One day in late 1889, Daniel Manders Beere, a prolific surveyor and photographer in colonial New Zealand, dragged his glass plate camera to Ponsonby, which was then the western border of Auckland City.
Some of his photographs from that day are held in the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington. They show the newly constructed Newton Borough Council office and fire station, a compact brick building with a pinnacle steeple, standing proudly behind a palisade and surrounded by dirt roads.
Beere also captured the wider scene, farmland stretching out towards the Waitākere Ranges and, closer, a cluster of houses, among them a square two-storey villa. That house is still there, along with the heritage-listed council chamber and fire station, and it’s still on the border, not of town and country, but of areas of contemporary urban planning.
Located at an angle, it is oriented towards a residential street to the north and bordered by a “mixed” street to the east. It turns out that being bizonal is very useful if you want to add to an old house in a heritage suburb.
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Jamie and Stephanie Cobel bought the kauri villa in 2009. “We had been looking to buy for years,” says Stephanie. “We were interested in villas so we were looking in suburbs like Mt Eden and Grafton. This home ticked all the boxes. We could see immediately that due to its position on the corner and the dual accesses, there was room to expand the place as we did.
Over the course of several years, as their own family grew – Oliver is now 10 and Trixie six – Jamie and Stephanie made minor changes to the house, restoring the upper floor walls, which had been used as open plan office, and giving the simple flat kitchen a facelift. But there was always a plan for an addition. “We were so sure [of] how it was going to work that I built a balsa wood model of the villa with an extension, and we took it to the architect,” explains Stephanie. “He offered me a job, jokingly.”
Stéphanie, who is a lawyer, admits to being “a closet architect”; Jamie, an architectural photographer, also has design knowledge.
Jamie and Stephanie thank Jones Architects and consultant planner Alex Findlay for their deft navigation of a council consent process that can be difficult for anyone who wants to do anything to a house in a heritage area of Auckland.
The couple certainly familiarized themselves with the history of the house. As a condition of consent, the council required an archaeologist’s report. “At first we were annoyed by this,” says Stephanie, “but when we received the report, it was this fascinating history of the area.
The house is a local landmark and, says Stephanie, “the community has a strong sense of place.” A neighbour, now in his 80s, told the Cobels that as a child he was paid to mow the lawn at the villa, but was never invited into the front room.
The house has been a boarding house and private residence and, inevitably for this part of town, had its day, in the 1970s, as a brothel. But the house has been maintained throughout its 130 years. Jamie says that when builder Andrew Menzies started work on the extension he said he had “never seen a villa so upright”.
The 120 m² house was doubled in size by the addition of the split-level wing on the site of the dilapidated garage which was on the east side of the house. Jamie and Stephanie were pleasantly surprised when council workers decided the extension shouldn’t look like a pastiche of the old villa. As architect Greg Jones puts it, officers agreed it was “appropriate” for the old and new parts of the house to be clearly differentiated. The distinction was permissible because the street on the east side of the house, with its warehouses, factories, paneling, cafes and apartments, is in a mixed-use area.
In this context, says Jamie, the black box extension “functions as both a commercial and residential facade”. On the north side of the house, the extension is protected from the street by a fence and a hedge of ficus ‘Tuffy’ thus preserves the “particular character” of the street and the intimacy of the garden. The design compromises that were made were not significant, says Jamie.
He liked the idea of coating the extension with zinc but, he says, “I knew it wasn’t going to work with the board.” The compromise was flap boards coated with black heat-resistant paint.
Jamie and Stephanie managed the project, helping to keep construction on track and budget in check. The extension, which was completed a few years ago, cost less than $500,000, an extraordinary achievement considering the cost of construction in Auckland.
The extension includes on the ground floor a garage with wine cellar, laundry room and storage, and an upper floor comprising a living area and a space which, behind its large sliding door, can be used as a games room or bedroom. of friends. There’s also a new bathroom, in which the commitment to an all-black color scheme even extends to toilet paper.
They didn’t just get more house; by leveling the site for construction, they also got more garden – enough, says Jamie, for a trampoline and even a bouncy castle.
Q&A with Jamie and Stéphanie Cobel
The bravest thing we’ve done in the house: The completely black, windowless bathroom. (Jamie)
Highlight of the renovation: Move from the old villa to the new extension and join the two spaces, after patient months of watching it all come together. (Stephanie)
Best decoration tip: When the upholsterer asks if you want to pay a little more for the home version of the fabric, say yes. (Stephanie)
The improvement that caused the most debate: We had a 20 minute discussion with the architect and his team about whether the plinths for the extension should be traditional or modern before realizing that the moment we removed the sliding doors from the cavity, the moving wall, concrete wall and cabinets, there was no place to put any. (Stephanie)
New favorite find: Black toilet paper. (Jamie)
Best place in the house: It’s still in the old villa – the hammock on the second-floor balcony, when the sun goes down. (Jamie)
Best neighborhood spot for coffee: Italian bakery Il Forno. When the wind blows from the north, you can feel the baking of the pastries! (Stephanie)
Favorite local restaurant to take the kids to: Pizzeria Pane e Vino – in the former Newton Borough Council office and fire station. (Jamie)
Favorite local waterer: Hoppers Garden Bar for its fried cauliflower and excellent gin cocktails. (Jamie)