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A professional project turns personal for a pair who know a great opportunity when they see one. 

Designing other people’s homes is both an art form and a labour of love, but what happens when you’re building a house for your own family instead, and — just to up the ante — two others on the same site at the same time? It wasn’t quite business as usual for architectural designer Sophie Wylie and her property developer husband Liam Joyce of Auckland’s Artifact, but they handled it like pros.
Although the couple had intended for their newly acquired property in Birkenhead to be a development site for the company, it quickly became apparent that the piece of land they’d found would both make good business sense and benefit their family of five, giving them a lot more room to move than their city apartment. And so they set about building themselves a house — and a couple of others for good measure. 

ABOVE Designed by Sophie, the living area’s built-in shelving unit is functional and decorative, screening the space from the front door and displaying her collection of local and vintage pottery, including a white orb vase by Peter Collis (middle shelf) and bowl by Anne Hudson (bottom shelf). Engineered oak flooring from Forté runs throughoutmost of the home’s lower level.

Their new abode sits in the centre of the original site, opposite the two townhouses that complete the development. Amid an interesting juxtaposition of buildings, the property straddles residential and commercial zones, and the couple’s section also has a heritage element to contend with, as it shares a boundary with some gorgeous old stables next door. The contrast of the stables’ old bricks with the new ones on the exterior of the two-storey house adds another intriguing dimension to the home’s compellingly simple form and a unique point of interest to the neighbourhood. 

TOP Here, Sophie opted for a configuration with an island on legs to create a sense of lightness. Boxy and linear forms are repeated, including in the integrated rangehood. The granite used is Superwhite from Granite Workshop, the cabinetry is painted in Resene San Juan and the drawer pulls are by Katalog. On the periphery is an embroidered artwork (Sampler on Silk) by Emma Fitts and painting (Swing Spring Time) by Ed Bats, both from Parlour Projects, pottery and glass vases from Babelogue and pottery by Kirsten Dryburgh from Situ Studio. ABOVE MIDDLE In the downstairs bathroom, matte mosaic tiles from Tile Space flow towards Cox tapware by Paini from Metrix, a Slim 350 basin from Bath Co, a custom-made vanity in Atlantic Grey honed granite and terracotta tiles from Middle Earth. The nifty little stool is from Ikea. ABOVE The oak bench built into the panelled wall in the dining area is a great space-saving device and brings an informal energy to the room. The table was designed and built by Sophie and her father, who’s a retired engineer, and the Smart chairs are by Andreu World from UFL. The walls is this home are predominately in Resene Half Sea Fog.

For the interior, Sophie has designed spacious, light-filled, low-maintenance spaces. “Our brief to ourselves was pretty straightforward,” she says. “We wanted four bedrooms, a playroom and an office as both of us work from home, and that’s exactly what we’ve achieved. I kept the form pretty simple, then added extruded steel ‘eyebrows’, a brick screen over the entry and walls that wrap around to contain the outdoor spaces. The pitched roof is a nod to a house that once stood here and also references the ‘gabled twins’ [the two new townhouses] at the rear of the site.”
Stepping through the wide front door into the kitchen/dining area, you’re struck by the sense of space. Actually, every room has substance and is beautifully balanced, from the grey and blue kitchen to the mustard-accented playroom that sees its fair share of rough and tumble. Undoubtedly one of the busiest places in a house with three young children, the laundry is cleverly hidden beyond the downstairs bathroom, which is small but perfectly formed, with a warm terracotta tile floor.

TOP The built-in seating in the sunken playroom is a boon. Further maximising the space, the TV is recessed into the opposite wall. ABOVE Parallel chairs by Simon James and a sofa designed by Sophie anchor the living area and are arranged with a Dual table by Andreu World from UFL, a Haus lamp from Lighting Direct, a rug by Nodi and coffee tables from The Warehouse.

A door between the kitchen and the playroom leads to a secret coat room with extra storage for minimising clutter, while large sliders link the living spaces to the courtyard that “tames” the kids, Otis, Albie and Goldie. “After living in an apartment, having a bit more garden is a real asset,” says Sophie.

MASTER BEDROOM Doubling as a headboard and a display shelf, the main bedroom’s panelled ledge (topped with the same granite used in the kitchen) holds an eclectic mix of precious pieces, including vintage vessels arranged around a lamp from Etsy, plus a painting inherited from Liam’s mother. To keep the tongue-and-groove panelling nice and clean, the room’s light switches and power points were drilled into the Fold bedside table by Made of Tomorrow.

Upstairs there are four bedrooms — including the master with an ensuite and a walk-through wardrobe — and a family bathroom, each space generous, considered and user-friendly. Sophie and Liam’s office slots into an open-plan area between the stairs and the master bedroom, and is shielded by a large built-in screen.

OPPOSITE Very much designed with family in mind, the main bathroom’s drop-in bath from Metrix surrounded by small- and large-format tiles from Tile Space is both a handy seat and stops water getting everywhere. The skylight and picture window provide natural light without sacrificing privacy. Above the vanity and basin from Bath Co is a Mini Glo ball light by Flos from ECC and a custom-made mirror.

Dotted throughout the house are covetable objects and artworks, some picked up on holiday, some passed on by family members and others acquired through Hastings gallery Parlour Projects’ Cultivate programme, which helps those interested in art establish their own meaningful collection. So the home’s materials and colours didn’t outshine these pieces, Sophie opted for restrained palettes to allow them to stand out. “I do really enjoy colour, but I felt we could add it with our furniture and art, so I kept it pretty simple with the white walls and oak elements,” she says.
It’s all come together beautifully — not that Sophie and Liam have much time to sit around and contemplate their expertly appointed home. Now they’ve completed their own abode, they’re back to busily building homes for others that are every bit as inventive as this one.

Words Natalie Parke
Photography Simon Wilson

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