REVIEW: Many of us dream of being able to build a house at our favourite holiday destination – I remember my mum and her friend spending a morning with an agent on Waiheke Island driving around looking at houses. It was never going to come to anything, needless to say.

But it has come to something for architect Felicity and Callum Brenchley and their children Loki and Tui. Their “spot” is picturesque Mahurangi Harbour, about an hour north of Auckland. They camp up here in their caravan all the time.

On a whim, they went looking at land for sale one day, and pretty much made a spur-of-the-moment decision to buy a 1ha plot on a hill with a stunning view. Then they sold their house, and now they’ve moved into their caravan full-time while they work on a new house.

Felicity says it seems like a dream come true, although it was unexpected. But in my experience, many of the best decisions are spur of the moment. When you know, you know. Right?

Felicity specialises in residential renovations and new builds, so she will project manage the job, while also doing her other work.

They have a great plan to nestle the house back into the hill. But there will be a towering 4m-steel portal spanning the huge family living space, which will give it a monolithic feel. Two shipping containers nearby will provide additional storage and a studio, and a water tank with the roof off will become a pool.

And the budget? They are looking at somewhere between $1.6m and $1.7m. The land has already cost them $620,000 (three years ago). But Felicity is more concerned that they get through the build with their sanity intact, and still get to have time with the kids. She doesn’t want a year-and-a-half when the kids don’t see their parents.

Grand Designs NZ presenter Tom Webster says the apparent simplicity is deceptive. He sees lots of complicated elements, including circular skylights and curved walls.

Caravan life palls when a storm strikes. But this family looks like the type to weather anything, including ants and ducks inside. However, the caravan gets ditched in favour of a one-bedroom cottage – at least they have an inside bathroom and a kitchen.

Some materials going up 40%

On the build, everything is going up in price, and they are having to ride it out. Some things are coming in 35% to 40% more, and the budget is already stretching out to $1.9m That’s a lot of extra money to find.

There’s a great shot of 10 men in a line carrying a large 18.5m roofing sheet down the driveway, because it’s too steep for the truck. It’s an incredibly long piece of steel, and the wind is picking up. The men are really struggling – and hurting. (You can see them in the video promo on this page.)

Felicity gets some time out to watch the glassblowers working on her pendant lights – she likes the idea of handcrafted elements in the house. Beautiful. “Best day of the year so far, I’d say,” she says.

Towards the end of the build, they lose their rental and they’re back in the caravan, living on site.

Felicity is pleased with how everything is going. She is even doing her own wall tiling in the studio. But the build is running overtime, and over budget.

Callum says the mortgage is looking a “looking scary”. The build cost is now looking at around $2m, and they cannot go any higher.

Things spend up as summer arrives, but there is a lot of complex detailed work that’s taking time, and half the builders are working on the circular deck around the water tank swimming pool. But the builders love the challenge of designing new ways of building things.

To save money, Felicity decided to get all the cabinetry delivered as a flatpack, and she says she will put it together herself. Is it too much? She is also cutting and installing all the insulation by hand, and laying bricks, tiling, crazy paving. So much work.

Three months later, the builders are still working on the swimming pool deck. How crazy is this? Each wedge-shaped board must be individually cut, scribed, gauged and then sanded, and there’s 1000m of timber.

Webster returns a few months later, and things are still a mess. There are 98 cabinets to install. He sets out to help. And Felicity admits they are going to move in soon, finished or not.

The reveal

Webster follows the pretty road driving into Mahurangi, with its undulating ridgeline and spectacular views in all directions. But he says, up till now, the end of this drive has always been about chaos. Will it be any different?

It looks very tidy from the driveway, and landscaped. With its dark brick cladding, it seems even more monolithic that I imagined. But of course, it is designed to look out the other way, to the view and sun.

And we’ve got to hand it to Felicity – she has pulled it off beautifully. The handblown pendant lights and the Mid-century-inspired timber veneer cabinetry are just perfect. There’s even a timber sarking ceiling that helps to contain the huge volume visually.

Opening up the large sliders to the deck and the valley view beyond makes it all worthwhile, surely. The oculus in the roof brings in just enough natural light, and the fireplace is a beauty. This would be a lovely spot on a winter’s day.

There’s a very long passage, leading to three bedrooms, an office, bathrooms and a very attractive media room. The roof drops down as you proceed toward the other end, and the rooms reduce in size. But the proportions are good. And the main bedroom suite has a great corner view. There’s a sense of refinement about the interior.

What about that pool? It’s clever, although it’s a floating/playing pool rather than a lap pool. And it seems a lot of time and money for what it offers, but the children will love it. And it’s probably still cheaper than other options.

Nineteen months after they started, they’re happy, and it is a lovely house. Felicity has turned her hand to so much and so has Callum – they have spent every weekend here for months building cabinets and tiling.

However, the cost has escalated, a lot. They spent $2.3 million on the build, but they estimate they saved $400k by doing so much themselves. All-up, the cost is just under $3 million for the house and land.

In summary: This build makes last week’s $685k three-bedroom house at New Brighton ($915,000 all-up) seem pretty cheap in comparison, although it is a much more substantial house with a very high stud, on a big block of land. But that other couple also did a lot of work themselves. Perhaps this is how it is today – if you want a halfway-decent new house, be prepared to put in the hard yards yourself.

There is that reward at the end. And it’s a great reward at this house.