Grand Designs NZ: Extreme Piha beach-house build highlights stress of underestimating cost
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REVIEW: There’s a lovely story at the start of this Grand Designs NZ episode – Joseph and Sooz Hardie used to jump the fence with a bottle of bubbles to sit outside an old bach on the clifftop at Piha.
They would lap up the view and pretend it was theirs. And then, lo and behold, the bach came on the market, and it did become their home. (See, dreams can come true.)
Six years later they demolish it to build a better one on the “perilously steep site”. This time, the living areas will be on the lower level, so there will be a flow out to the landscape, because Sooz says the old house felt more like an apartment, with no connection to the “whenua”.
They will also use natural raw materials that capture the “aesthetic of the wild West Coast”. And they plan for an amazing outdoor entertaining area, with an Argentinian barbecue for Joseph (who loves to hunt), an outdoor kitchen and an infinity pool. So far, so grand.
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And the budget? $1.3 million – they have a successful business and careers behind them that give them confidence, but we’ve seen enough Grand Designs shows to know this doesn’t seem anywhere near enough.
A local Māori elder performs a karakia to honour the significance of the moment the project starts, which helps make Sooz, of Ngāti Porou descent, feel better about it all. Because she is already finding it a little overwhelming. (But wait, there’s more of that to come.)
Architect Hamish Gunns admits there are concerns that what they are planning is “on the edge”. That’s for real – this is cliffhanging at its best. It’s more “off the edge”. But that’s what we love about this show. Bring it on.
We see lots of hassles with concrete pours on Grand Designs, including once, an owner nearly losing his sight, and there are problems with this downhill pour, too, when a pipe blocks. Fortunately, no-one is seriously injured.
But, these builds are just as much about the people as the houses. This couple and their two children have lots of interests. Sooz loves horse riding, and the family is involved with the community (volunteer fireman and children’s surf lifesaving coach). Plus, they’re all musicians. Sooz sings with a new punk band. Joseph is a guitarist and songwriter, and the children also play instruments, so they’re building a dedicated music room in the house.
Builder Al reckons Sooz is a force of nature, who “pretty much represents the West Coast – pretty wild”.
And during this build the wild West Coast delivers the worst storm in 40 or more years – it’s so bad that Al is up there hanging onto his crane in the middle of the night. The power is out for days.
The framing goes up, and wow, this is no small house. We can see where $1.3 million is going. Oh, and there’s a $70,000 kitchen to come. And the couple are commissioning a bespoke, illuminated, leather handrail.
Expenses mount up. “We have these moments,” says Joseph. “One of us will be freaking out, and one of us will be not freaking out. Luckily, we haven’t both freaked out on the same day. One thing I’m learning about Sooz is she can spend money very quickly.”
This is the downside of a grand design, for sure.
Sooz starts changing stuff, which always costs money. So what can they pull back? The spend is heading towards $1.5 million and there are sleepness nights. But saving be damned. They throw a roof shout – the biggest the builders have ever seen, and the biggest Piha has seen. OK.
They decide to put the pool and outdoor living area on hold, because something has to give. And that was the part of the house they were looking forward to most.
‘NO-ONE’S GOING TO GIVE US THIS HOUSE’
The proposed finish date passes, but the house is not finished.
“I think we underestimated how expensive it is to build a house,” says Joseph. “I said to Sooz, no-one’s going to give us this house. We’re going to have to fight for it.”
Then the crunch comes – the entire build is put on hold. Builder Al’s not happy. It’s all a bit emotional.
“You’re not a failure,” Joseph says to Sooz in a bittersweet moment, as we see the family frolicking under a waterfall (idyllic).
AND WHAT ABOUT THOSE ‘EXTRAS’?
Eighteen months later, presenter Chris Moller is back for the grand reveal. They have finished, finally. And the house is just as impressive as the phenomenal view.
There are many textural elements – a roughsawn macrocarpa ceiling that wraps down a wall, an organic paint finish, and a black stone benchtop and splashback that’s reminiscent of the black West Coast sand.
And then there’s the outdoor living area, with Joseph’s Argentinian barbecue and home-brewed beer on tap. The spa and infinity pool are in place. And it’s magical. What’s not to love about this house?
The couple can lie in bed in the morning and stare right out over Lion Rock and North Piha. Even the children’s rooms have great views – Will can check the surf before he even gets out of bed, and Madeline-Jane’s room is every girl’s dream.
They did it, but at what price stress-wise? We know they blew the budget, with a spend around $2 million. They’re a bit coy about giving an actual number, but the cost nearly doubled, and the stress still shows. We wonder if it wasn’t being filmed for Grand Designs, would they have pushed so hard for all the extras?
Let’s just hope they do get to stay in their “forever house” – we don’t want to see this one on the market any time soon, because we’ve seen that happen before.
Mind you, if you’re going to jump the fence with a bottle of bubbly, what better place to enjoy it? You’ll probably get a big welcome.
Grand Designs NZ screens on Three on Mondays at 7.30pm