Effortless Living

Effortless Living

There were hidden complexities to building this elegant, understated home overlooking a stream, but the experienced team from James Mackay Builders made it look easy.


When the owners of this property set about searching for a new home, their two requests were to be located in Fendalton and to have a view of the stream. They soon found a house that ticked both boxes and they purchased the 1950s brick home that formerly sat on the site with the intention of renovating. When the earthquake changed everything, they grasped the opportunity to make a fresh start and create the private and peaceful home that now reclines comfortably in this special location.

With the decision made to rebuild, the couple engaged Wilson and Hill Architects to design their new home. Architect Chris Wilson said, “the primary consideration when designing the house was its relationship with the stream, the garden and the large elm tree. The owner, having previously lived at the site, had a deep understanding of the environmental conditions and the eave overhang and river setback were all informed by the previous house.” The brief called for a modern home that was also pragmatic. The owners love to entertain and the house also had to work practically when the grandchildren arrive on their frequent visits. Wilson and Hill’s plan arranged the lounge, living room and master bedroom alongside the lawn which runs down to the stream. The result is a house the owner describes as “just so easy to live in, it’s great. It’s an entertainers house and we love the flow from the living areas to the outdoors.”

Builder and Managing Director, James Mackay, says of all the houses he’s worked on in his 35 years in the business, this is “one of my favourites.” Engaged by the architect to deliver on the plan, James, his foreman Ash and their experienced team took on the challenge of doing justice to the idyllic location. For James, working on a project like this one is all about the people. “I’m big on relationships” he says. “the relationships between the client, the architect and the team are key. We had a really good bunch working on this job and when everyone pulls together to produce a product like this, that’s what it’s all about.”

On the face of it, this four-bedroom single level home is striking in its simplicity. However, there are complexities in the construction that, although subtle, are part of what make this home special. Like the glazing channels for the high windows that continue into the ceiling or the small adjustments in the angles down the length of the house to follow the curve of the rolling site. “You have to take your time to get these things right,” James says, “but it’s worth it.”

The owners enjoyed working with the building team saying, “everything went really well, they communicated with us so we always knew what was happening.” The fortnightly site meetings that included the builder, architect and the owner ensured the project ran smoothly. “Often people forget to listen to their client,” James says, “but it’s so important to understand what they need.”


James describes himself as an old-school builder, preferring to keep as much of the work inhouse as he can to control the timing and quality of the product he delivers. A company he is a Director of, General Joinery, completed all the joinery in the home. American White Oak kitchen cabinetry and sleek built-in storage and floating shelves in the living area add warmth and texture to the interior. The vanities in all three bathrooms, completed to exacting standards, are testament to the care and skill of the joinery team.

Timber has been used to stunning effect throughout the home. Installed by the builder’s team the flooring is American White Oak 200mm floorboards that have been coated with a wax oil to give a matte effect. The tongue-and-groove ceiling in the hallway is cedar as is the timber on the exterior along with Alucobond composite aluminium cladding.

Part of the legacy of the previous house was a large, old-fashioned and high maintenance garden and the rebuild presented an opportunity for a total redesign. Kamo Marsh Landscape Architects were engaged with a brief to create an outdoor living and entertaining space with a fire and an outdoor kitchen as well as a new entrance, gateway and parking spaces.


The outdoor living space the Kamo Marsh team created is now in frequent use. It encompasses a seating area around the outdoor fire that can be protected from the elements by the automated overhead louvre system specified by the designer. The fireplace is constructed from substantial Port Hills stone which has also been used to create the vehicle entrance and the front door feature. Tiles on two levels create distinct zones including an outdoor kitchen with polished concrete benchtop and barbecue.

Sympathetic planting complements and enhances the architecture of the home and integrates seamlessly with the existing plants the owners wished to keep. Careful attention to the needs of their client have meant the owners are delighted with the results.

The external plastering work was completed by Premier Plastering, rendering and painting the walls that make up the entranceway and the outdoor fireplace surround. Rick used Resene Construction Systems Rockcote plaster and paint system which he says is a great product with excellent backup service. Premier Plastering have a longstanding working relationship with James Mackay and were pleased to be part of the team working to bring the clients vision to life.

James Mackay believes that delivering on a house like this riverside beauty takes a dedicated team effort and in this case the collaboration between builder, architect and landscape architect has not only created a stunning home and garden but also has made it possible for the owners to enjoy the lifestyle they had wished for. In the heart of busy suburbia, they are able to relax in an oasis of calm in the shade of the glorious elm tree and enjoy the view of the stream that was so important to them when they began this journey.

Words Anna Scaife Photography Mick Stephenson

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