Although some Kiwis still dream of the quarter-acre, many are discovering that good things come in small packages of land apart. The mews-style development in Howick features three-level homes clad in weatherboard with long-run steel roofing and Pacific Architectural windows.
Medium-density housing has arrived, and Abercrombie Mews in Auckland’s Howick is an exemplar of the form. For David Reid Homes Auckland & Central West's Brett Christie, one-time structural engineer and now full-time David Reid Homes franchisee/developer, the writing is on the wall. As is the low-maintenance weatherboard cladding. And the floor-to-ceiling bathroom tiling. “We wanted to create the David Reid Homes version of medium density,” he says. By which he means boutique multi-housing projects with a heart of luxe.
New Zealanders may not be familiar with the word ‘mews’, a building typology established in well-to-do areas of London when stable blocks were converted into a row of character houses. At Abercrombie, the seven terraced homes all speak the same architectural language. Strung over three levels, the collection of gabled peaks creates the semblance of a village.
Brett is not sure he believes in designing for community – for example using interventions such as common barbecue areas or shared function rooms. He argues, rather, that when you build to a certain standard with a high level of finish in a location that offers such diverse amenity, community creates itself. “I can honestly see all the buyers here becoming friends,” he says.
So, while you might expect people nearing retirement to snap up the townhouses – “who wants to spend weekends mowing lawns?” – or returning expats to see the value in a low-maintenance property close to public transport, you probably wouldn’t expect to find a 20-something first homeowner taking up residence.
Neither, at first, did Brett’s younger brother Tyler Christie. The advertising sales manager and part-time DJ imagined he’d be living in London by now, working by day and taking his tunes to the people by night. And then COVID-19 came along. Plans changed: “I watched how beautifully the houses at Abercrombie were being built and I could see how owning here would fit my lifestyle,” he says.
Tyler’s DJ gigs take him all over Auckland and, since he also works weekends, he needed somewhere that wouldn’t make a constant call on his time. He got into the development at ground level, buying a 180-square-metre, four-bedroom property with a single garage off the plans. He also negotiated a wraparound package with his sibling, which included the supply of furniture.
Brett’s wife Sarah Christie was responsible for designing the interiors. “The look we were going for was classic but modern – something fresh and up to date,” says Sarah. “Tyler is a young, happening sort of a guy so we wanted the house to feel like an upmarket apartment.”
Against a backdrop of white walls and dark-stained engineered-timber flooring, they put together a kitchen to reflect a metropolitan spirit. “I trusted Sarah because, having lived in a series of flats, I really have no idea what I do and don’t like,” says Tyler.
Sarah is no fan of plain white kitchens so injected some personality with cabinetry in two shades of grey. This teams with a white engineered marble benchtop where dark grey veining keys in with the colour scheme. Handles and tapware in brushed brass are a point of difference that bring a dash of bling to the room.
This open-plan level flows on past the dining area and the living room to a north-west facing deck oriented for evening sun: Tyler can already envision cocktail hour on evenings when he doesn’t have to head out to hit the digital deck.
Three bathrooms in the home – one on the ground floor and two on the second-floor bedroom level – mean occupants won’t need to fight for the shower. Just as well. “My best friend is already signed up as a flatmate,” says Tyler. Flush shower sills and in-wall cisterns keep everything sleek and easier to keep clean.
And that’s just the way Tyler likes it. Now the furniture has arrived – from couches to curtains and even the microwave – he can donate the ad-hoc assembly of items he’s dragged from flat to flat to the charity shop. On Saturday mornings (okay, let’s get real, closer to-noon), he can relax on the deck with a coffee or stroll around the corner to the village for brunch. He may not be where he imagined he’d be right now, but he’s looking forward to the next step on this unexpected pathway.
Medium density - What to look for:
Brett Christie shares his buyer’s guide for townhouse projects:
Make sure the property and the individual home is oriented correctly for sun not only to enjoy passive solar gain but also for easterly morning light (great for kitchens) and evening light (west) for the outdoor living. Low-maintenance cladding is imperative particularly in homes that are multi-level (which terraced houses tend to be). Although you might love cedar or Abodo, a product such as fibre-cement weatherboard requires no painting for around a decade. The last thing you want is to be up on scaffold every two years! Although the council has set requirements for insulation and intertenancy walls, if your focus is quality - look for a company that exceeds these. Specification is key so do your research thoroughly. Investigate the ownership set-up of the development. Some might be in a body corp – in which case you will have to factor in an ongoing annual fee; others may be in joint ownership where the owners sign to say they will equally contribute to the maintenance of common areas like driveways. At David Reid Homes, most developments do not have body corp set-ups and houses are titled individually. Look for future-focussed design. All the townhouses in Abercrombie Mews have internal garage access and an internal lift which makes it easier to turn this into a forever home.