While meandering through some properties on my favourite accommodation website I found a gorgeous home in Auckland. Staying there was like living inside the pages of a design magazine!…
Prisms of bright light dance across the warm limestone floor and flit up the wood-panelled walls like fragments of a fractured rainbow.
Standing in the living room at Maureen and John’s house, I’m mesmerised by the play of the sun’s rays shining through the crystal pendants suspended from the horizontal Italian chandelier above the dining table.
My head is on a swivel as my eyes absorb the myriad of artworks and design features in the six-year-old split-level house built into a hillside, a block from bustling Parnell Village in Auckland, New Zealand.
Staying at the luxurious three-bedroom, three-bathroom home is like living inside the pages of an art and architecture magazine… or a sumptuous design store.
And yet the place is cosy, tranquil, airy, light-filled and above all welcoming and homely. The architect has made clever use of eaves suspended from rods below the two-level single-pitch roofline, angled to allow the living areas and bedrooms to be floodlit with warm sunshine in winter but shaded from the intense heat of the summer sun.
Maureen, a graduate of the three-year Nanette Cameron Interior Design course, aptly describes the eaves as “eyebrows” above the windows.
I found this gorgeous home while meandering through some of the 68,000 properties on my favourite accommodation website, Love Home Swap, an international house swap platform. Long since sworn-off cramped hotel rooms and bland motel units for our rare family get-togethers, I could hardly believe my good fortune at finding such a perfect place — a few minute’s walk from some of the city’s best cafes and markets and a stone’s throw from Auckland Domain and the War Memorial Museum.
Swapping homes is the next best thing to being at home. A family can spread out, sit by the fire and chat, watch TV, stay up late, sleep in, cook meals, do the laundry and make-believe they are actually at home.
However, Love Home Swap comes with a warning. It’s dangerously addictive and makes you dissatisfied forevermore with “ordinary” forms of accommodation. Staying free at beautiful spacious homes around the world creates high expectations so on the rare occasion when we have ended up in a motel or hotel, there has been an undercurrent of grumpiness about lack of space, privacy and character.
This time however, arrangements fell into place with great ease. We agreed to a points’ swap whereby Maureen and John earned credits for each night we stayed at their house which they can then “spend” at other Love Home Swap members’ homes anywhere in the world at any time.
After the swap is agreed and security provisions met, the site allows you to communicate directly so Maureen and I had a chat before we arrived. A keen swapper, she told me of their recent non-simultaneous swap with an Italian couple whose fabulous apartment is near the Trevi Fountain in Rome.
“They loved our place and now we are going to their place. We are so looking forward to living the Italian lifestyle for 16 days,” she says.
There is a high degree of childlike excitement and anticipation when you arrive at someone’s home, unlock the door and tiptoe through the rooms like Alice-in-Wonderland. That’s part of the appeal, especially at a house like this where there is so much to discover.
The first of many striking design features is dramatic palisade timber screen that covers the front of the house.
“The palisade references Maori design and has multiple purposes providing shade, a subtle and aesthetic form of security, privacy and ventilation,” says Maureen.
At the entranceway I find myself patting the stunning off-white limestone floor tiles which begin at the front doorstep and continue throughout the house, inside and out, apart from the master bedroom.
Quarried from limestone millions of years old near the ancient city of Persepolis in Iran, the tiles are practical as well as aesthetic. Laid on concrete which has a thermal mass underneath, they make the house warm in winter and cool during hot summer months.
From the weighty timber front door, steps lead invitingly to the living spaces on the first level of the three-storey house.
Maureen describes the entrance stairwell as “a cooling tunnel before entering the light, open space of the living room”.
The juxtaposition of dark and light is dazzling. There is a sense of surprise and delight on arrival at the bright, airy open-plan kitchen, dining and living area at the top of the first flight of steps.
I like the clean, uncluttered lines of the state-of-the-art kitchen with its three-metre long white crushed quartz bench, warm-toned, American maple cabinetry, Smeg double oven with gas hobs and pantry concealed behind sliding frosted glass doors.
When the tall sliding doors on two sides of the living space are pushed back, the area opens onto a sheltered tiled terrace and garden planted mainly in natives to attract birds.
“It’s like cooking outside,” says Maureen. “We love it.”
The dining area adjacent to the kitchen has a 10-seater oak table created by Ashton Grove paired with black leather dining chairs from Studio Italia.
Above the table is a modern eye- and light-catching crystal chandelier by Anthologie Quartett with an impressive international lineage.
“It was designed by two Italians, made in Germany and purchased from Indice in Ponsonby. It took me three years to find the right piece,” says Maureen.
An L-shaped six-seater lounge suite, covered in a gorgeous glazed linen with patterned cushions nestles beside a marble coffee table in front of an elegant gas fire which we light in the evenings with a flick of a switch.
A back-lit wall in the living area features four delicate ceramic vessels by Hana Rakena and a Carrara marble “Saint de Glace” bust Maureen purchased in Provence. It’s smooth on one side and rough on the other, inviting touch. They sit well against the wamth of the maple cabinetry and panels, another constant throughout the house.
Maureen likes smaller spaces that lead from larger rooms like the study and sitting room that open off the living space, making ideal retreats, she says.
On the second level, two lovely garden-facing bedrooms share a bathroom and guest powder-room.
The master bedroom on the semi-mezzanine third floor, is deliciously airy with two walls of sliding windows that are thrown open in summer to provide a sleeping-on-the-balcony effect.
“Its elevated position just below tree-top height provides a wonderful view of the tuis, wood pigeons, fantails and kingfishers that are attracted to the native trees and plants in our garden.
“On New Year’s Eve and other city celebrations, our ‘tree-hut’ offers a spectacular view of firework displays launched from the Sky Tower, domain and harbour.”
Aqua tones and the only wall-to-wall carpet in the house enhance the quiet ambience of the room.
The master bathroom is fitted with a free-standing bath, sloping marble basin and glass-walled shower. Limestone tiles with ancient watermarks cover the floor and a wall. Light floods in from high louvred windows.
Persian rugs, artworks, photographs and a myriad of lovingly-chosen objets d’art add colour and intrigue to the home.
Maureen’s favourite piece is “Il Grande Libra”, an unusual double-sided book by Italian artist Raffaele Rossi which sits in an eye-catching position on a shelf by a tall window at the top of the entrance stairs. Maureen and John found it in Galleria Regina in Venice.
“We could have bought many works from that gallery — not only do we enjoy the art for its own sake but it also evokes wonderful memories.”
Precious family treasures and heirlooms — a piupiu (Maori skirt) and two small pieces of pounamu (greenstone) given to John’s great grandfather in the 1850s — hang near the top of the stairs.
Among many other artworks are a Hope Gibbons’ painting in the sitting room entitled “Challenge” and a limited edition print, “Peony” in the guestroom, one of several beautiful photographs by Anna Kilgour Wilson.
When we could drag ourselves away from our home comforts, we wondered around the museum and domain and shopped at Parnell’s famous La Cigale French Markets to buy fresh produce for dinner. But mostly we stayed home, reacquainting ourselves as a family. It was a blissful interlude which further reinforced my LHS (Love Home Swap) addiction.
I’m already plotting our next reunion but with more than 68,000 homes in 160 countries, the choices are mind-boggling. Meanwhile, Maureen and John are planning to spend their points in Europe later this year.
Find Maureen and John’s house on love home swap here.