The black and white color theme running through this house could be an analogy for the mindset of owners Brett and Denise Ireland in that they knew absolutely what they wanted from this new build in semi-rural Riverhead , near Auckland. Not that the couple made quick decisions.
Having built a Cape Cod-style house in Henderson 20 years ago, and with Brett in the civil construction game, they were by no means naive newbies. They took their time to be inspired. “We took weekend trips to places like Cambridge, Queenstown and Wanaka to visit homes and visit show homes to get ideas,” says Denise. Which is why there is a nod to Alpine architecture in this modern farmhouse.
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Brett has always had a soft spot for Riverhead because he spent his early childhood there. “Riverhead is just far enough from town to feel like you’re in the country,” he says.
When this new subdivision went into service in 2019, the Irish were given the option of choosing the section they wanted because they were developing land for the developers, Cabre. They made an unexpected choice, however. Sites with a view on the river facing south. “But we wanted to spend our evenings in the sun, so we bought an elevated site facing north instead,” says Denise.
The 800m² plot gave them plenty of space to set up a 350m² house which has, essentially, two wings wrapped around a central garden. They wrote their thoughts on paper, with an emphasis on summer entertainment, and then asked architect Jason Bailey to develop the plans.
From the street, two symmetrical gables are linked by an entrance pavilion. Dressed in whiteboard and slats with a shale fireplace wall, he looks a bit country-style, a bit, well, rock. This material theme continues inside with an atrium entrance that is immediately calming.
Shale walls wrap around an interior garden filled with ferns and pongas where the runoff of a water feature adds to the serenity. “We wanted it to be natural and to sound like New Zealand, and we based the plantings on what we had seen in Mount Aspiring National Park,” says Denise.
To the right is a bedroom wing where her daughter Holly, 24, is still in residence, but there is enough space to accommodate her son Jordan, 26, in the blink of an eye. “I imagine, one day in the near future, hopefully, that the grandchildren will also come and stay,” says Denise. There is also a room reserved for Denise’s mother if she ever needs to move in permanently.
Everything is very practical and well thought out, but there is also a lot of wow factor… Cut to the main living spaces, where cathedral ceilings peak at six meters, a shale-wrapped fireplace anchors one end and eye-catching glass pendants float like bubbles in the void. “We wanted this room to be big and luxurious,” says Brett.
The kitchen is a fulcrum around which life revolves and Denise worked with interior designer Abbey Lang to select the materials and accessories that would give it some sparkle. Two unique slabs of Arabascato Vagli marble are the crown jewel – one for the island, another for the splashback. “I love the golden veins in it,” says Denise who has an affinity for warm tones rather than cool ones.
Paired with black stained American oak cabinetry – “we looked at so many samples to find the right shade because we didn’t want to block out the grain” – it makes a smart statement next to a dining room or windows. style Crittall wrap around a corner and frame a view of the garden where ‘Margaret Merril’ roses add their frothy white elegance to the display.
In the outdoor areas, sofas are grouped around a fireplace and a covered patio is built around Brett’s large barbecue. It’s an artists’ paradise and the first real Christmas day with the kids and their distraught partners and friends is already in the works. Holly and Denise load their wine glasses and dress the tree in a mother / daughter routine that keeps the season moving.
“I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas and always feel sad when I have to cut down the tree,” says Denise. Ham and turkey will be on the menu, of course, and there will be disappointment if Mom doesn’t produce her world-famous homemade stuffing. “It’s my mother’s recipe,” she says. “We’ve been using it for years.
After the pavlova is demolished, everyone can gather in the media room to lazily watch an afternoon movie or game. If they’re lucky, they’ll be treated to a small glass from the Brett whiskey collection, glamorously presented on a cocktail cart. “I even have a bottle of Jameson from our visit to the distillery in Ireland, with my name printed on the label,” says Brett.
The house is also a container of memories, including their travels. In the master bedroom, separated from the living room by a covered passage, the dressing room includes an exhibition space for bags and shoes, including three pairs of Christian Louboutin heels. “Brett even bought me a bag and shoes when he was traveling with the boys,” says Denise. “I went to school before I went,” he laughs.
There are still a few small touches to finish – an attic library for example, tiling in the garden and shelves to finish off the wine cellar. Meanwhile, most evenings, when they sit on the deck and watch the sun disappear behind the hills of Riverhead Forest, they just wait.
Q&A with Brett & Denise Ireland
Tips for new builders: Chris Potier from KCB built our first house and we trusted him to build this one. Have a detailed budget so you don’t miss a thing and create a physical folder that stays put with all the specifications – for dishwashers, every faucet, etc. – so that any merchant can consult it. (Brett)
Develop a vision for interiors: Having a style theme (modern farmhouse) and color scheme (black and white) helped. Then I used Pinterest a lot! Then I discovered Abbey Lang Home on Instagram and it took the stress out of me. (Denise)
Keeping the house cool With so much glass: The interior garden acts as an oxygen pump. We also created cutouts in the gable roof line so that the breeze from the river was channeled through and through the garden. If we open the doors, we get excellent cross ventilation. (Brett)
The secret of a successful Christmas day: Good planning, great company and great food including Christmas ham. We always get ours from Calverts Butchery in Swanson. (Denise)
What we like about this area: His history. The Riverhead Tavern is New Zealand’s oldest river pub. You can take a Red Boat Cruise to Auckland Harbor for lunch – it’s a great day trip. (Brett)
It’s such a friendly country vibe and we love the Hallertau Brasserie which is up the street. (Denise)