It was a wet, miserable day about five years ago when Aaron Haddock first viewed a rambling, split-level 1970s home perched above the Waikato River in Hamilton. He immediately noted the house’s good bones and well-proportioned rooms, but he couldn’t actually assess one of its primary attractions – an elevated view of the river below – because the outlook was blocked by overgrown trees.
The lounge has been dressed with silver accessories to match silver wallpaper inserts on black walls.
Somehow, at first glance, Aaron didn’t realise that the house was quite so big. “I thought it was about 500sqm,” he says, “but it was more like 850sqm.”
Which meant the sheer magnitude of the project had escaped him. But not for long. A couple of weeks after Aaron, his wife Michelle and teenage daughters Marrisa and Latisha moved in, the refurbishment process was under way, sparked by urgent heating issues.
Michelle tells this part of the story: “It was the middle of winter and it was freezing. We joked that you needed to wear your ski suit indoors and I think our friends stopped coming to see us because it was too cold.”
The Haddocks’ first job was to install modern heating and replace all the windows with double glazing and new joinery. They also added a bank of bifolds in the sunny family room – the doors would open this area and the adjacent kitchen to the big swimming pool and patios.
The Haddocks’ sunny north-facing family room has river vistas and flows to a generous casual dining area that opens to the swimming pool.
Michelle confesses she hadn’t actually seen the house before Aaron made an offer on it because she was too busy with her work as a health and safety manager. He assured her it met her two major requirements – a curved staircase and plenty of space. But when she finally encountered the prized staircase, she knew instantly that it was too tightly configured. “Those stairs are going to have to go,” she announced. “I want a graceful curve.”
The house was designed by Hamilton architect Mary de Lisle and built in 1973 for legendary Waikato aviation pioneer Ossie James and his wife Elaine – the Haddocks are the third owners. There are five bedrooms and four bathrooms upstairs and a lounge, family room, kitchen, office, theatre and utilities on the ground floor. They were all ripe for refurbishment and, after four years of hard work, pretty much the only room left untouched by Aaron and Michelle is the kitchen, where the previous owners had recently installed handsome oak cabinetry. Ossie James’ original wood-panelled office has also had a stay of execution because somehow it still feels right.
But elsewhere the vast house glows with fresh colours, furnishings and accessories and, of course, a graceful, remodelled staircase. Aaron and Michelle say they kept thinking “five-star hotel” as they worked and planned. The luxury theme is reflected in the swathes of taffeta curtains, comfortable couches, marble flooring, elegant mirrors and a chic black and white colour scheme teamed with toning creams, cafe au lait, charcoal, taupe and pale grey.
Aaron and Michelle have done a lot of the work themselves. Aaron is an architectural designer who developed his DIY skills as a 21-year-old when he refurbished two houses in Hamilton’s Frankton Railway Village heritage precinct.
He has done many makeovers since then, several of them with Michelle. His design office is handily located in the new property’s self-contained pool house, so he could move seamlessly between the demands of his business and the hard yakka of stripping, chipping, painting, plastering, wallpapering and building. “Most nights I’d finish at my desk at about 6.30pm, have dinner, then work on the house until about 10.30.”
Structural changes have been minimal: an upstairs deck has been incorporated into the master bedroom to make it more spacious, a state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen has been cleverly installed in a covered walkway by the pool and Aaron built a grand front entrance befitting the size of the building. Other than that, the remodelling has been done within the existing footprint. “If you add on, you add to your costs,” says Aaron.
The heart of the house is the beautifully proportioned sunken lounge, three steps down from the rest of the ground floor. Adding to the room’s charm are its original chandeliers, its ornate plastered ceiling, panelled walls, 3.3m stud and stunning views down to the river chasm.
“The room is so big, it was hard to know how to dress it,” says Michelle. They painted the wall panels black, enhancing them with inserts of black and silver-patterned paper and adding a rich accent with sumptuous red curtains. There are two carefully placed groups of comfortable seating, a smart little bar and a 10-seater dining table. Just like a five-star hotel.
The exterior has also had careful attention. The 1970s split-stone brick has been plastered and painted a soft cream. The new colour works nicely with the existing asphalt shingle roof.
Now, job done, the house – moved into a new century with a classic, timeless look – sits serenely in a park-like setting of sweeping lawns, mature perimeter trees and river views (the latter achieved after much judicious removal of foliage).
Though they love their revamped home, it’s unlikely to be their last project: “Next time, it will be something a lot smaller,” says Aaron firmly.
This home will be part of the charity fundraiser Hamilton Fine Homes Tour on Friday, November 11, 2011, supporting the Waikato Family Centre and Alzheimer’s Waikato. Tickets are $65. Click here
We wanted to live by the Waikato River because:
Aaron, who grew up in Ngaruawahia, has childhood memories of building rafts and swimming in the river, and later water-skiing and hunting.
Our best renovation moment was: Finishing the master bedroom and en suite after being in the guest wing for two years.
The worst moment: A water pipe leak in the roof that damaged the ceiling in the en suite, not long after we’d finally shifted into the master bedroom.
The best money we spent was: On upgrading the heating and insulation; we’re now warm in winter, cool in summer.
The collectables we will never part with are: Trophies from our travels, including two handmade terracotta soldiers from China, a painting from Phuket recording the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami and a suit of armour.
Our favourite time of day is: Watching the sun set over the river with the Raglan hills in the distance.
Our best advice for a major project is: Give yourself plenty of time and make sure your finances are in place, as alterations always cost twice as much as expected and take twice as long.
Aaron and Michelle Haddock
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Story: Denise Irvine
Photographs: Jane Ussher