from home as a graphic designer, gets to enjoy the peacefulness of this place 24/7. An early riser, he loves the golden light that glows on the wood-wrapped walls of his office set up on the dining table on the southern end of the house. In the depths of winter, he shifts his workplace into the terracotta-tiled conservatory to grab a peek at the lake.
“I also love the different perspective of the house you get when you’re up on the third level,” he says. It’s the ideal vantage point for watering the indoor kentia palm that could grow up to 40ft tall. On his way up the mataī stairs Wayne crafted, he always makes sure to appreciate the negative detail that runs beneath the handrail.

ABOVE  The magnificent stained- glass window in the elevated snug was made in Berkeley, California by Alistair Maclean. Dotted with cushions from Weave, the Vint sofa by HK Living was bought in Melbourne and shipped over at a glacial pace. On the Offset coffee table by Resident from Simon James are Pod vases from Città and a Lully vase by Marloe Marloe from Slow.

His partner, who works in nearby Rotorua as an interior designer, gets to experience a phenomenal homecoming every time she returns. “There’s such a sense of calm to the house — it feels like I’m on holiday,” she says. She also loves how when it rains like buggery, as it can do in these parts, a huge drain that emerges from the steep slope at the back of the dwelling and flows down the site below gushes out with a sound like a waterfall.

TOP & ABOVE Bolster cushions by Christina Lundsteen from Shop Dessein Parke cosy up the rattan-backed chairs in the living space, while a cushion from Weave does the same on the Panama sofa from Freedom arranged along the half-wall next to a Line floor lamp by Snelling Studio. The homeowners love to sit here with their morning coffees looking out at the garden, watching a wild white rabbit they’ve named Jen munch her breakfast — their lawn. The Millers cleared the site of some rumpty native plants and, with the help of Rotorua garden designer Michelle Young, planted new ones. “Everything had to be lugged up the hill; we needed our heads read,” says Jan.

The day they arrived, the couple had only a bed and a fridge to install in the voluminous spaces — a sparse inventory for the barest bones of comfort. After consulting the original house plans, they’ve made some thoughtful changes. Fortunately, the house had been repainted for sale, but they installed internal doors to keep the heat contained and for privacy for visitors, globular paper lightshades typical of the era and a wood-burning fireplace with a crazy-paved hearth in the snug; on cosy winter evenings, the dance of the flames reflects in a stained-glass window that depicts a pair of kererū against a backdrop of Mt Tarawera.

Layers of décor are slowly being built up, modern objects teamed with ’70s-style pieces, such as bentwood chairs with rattan backs, a solid-timber drinks cabinet and an organically shaped coffee table. Sinuous pottery vessels now occupy built-in shelving and a record player is at the ready for occasional parties.

TOP The timber surrounding the spa bath and beneath the marble bench in this third-level bathroom is jarrah. The Franklin bath towel and Madison bath sheet are both from Baina. ABOVE Tonal blues in the bedspread from Città, blanket from Slowdown Studio and Arnold Circus stool by Martino Gamper help to make this guest bedroom on the home’s top level a restful hideaway. The artwork on the wall is by Saxon Quinn. The bedrooms all boast redwood wardrobes, which are absolutely beautiful, if high maintenance. In all other respects, Wayne was against doors, so there were only three in this house — in the wine cellar, and the second-level guest bathroom and toilet; all tawa.

It’s in the garden that the most change has been wrought, taking it from a hillside a-tumble with rampant greenery to something a tad more sculpted. During lockdown, the couple tidied up the terrace, removing flax and blackberry to give better access to their own mini bushwalk that starts from the back deck and leads up to a viewing platform. Then they created a casual gravelled courtyard around a firepit at the far end of the section.

TOP A new feature wall in Dulux Invercargill adds interest to the main bedroom. On it hangs an illustration by Kelly Thompson above a bench from McMullan & Co. Beside the bed with its Resort bedspread from Città are Hashira wall lamps by Menu from Finnish Design Shop. ABOVE The home’s exterior is cedar board and batten, oiled and left to weather, and the decking is kwila, which Wayne laid. The original roof was radiata pine shingles, but only lasted for about 15 years, then was replaced with asphalt shingles he and Jan had seen used in the US.

One of the homeowners grew up five minutes up the road and is in his element, whether huddled around the brazier on winter evenings, kayaking on the lake in the mornings before work, or capturing photographs of how the light spills into the house throughout the day. The other is fizzing with ideas about how to further update the spaces — “Just a refresh with a nod to the ’70s” — and enjoying the privacy of this treehouse oasis. One day, they’ll do up the bathroom — a space with no extraction and skylights that make any upgrade tricky. But there’s no hurry. Why rush? For them, the journey is as fascinating as the destination.
You can stay here if you like! Visit

Words Claire McCall
Photography Adrienne Pitts

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