Words by Matt Philp, photography by Florence Charvin, Photography styling by Victoria Bibby & Dael Brady
They say you can’t plan for inspiration – and Kelly and Julian Davis are living proof. Since the moment they saw the Napier section where they’d eventually build their family hoe, the couple have been on a journey in which accident has played almost as big a role as design.
Take their discovery of the property for starters. Julian, a fourth-generation builder and owner of building company Davcon, was showing his brother some of the firm’s work in a new subdivision in Esk Hills. He decided on a whim, to check out a section he’d probably driven past a hundred times before.
He’d always assumed it was second-rate, with no sea view. Instead, he found a gem: a north-facing site with 270-degree views, vineyards in the foreground, the Kaweka Ranges in the distance, and just a sliver of coastline.
He thought Kelly would like it.
“I loved it,” she says. “It had this calm feel. It just grabbed me.” That was 2013. The house was completed in late 2015 – Julian, who built the place with a small team between projects, recalls watching the All Blacks play a World Cup semi-final the weekend they shifted in.
Designed by veteran Napier architect Graeme Weaver, in many ways it’s a testament to the virtues of painstaking planning. Kelly and Julian describe a highly collaborative design process, in which they were asked to provide the architect with scrapbooks full of their ideas and to bookmark elements that caught their eye in architectural journals, then explain why they liked or disliked them. As well, Graeme encouraged them to suggest words that captured what they were looking for in a house.
For Kelly, that was easy. “We’d been through some full-on times leading up to it, so I was all about having some serenity.”
Despite all these deliberations, there was still plenty of room for chance. Building the in-situ concrete walls, for instance, took three months, and every time Julian removed the formwork it was with a touch of trepidation.
As it turned out, the rawness of the walls plays beautifully against the house’s more immaculate finishes. Although it was a difficult instruction for Julian (a born perfectionist) to follow, Graeme told him not to remedy any minor flaws. “And he was right,” says Julian.
That was a lesson for the experienced builder about giving architects their due. “You don’t clip their wings; you hold your line and you build what they designed, because it will turn out right.”
There were other happy accidents. Well before the roof went on the house, Julian was pouring a concrete fireplace when he noticed dark clouds gathering (watching storms roll in is one of the great pleasures of this eagle’s nest of a site). Rather than wait for clear weather, he chose to carry on.
“I said, ‘Let’s just let the rain rip across it and we’ll see what it looks like on Monday.’ We turned up on Monday morning, and the hearth was perfectly pitter-pattered. You couldn’t have replicated that textured effect with a hose; it had to be a horrible southerly storm.”
That asymmetrical fireplace is the focus of the smaller of the house’s two living rooms, which Kelly has claimed as her own. With three sons (Louis 11, and nine-year-old twins Felix and Rocco) she needed a sanctuary, she says.
“Sometimes the boys will run down here and start wrestling, and I’ll kick them out. I try to have candles going, and keep it lovely and calm. It’s become a really feminine space.”
She has also felt free to indulge her love of colour with an expanse of mustard carpet. “Colour is always risky, but when I look at the places in the house where I’ve used it, I’m so happy I didn’t tone it down. If you feel in your gut that it’s the right colour it can make you so happy.”
Elsewhere, the palette is pared back, the key being the use of timber as a foil for the concrete. In the kitchen, all of the joinery is finished in a warm, nut-hued Australian Blackbutt veneer.
Beside the granite-topped kitchen bench is an antique dining table that once belonged to Kelly’s great-grandparents. “When I was growing up I thought that table was absolutely huge,” she says. “Now, if we have a dinner party we have to squeeze people in.”
There’s another family hand-me-down nearby – a baby grand piano that a cousin gave her soon after the house was finished. “It just happened by chance that he was getting rid of it. He offered it to a few schools but they all turned him down. When he asked me it was like, ‘God, yeah!’”
She told him she had the perfect spot. “Graeme Weaver had asked me what would be my absolute dream if I could have anything in the house, and I said I’d love a music room – I play piano and I sing, and I wanted a private space. Because of budget constraints I couldn’t get a separate room, but Graeme designed me a nook in the living room, and the baby grand fits that space perfectly. And now all the boys are learning the piano.
You couldn’t have planned it better.
MY DECORATING STYLE: Pretty relaxed. With a house full of boys taken into account, I like a little touch of glam thrown in. (Kelly)
BEST MONEY WE EVER SPENT: Definitely building this house. It’s the first time we’ve built for ourselves and we found it such an exciting, creative experience. (Kelly)
ONE THING WE SHOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY: Bit the bullet and put the pool in right at the start rather than waiting until later on. We spent a few hot summers wishing we had one. (Julian)
FAVOURITE FAMILY TREASURE: Jules and I lived in London for four years before settling down and have lots of treasures from different countries we visited. I’ve actually got a hot pink rug from Morocco that hasn’t surfaced for a number of years but might come out of retirement one day. (Kelly)
BEST ATTRACTION IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD: The surrounding bush, and the views all around the neighbourhood. I love going to neighbours’ homes and seeing their different vistas, all of them stunning. (Kelly)
FAVOURITE LOCAL RESTAURANT: Crab Farm Winery in Bay View, a place local people like to go to. (Julian)