Houzz Tour: Steampunk Style in the Suburbs
By Mona Quinn in association with
An Auckland home hides more creative surprises than your regular townhouse conversion
Even from the street, passersby can tell this is no ordinary townhouse conversion. The burly steel gate, the glimpse of palm trees over the charcoal fence, and the sound of trickling water tell the story of renovators willing to disregard resale value and convention in favour of a home carefully tailored to their wants, whims and needs.
The owners of this home teamed up with a like-minded designer, enthusiastic builder and a team of craftspeople to design a one-of-a-kind house in a city-fringe suburb. Extended outdoor spaces surround a home that has been renovated, redecorated and given a personality all its own.
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Lucien Ollivier, an airline cabin manager, and Mark Fisher, manager at a not-for-profit
Location: Sandringham, Auckland, New Zealand
Size: 100 square metres; 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
Designer: Hayley Dryland, August & Co
Builder: Todd Wickenden, Broswick Builders
The pair loves to entertain, so they doubled their living space by stealth outdoors: the front and side yards (there is barely a backyard) now house a second living and dining room, and spa room respectively. They then renovated the kitchen and bathroom inside the home, as well as redesigning the staircase that leads up to the master bedroom.
The couple moved into a caravan parked in their garage while Wickenden, the builder, and his team transformed the property.
Ollivier’s dad used to be a metalworker, and the two of them are constantly on the lookout for amazing bits of steel that can be incorporated into their collection. The steampunk sculpture uses pieces of old bicycles, a gift to fitness-fan Fisher. The long, open vistas created from garden to the boundary wall make the compact house and garden seem much bigger.
The story of this house goes back 20 years, when flight attendant Ollivier bought a low-maintenance but “boring” house, within easy commute of both the airport and the city. Three years ago, when Fisher joined his life, the couple decided that they needed to make his house over so that it would feel like theirs.
There were tears when quotes for the dream renovation (three bedrooms, two bathrooms, everything turned on its head) came in at bank-breaking levels. Obviously a rethink was needed.
“We then decided: ‘Let’s do everything that we want for us, not for resale,’” Fisher says. Their engagement gift to each other, a greenstone sculpture by Colombian-Kiwi jeweller Ernesto Ovalle – displayed beneath the wheel on the shelving unit in this photo – was, literally, the brief they handed to Dryland of August & Co: they wanted a materials palette of organic stone, copper and raw steel. “They did not want to see white in the house; even the cabinet carcasses are black!” says Dryland.
Fisher and Ollivier decided to think of their two-storey gabled house as an apartment in their tropical garden, creating impact with detailed finishes rather than with square footage.
Remarkably, the interior layout required little juggling. The kitchen was opened to the living room, and space from a separate laundry was reallocated to the adjoining kitchen and bathroom. But the dramatic ceilings, mezzanine office and upper master bedroom were all originals. Then the couple and Dryland set to work transforming the footprint into their steampunk dream.
First up was redesigning a very ordinary staircase to turn it into a dramatic, sculptural centrepiece of the house. It was no mean feat for Wickenden and his crew to rebuild the wall to take the weight of the steel plates for the floating staircase. The television sideboard, one of the few pieces to make the transition from old to new home, became the pivotal point for the structure. Glass balustrades keep the look open.
Both Ollivier and Fisher are obsessed with lighting, (browse brilliant solutions for outdoor lighting here), spending the year of planning and building combing the internet (and filling more than a suitcase or two on their travels) for unique fixtures. LED lighting transforms the stairwell into an art installation at night.
Dryland had worked with the pair on the first iteration of the house design, when they had originally become excited by a black kitchen they’d seen.
“Twelve months later, they’d refined what they liked,” Dryland says. Materials, interesting products and details made the most of the compact space. “It’s not a lavish kitchen with a big island,” Dryland says.
Fisher loves to cook and hates having his back to the crowd, so the sink and prep bench faces into the sitting room, with a striking piece of steel to define the bar. The black sink and taps from Melbourne were one of the couple’s first purchases.
Dryland first suggested the black ceiling as a joke – “I freaked out,” says Fisher – but as the rest of the palette came together, it made sense. They tracked down a dark Karelia hardwood and used it for the ceiling on the entire ground floor.
Some cunning juggling of walls was required to fit in all the things Ollivier and Fisher needed. The old laundry and back porch were folded back into the kitchen, with the back door replaced by a panel of frosted glass for indirect light. The back wall houses the fridge, while the washing machine and dryer are now in a cupboard opening onto the short back hallway. The stovetop has been tucked out of sight.
The sliding pantry is a clever feature. The three sliding copper-clad door are an effective way to achieve both storage and hide work surfaces. Dryland created three different moods behind each door: food storage in one, a working prep bench for appliances and mess in another, and a glittering cocktail cabinet for parties in the third (that’s Ollivier’s department).
Italian granite, which was used for the waterfall benchtop, perfectly picks up the stone/industrial steel theme in the couple’s brief. They chose a leather finish for its smooth feel under their hands. For once, they found their copper light fixtures for the dining table in a local shop, and did not have to lug them back in a suitcase.
Explore industrial lights.
A steel structural beam and post were inserted to hold up the mezzanine floor, and the same steel was repeated across the front verandah to beef up slender wooden columns. Once Wickenden’s team of contractors got into the swing of things, they really embraced Ollivier and Fisher’s vision. The feature light seen here was made from old copper pipes kicking around in the back of the plumber’s van.
Favoured furniture pieces, crafted in the ’90s in steel by New Zealand designers Michael Draper and Stefan Rondel, survived the transition from old to new. The copper chairs were carried brought in the USA, flat packed and assembled back in New Zealand.
The metallic theme extended to the shot-linen mesh drapes Dryland specified throughout the house, all from James Dunlop. “It’s a consistent look, even though each room has a different fabric,” she says. “It’s fun when a project like that appears and the latest release in a range has just the look you need.”
Dryland helped with the space planning of the bathroom and design of the cabinetry, but Ollivier and Fisher had already bought the copper-look tiles in anticipation of the earlier renovation that did not go through. There were enough tiles to cover the ceilings as well, a job that caused plenty of headaches for the tiler, but which delights the couple every day. The bathroom door (not shown) was given a special paint treatment to create the look of raw, rusted steel.
Olivier found the perfect towels at department store Smith & Caugheys, an emporium not known for edgy steampunk, and the lion-head towel rail was shipped from Paris. Trendwood made the custom gloss laminate vanity and mirrored wall cabinet, while the benchtop continues the kitchen’s leather-finish granite.
The black toilet was a must-have, and friends gave them the black toilet paper as a wedding present.By stealing space from the old laundry, Dryland made room for the huge shower Fisher and Ollivier wanted (the spa-pool outdoors replaced an old bathtub).+
A short hallway leads to the bathroom and a guest bedroom. Cupboards on the right, beyond the light fitting, house the washing machine/dryer and a well-organised utility storage.The couple prevailed on the flamboyant wallpaper in the guest bedroom, which holds its own against the Steve Kaufman painting (brought home from Los Angeles). Metallic mesh curtains nod to the industrial feel, while the regal purple velvet curtains finish off the luxe look in the room.
On the mezzanine level, Ollivier and Fisher had an existing office set-up, so the space just needed refinement. The balustrade was smoothed out, and a built-in desk and file cabinets were inserted to make the most of the tiny circulation space.
As always, the couple’s obsession with detail meant that the wiring for the computer (the printer is hidden) was completely recessed into the desktop for a clean, uncluttered look.A light oak barn door with crisp black hardware was a space-saving solution for the entrance to the master bedroom, which sits at the top of the stairs.
The steel and leather armchair was another piece that made the cut from the old house.
“We discovered that we now use all the space we have,” says Fisher. “This is great for two people, but when we have guests it’s great too.” The tropical plantings, complete with a river stone pond (behind the sofa and chairs) and decking that extends from the gate to the front porch, made a second living room that can be used in all but the most inclement weather.The well-used spa pool was tucked down the side of the house, where it is sheltered from the prevailing wind, and private from the street.
Steel posts and beams set the tone for the house, inside and out. In the background is the caravan Fisher and Ollivier lived in while their house was gutted and rebuilt. After the excitement of transformating this house from pedestrian to outstanding, they are considering making over their van next: watch out for steampunk cool at a campground near you.
What to see more? Explore more steampunk style homes here.