Dot and Dave Antunovic’s family home at Okato on Taranaki’s wild west coast, 25 minutes’ drive from New Plymouth, is a space of drama and dreaming.
It’s also a place where opposites create balance and the past meets the present. “We wanted a view of the sea and mountain from every room and we got it,” says Dot. “We also decided that we would have our end of the house and the kids would have their end and we’d meet in the middle.”
The brief was for a house with a “put your feet up and relax kind of feel” that was also perfect for entertaining and throwing parties.
They gave that brief to friend and architect Murali Bhaskar and let him fly. The result is a long house of glass, concrete and steel with clear views to the Tasman Sea on one side and Mt Taranaki rising from a rural landscape on the other. Standing in the walkway between the kitchen and the kids’ end of the warm home, Dot marvels at the two scenes. “It blows your mind sometimes.”
Though the kids tend to hang out in their own space, they do drift into Dot and Dave’s lounge, attracted by the warmth of the woodburner. “They have some full-on card evenings in front of the fire or read their books,” she says.
For this family home, Murali has devised perspex lighting panels featuring youthful artwork by the four Antunovic children. At the entrance to the adult lounge, subtle lighting is provided by two panels embellished with comical words from Maté, now 17, and flower artworks by Sasha, 22, Rosa, 19 and Libby, 13; a lighting panel below the breakfast bar in the kitchen features Maté’s cartoons, more flowers and Sasha’s exercise-inspiring words, “TV is a killer”.
Lighting is key in this home. Fluorescent panels are set into the ceiling and underfloor lighting is set into the black oxide-tinted cut concrete running the length of the house.
There is also a great deal of glass; in fact, the glass interior doors have caused problems for unwary visitors who have walked into them. “My aunty came and left with a black eye,” says Dot wryly.
Since then the children have been let loose with coloured pens for glass. “They wrote poetry and drew pictures and I didn’t want to clean my windows; they were just wonderful.”
The words and artwork have changed over the years, like the rest of this movable feast of a house. Murali even designed wardrobes on wheels so Dot and Dave could change spaces with ease.
In the kitchen, the combined pantry/refrigerator unit is also mobile, so that it can be moved out of the way for parties and when Dot has a redecorating whim. More permanent is an extractor fan over the stove that looks exactly like a large zinc-covered nose. Created by Murali and surfboard designer Biggie Smithers, it just appeared one day. “We call it the big honk,” says Dave. “We love it,” adds Dot.
She has populated the contemporary home with colour and texture, art and old-style furniture, or “relics” as Murali calls them. “I spent a lot of time hauling things out of the shed to see what they would look like – always when Dave was at work.”
A shipping chest from Dot’s family bach on Kawau Island has taken up residence in the master bedroom, along with a scotch chest from England. Around the corner in the wide entrance-way are a grandfather clock, a piano Dot’s had since her 20s and an oak coffer.
In Dot and Dave’s lounge, modern leather and chrome chairs sit comfortably beside a Knole sofa re-covered in a swirl of bold black and white fabric.
Perhaps this meeting of modern and mature is mostly clearly defined in the dining room, where Philippe Starck Ghost chairs sit around an old oak table.
Surprisingly, furnishings that fitted their former home, a stately villa in the Taranaki town of Inglewood, look right here. “We weren’t necessarily going to put them in this house, but they were too meaningful for us,” says Dot. “Eventually the minimalist look just disappeared.”
These treasures have also enhanced the bach-like feel of the Okato home.Dave says that when they first moved in, just before Christmas 2006, life felt like a permanent holiday. A thought flashed through his mind as he drove home from their dental practice (Dave is a dentist, Dot is practice manager): “I’m going to the bach for the weekend. Then I realised, actually I’m going home to the bach.”
The decision about whether to leave their much-loved villa and build at the beach was agonised over for two years. “There was no practical reason to come here and live,” says Dot.
But decide they did and when they moved in they held a big house-warming, complete with band and a houseful of dancing, happy people, who spilled out onto the decks.
The Antunovics also learned to relax. “We spent the first summer admiring the view. We couldn’t bring ourselves to do anything – we just felt as if we were on holiday the whole time,” says Dot.
The changing sea is particularly mesmerising. “We’ve watched whales go by,” says Dot. Dave adds: “We’ve had seals on the beach and we get a lot of boats going past.”
Eventually, of course, they woke from their holiday life and sprang into action, inside and out. The 4ha property is now swathed in mass plantings of grasses, flaxes, reeds, succulents, native trees and reeds and Dave has a vegetable garden that does well, despite being so close to the sea.
They have also developed a large wetland area, where they have planted many natives, and a Japanese garden with a pond that flanks a boardwalk leading to the front door. The wetland has attracted wildlife, especially pukeko, who head up to the house in summer.
As much as Dot loves the quirky birds, she isn’t happy when they eat her water lilies and poop on the south-facing decks.
On the sea side of the house there’s another “poop deck”, this time named for maritime reasons. It appears to jut out into the surf and is surrounded by a sea of reeds called oioi. “People complain about it falling over, but you just give it a haircut and then it will go back upright,” says Dot of the sculptural plant.
The poop deck is just big enough to accommodate a table and chairs and the Antunovics report some glorious times spent entertaining on this deck and at other spots around the house.
Many have been spontaneous gatherings featuring fish caught by Dave and his mate Dave Marshall, who lives just down the beach and has a boat. Once, Dave (Antunovic) even caught a 13.5kg snapper.
There have also been feeds of paua gathered from a secret spot nearby.
“They are always magic moments when you have caught the food yourself and you have a crowd around to eat it,” says Dot. “In summer it’s pure bliss.”