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out of the box

From Habitat magazine - issue 09

This creative award-winning Hawkes Bay home is a dynamic blend of shapes, materials and colour.

Some people build homes that are basically a series of joined-up boxes. They’re scared of doing anything different because they’re more concerned about what people will think rather than how they actually want to live themselves. So, they opt for box-standard, then they dress the house up with furniture in an attempt to make it look more interesting.

Unique home exterior
Dramatic shapes and materials play off against each other to create a house that is certainly not “box standard”. Get the exterior look with Resene Cool Colour Lumbersider tinted to Resene Ebony.

So says, Greg O’Leary, who counts himself lucky to have broken the mould when he encountered architect Graham Lane. Graham designed a home Greg was building for some friends and having just returned from a stint of living in Europe and Auckland, Greg found the experience of working with Graham, whose designs are renowned for challenging the norm, totally exhilarating. He transformed the way Greg and his wife Kerry now think about design.

Quite simply, says Kerry, “he is our inspiration”. Working with Graham, the O’Learys came to appreciate just how enjoyable the building process should be. “It’s not meant to be a struggle,” they proclaim.

From then on, they decided to embark on a campaign to educate others on the magic of great architecture. Their construction company O’Leary Homes became the vehicle to show people how surprisingly varied spaces, interesting materials, honest construction details and skilful use of colour can enrich living environments.

Rich interior materials
The rich selection of materials and shapes results in a house of truly exciting spaces. Rustic poles: hardwood, from O’Leary Homes.

Greg says: “Good architecture starts with something different. It’s not just an add-on. It’s built into the fabric of the design. You could take out all the furniture and you still have something great going on.”

This project is the first of many the O’Leary’s plan to build with Graham Lane as the architect. It’s a sparsely furnished home, inspired by a passion for design and beautiful materials; “a home which makes you feel something,” says Kerry.

When it was completed on the hill above Taradale near Napier last year, it won a New Zealand Institute of Architects Resene Colour Award. Judges praised it for its contrasting palette of bold colours which work together in ‘surprising harmony’ to provide a fun atmosphere, reflecting the vibrant personalities of both Graham Lane and the O’Learys.

Hardwood support poles
Interior timber trims
Several gnarly old hardwood support poles ‘grow’ up through the house. Resene O’Leary Green is used on the high exterior soffits and contrasts beautifully with timber trims painted in Resene Ebony. Internal ceiling: Resene O’Leary Green on medium-density fibreboard overlapped to add texture and interest.

Kerry explains that the house is essentially neutral with glimpses of strong colour, “so you don’t feel engulfed in it”. The colours complement and add an element of surprise to the rich selection of materials: the concrete, timbers, steel and glass.

Standing at the black granite bench in the glossy, white kitchen, you look up through the void to the floor above which adds an uplifting dimension to the living space. To emphasise the drama of height, Kerry created a lime green paint (Resene O’Leary Green) to use here and on the high soffits outside. The matt finish hides any imperfections in the medium-density fibreboard (mdf) and the colour contrasts beautifully with timber trims painted in Resene Ebony.

While paint colour serves to highlight spatial effects, no effort has been made to disguise structural elements in the home. A steel support beam is exposed and left raw as it runs between concrete tilt slabs on either side of the house. Several gnarly old hardwood poles ‘grow’ up through the ground floor ceiling. Greg explains that it’s this kind of honesty which gives the house life. The combination of old and new adds ‘a feeling of homeliness’.

Did you know? Choose Resene Zylone Sheen VOC Free for interior walls for better indoor air quality and a luxurious low sheen finish.

Music room
The rear lounge area has a warm, moody atmosphere, great for watching movies. A smaller space currently used as a music room to the side of the main living area is painted a soothing Resene Windblown Green from the Karen Walker range. Get the interior look with Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen tinted to Resene Windblown Green.

As your eye steals around the marvelous array of construction details on show, you understand the excitement the O’Leary’s must feel every day.

Graham Lane is keen on providing a continuum between materials used on the inside and out. Cedar weatherboards, the same as those on the exterior, are mounted against the concrete tilt slabs inside for a rich, warm effect. Upstairs, in the central living space between bedrooms, mdf ceiling panels overlap like weatherboards, adding an interesting layered effect and again highlighted in Resene O’Leary Green.

The house was designed for maximum flexibility to suit changing lifestyles. Two downstairs living areas open into one another while a smaller space off to the side, painted a soothing Resene Windblown Green from the Karen Walker range, is used as a music room, but could easily morph into another bedroom.

Intimate interior space
White kitchen
Living areas wrap around the central stairwell, creating intimate spaces rather than those that are grand but impersonal. The kitchen/dining area is possibly the most demur room of the house, and opens to a large deck. Coloured concrete floors are heated and act as a suntrap.

While the lounge area to the rear has a warm, moody atmosphere, great for watching movies, the front room is filled with light. Glazed on three sides it looks out over a private patio and the view. In summer, full height sliding glass doors disappear into wall cavities, so you feel as if you’re sitting outside even when you’re inside.

Upstairs, family bedrooms are arranged to make the most of views down through the valley. In Resene Crab Apple, a rich burnt orange-red, the master bedroom sits between two smaller rooms and is entered via a dressing room. The room is not overly large. Greg points out that Graham Lane is not big on grandeur and prefers to create more intimately scaled rooms. Having lived in a series of large homes designed for entertaining crowds, the O’Leary’s have learnt the same lesson. “How often do you entertain crowds? Smaller spaces make you feel much cosier,” says Kerry.

Timber louvres across the balcony in front and part way along the sides of the bedroom generate a pleasing plantation-style feel. By sliding back the windows and shutting the louvres which can be adjusted to let in fresh air, Kerry says she can create the perfect temperature for sleeping in summer.

Bold home exterior

You might think a concrete house would be cold but by being oriented towards the sun, this home takes advantage of passive solar energy. There are solar panels on the roof and insulation is packed between the tilt slabs and internal weatherboards. Concrete floors are heated by an electric heat pump and a freestanding fire box in the middle of the house feeds a wetback system as well as providing instant warmth as you walk inside. A flue reaching through the second floor spreads the heat around the upper level of the house.

Future-proofed for many generations, this is a vibrant home with a life of its own. As a backdrop to contemporary living, it will grow, evolve and improve with age. It’s not meant to be perfect, say its owners, but that’s all part of its charm.

Alternative Solution

rich Middle Eastern colours-spice up the space

Fiona Renton of Sandalwood Design, Christchurch, suggests this alternative solution:

Alternative solution 1

I wanted to achieve a feeling of intimacy for the room so took my inspiration from the Middle East to create a rich opulent colour palette – blends of deep reds, luxurious turquoise and mellow yellows. Resene Gold Dust adds a glitz of gold to the walls, setting off the gorgeous mirror above the sideboard. A sofa with a mix of textured and patterned cushions makes you want to just sink in and relax. Velvet-covered chairs with gold studs keep a regal theme flowing. A Turkish-style floor rug pulls the colours together, while curtains with a horizontal stripe give the illusion of width and are lined for fullness. Accessorise with rich coloured bowls and candlestick holders.

phone: 03 348 2558   email:

Accessories: Brooklyn Chair, from Montreux, covered in Kamoa 52, from Roylton House. Sheer curtains: Baumann Sandro 112 (lined with gold fabric), from James Dunlop Textiles. Brunschwig & Fils, from Decortex e famiglia. Oval Sun Mirror Gold Leaf, sideboard, from CC Interiors. Alicia sofa, from Montreux, covered in Jab Hierro 1-1106-242, from Seneca.

Alternative Solution

moody colours create an urban edginess

Meryl Southey senior colour consultant for Resene northern region suggests this alternative scheme:

Alternative solution 2

I have given this room an urban glam feel with silvery metallics and broody grey walls in Resene Zulu. The room gains a focal point by adding a sleek gas fireplace in the middle of the wall, with a flat-screen television on the wall above it. A textured wallpaper here adds interest. The long, narrow feel of the room is balanced by centrally placing two glass coffee tables side by side. An unexpected splash of colour comes with a fun floral fabric ottoman. Tucked under one of the tables, it can be pulled out and used as a foot rest or extra seating. The whole scheme is anchored by a lightly striped black carpet.

mobile: 0274 776 156   email:

Accessories: Glass Pezzaro tables (two side by side), Vari chairs, from Freedom Furniture. Ottoman: in Aloha fabric, from Unique Fabrics. Classic Collection sofa: in Argent Velvet, colour Moss, from Corso de Fiori. Eastside fireplace, from Living Flame.

words: Vicki Holder
pictures: Richard Brimmer and Kerry Fox
illustration: Bruce Bryant

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