Designer home answers some tricky health needs

Rae and Gavin Hamilton embraced their post-work world with the bells on. The Auckland couple started thinking about their next phase after a lifetime working in the real estate industry.

“Rae wanted more than a passive passage of time that leads to decay,” says Gavin with a wink. “So we decided to go on at least one more adventure and disrupt the path we were on. It scared the shit out of me.”

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There were also health reasons to consider. As a child, Gavin contracted polio, which slowly came back in later life. “The Impact of Post-Polio Syndrome [PPS] became increasingly clear,” he says. “And the rate of deterioration increased. I had to use crutches and a wheelchair, so a changed future came like an unstoppable slow train. We tried to control the result when we could.”

That was in 2014, when everyday life took its toll. It took them 18 months to find a section in Pt Wells, about an hour’s drive north of Auckland, where they sold their business, offices, home and a creek. Rae saw the potential for building a home that was both accessible and stylish, and for this former country girl, the area’s rural vibe suited her perfectly.

On the same day they signed up, they also bought an under-construction City Pad in the Wynyard Quarter in downtown Auckland to have a base close to their four children and nine grandchildren.

The couple’s wish list for their new home was pretty specific: one level, full accessibility specifically for indoor/outdoor living, low-maintenance gardens, and private spaces for me-time. Plus, fancy bidets.

Gavin credits Rae with the vision: “The process is a joy or a bummer depending on the people involved, and she’s extremely talented.” Stephen and Barbara Johnson, owners of local company Madison Park Homes, built to her exacting standards and are friends and neighbors long after construction is complete.

The catalyst for the highest point of the house, the 15-foot kitchen ceiling, was a light fixture they imported from Italy to illuminate the breakfast bar. Veryan Laity of IK2 Design has created a sophisticated space around it, with space for the all-important coffee maker and a cabinet for Gavin’s beloved Versace crockery.

“All the gold belongs to Gavin,” says Rae. These include the Russian icons he has collected over the years and a Belgian WWI tombstone above the fireplace in the loggia.

Art is everywhere in the house. Rae used to paint but decided she would never be great and in 2000 opened a gallery in Howick selling collectibles.

“Never combine love with business,” she ponders ruefully. Back then, you only bought art seasonally, when the winter weather drove you inside – not a sustainable business model. When the gallery was sold, some pieces couldn’t be parted and came home. Rae is always on the lookout, so the collection is constantly evolving.

In addition to the kitchen, they each have a lounge. The dark media room is Gavin’s cocoon, where he can program music for speakers in any room and watch concerts. “I love all music,” he says. He literally hangs out in his zero-gravity chair, which evokes the feeling of astronaut-like weightlessness while watching TV.

His other favorite gadget is a lightweight TravelScoot, which he uses instead of a wheelchair to get around the house. He drives around on a quad bike on the streets of Pt Wells and “annoys the locals”.

Rae’s hideout is bright and sunny, filled with art and books. Finally finding time for herself, Rae majored in interior design, which recharged her creative mojo. The addition of wood paneling to the back wall meant restoring the lounge suite and dining room chairs to accommodate new ideas, textures and colors, among other changes.

In the loggia, Gavin runs the grill because he’s the carnivore. And at night, when the wind blows the wrong way, they pull down the see-through blinds to enjoy a candlelit dinner by the fire overlooking the garden.

In the entrance hall, an inviting floral bouquet, The Alchemist by Auckland photographer Emma Bass, glows day and night thanks to Ingo Maurer's Yoruba Rose paper-clad lamp;  next to it a Lalique tiger spreads out.  Lalique figurines supporting some of the couple's travel books alongside Versace obelisks are all guarded by an Orthodox Christian icon from one of Gavin's prized collections.

Jane Ussher/NZ Home & Garden

In the entrance hall, an inviting floral bouquet, The Alchemist by Auckland photographer Emma Bass, glows day and night thanks to Ingo Maurer’s Yoruba Rose paper-clad lamp; next to it a Lalique tiger spreads out. Lalique figurines supporting some of the couple’s travel books alongside Versace obelisks are all guarded by an Orthodox Christian icon from one of Gavin’s prized collections.

The view of this elegant backyard, created thanks to Rae’s newfound gardening skills, is also captured through large windows from her bedroom and adjacent bathroom. Designed by Aaron Bell-Booth, the garden is their own paradise.

Rae has joined the local gardeners’ club and is devouring books on landscaping. A new patio is currently being built on the green bed, which can also come up with a new shade house.

To the front, the three car garage serves as a convenient entrance for Gavin as well as overflow accommodation when the guest rooms fill up during the peak holiday season.

As for the posh bidets? A visit to Japan convinced her of the absolute necessity of Philippe Starck’s toilets, which had heated seats. No wonder the grandchildren like going to the toilet.

Gavin can reach every corner of the property via wide ramps and extra-wide gravel paths. Inside, the doors are 900mm wide and the bathtub has a wide edge and a mirror next to it so he can shave comfortably.

Inspired by building houses and her studies, Rae started a new company called Designfind to find the finishing touches for other people’s projects. “It’s a creative outlet. I enjoy it so much and love to see people enjoying the treasures that tell their life stories.”

Questions and Answers with Rae & Gavin Hamilton

My furnishing style is: Contemporary with versatile mixing and matching; Much of our furniture is 20 years old, refurbished and restored, with some valuable antiques. (Rah)

Best Life Lessons: Every day promises beauty and joy, the task is to find it. (Gavin)

Don’t let life limit your adventures. Find your tribe and enjoy interacting. It doesn’t have to be in a nursing home. Life is better lived in a multi-generational community. (Rah)

Best Design Tip: Match the room colors to what you like to wear. Luckily we both like blue. (Rah)

Worth seeing attraction: Sculptureum in Matakana with its sculpture gardens, art galleries and cafes. (Rah)

Favorite local restaurant: The Farmer’s Daughter in Pt Wells. (Rah)

Dearest family treasure: All artwork, including our children’s wedding photo gallery. (Rah)

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