Modern-day castle rises beside Waikato lake

Modern-day castle rises beside Waikato lake

NZ House Garden

Monique Balvert-O'Connor/NZ House & Garden05:00, Oct 19 2020

Grace Ayre may well feel she’s hit the bull’s-eye on the property front. The English-born occupational therapist has had an attention-grabbing home built on an impressive site that she discovered about six years ago, while taking her youngest son to archery class.

The rural archery range was alongside Lake Karapiro, about 15 minutes drive south of the Waikato town of Cambridge.

Grace recalls driving past a hilltop lane that had commanding lake views and noticing sections for sale. She ended up buying one – a 3000sqm plot with great views up and down the lake… and then sat tight for a few years.

“I had absolutely no idea what I would build. I knew I wanted four bedrooms and an ensuite shower for two, but that was about it. I thought maybe something that resembled a hunting lodge?”

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That she was open-minded is blatantly obvious, as her year-old home’s only connections to hunting are “the hare and foxy things” used in the decor, and a preponderance of dogs – Rudi the doberman, Izzy the miniature schnauzer and Sir Trots the fox terrier. Sons Janek and Stan are living away from home, studying in Hamilton and Auckland.

Instead, the house is black, industrial and structurally intriguing, with lots of metal and strong boxy shapes. The exterior is a combination of cedar and aluminium, with the latter cut into a complex geometric shape that becomes repeating panels.

Modern-day castle rises beside Waikato lake

Those panels play a lead role in the home’s towering entranceway, where they form the giant door and surrounds. Grace likens this area to a medieval castle entrance – “that metal door is my portcullis,” she jokes.

Essentially, Grace’s modern-day castle is a combination of boxes bolted to a very tall central corridor. The cladding materials are then carried through to the interior. The corridor walls, therefore, are either black-stained cedar or aluminium, as are the doors to the rooms that feed off it. “The doors are hidden in the walls. Lots of people find it difficult to determine where they are, which is quite entertaining,” says Grace.

Sliding doors are also inset on one side of the corridor, leading to the garden and swimming pool. Aside from bedrooms and living areas, there’s also a triple garage, a “snuggly” media room, Grace’s office and her “gin room”.

“What I call the gin room was originally a technology hub. But I needed it to be more than that, as I don’t have a scullery. It also houses a beer fridge, wine … but primarily gin.”

It’s easy to be distracted by the view from the front door, framed in part by the unusual black cedar-slat ceiling with its rolling wave form; beneath it, the corridor is the same length as 2.3 cricket pitches and at the end is “the best seat in the house” looking out to the lake, farmland, and Maungatautari – a sanctuary mountain with ecological status.

As for the rolling wave ceiling, Grace says she felt something structural was needed to fill the 6m-high void. Her builder, Craig Wallace of CJW Build Ltd and his wife, Paula Hassard Wallace, ensured she got something special. Paula came up with the idea, which Craig duly executed.

Grace says she always had clear ideas about her home’s interiors. “While it’s harsh and industrial on the outside, the inside had to be warm and homely with rich textures and colour to make you feel relaxed and calm. I wanted to come in and feel as if I were at a resort – leaving any troubles at the gate. That’s certainly been achieved,” says Grace.

Filling her home with art and sculptural pieces has been a thrill. A recent acquisition by Damien Hirst is a favourite, and she also loves her quirky pieces by Bambi (like Banksy, the artist is unknown). On the New Zealand talent front, Grace turned to Waiheke Island artist Sally Smith to create a copper blowing-leaves installation for her home’s long corridor.

While there’s room for displaying her art, the home features massive expanses of glass. The main living room’s eastern and western walls, for example, are doors that stack back, opening the main pod and allowing for an easy wander from the pool side to the lake side of the house.

Grace, a keen gardener, has ensured an equal degree of attention has been paid to the outdoors. The planting is a repetition of a small selection of easy-to- maintain green and white plants. Metres of rain lilies (Zephyranthes candida) flank the poolside boardwalk and delight with their habit of producing little white flowers after it rains.

For Grace, it’s a home that ticks all the boxes, and she declares it’s in a box that she will one day leave. “I just think it is amazing. There isn’t anything I would change and I think I have everything here I need. I just can’t imagine I would feel I needed anything else.”

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