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As Good as it Gets

When asked how she’s coping with lockdown 2021, Kylie Jessop laughs. “It’s as good as it can get,” she says. Considering Kylie and husband Noel have four children, who range in age from 5 to 12, confinement at home might be a challenge. But this Hamilton dwelling is pandemic perfect, with spaces for everyone and land that stretches into forever.

The 6500-square-metre, semi-rural section was a definite selling point. The elevated site boasted 360-degree views and enough grass to field a cricket team. The couple had missed out on land nearby so, in 2018, when this came on the market, they moved quickly. Until then the family had been living in a three-bedroom, Huntly brick-and-tile in Pukekohe, with Noel commuting to work at his architectural practice in The Tron. This new pad was to be the first home they built together. 

Although the ‘brief’ was basic – a light, sunny house, where everyone could be connected to each other and the landscape – the result is anything but. If ever there was an ideal place for a Level 4 layover, this is it. With a backdrop of rolling hills, it’s quintessential dairy country, but the architecture gives wrap-around access to a sundeck, a BBQ area and a sparkling pool: a resort in the backyard. But on approach from the south the building is more mysterious than mind- blowing. A textural black cube on stilted V-shaped legs hovers at right angles over a linear pavilion, clad in vertical timber battens. The entry is obscured, with a secret front door and a disguised garage. “As odd as it sounds, with a house that is so open in many respects, I love privacy, as long as the courier knows where to leave packages,” Kylie jokes. 

The unusual combination of cladding – vertical larch on ground level, folded aluminum above – elevates the visual experience.

“I like the knotty structure of larch,” says Noel. “It’s rustic but we’ve used it in a modern context.” Upstairs, he wanted to achieve real depth and texture, and an idea came to him at the office. “I cut out a piece of cardboard, folded it up and thought, ‘that’s it’.” Of course, origami with card is easier than manipulating metal. Fortunately, builder Hayden Johnstone was adept at this art form, painstakingly hand-moulding 3mm aluminum sheets on site. On a windy day, though, the weather had other plans. “We came home to find the sheets that were waiting to be fixed to the building all twisted and broken; it was gutting,” says Kylie. 

Apart from errant gales, the six-month build went entirely to plan. The house sits proudly along the ridgeline like a modern-art sculpture, and the Jessops, who moved in November 2019, have settled in with ease. That’s probably because every aspect was considered, from the timber-batten ceilings that offset the coolness of concrete floors, to the way the sofa fits so beautifully into the living room. “We bought much of the furniture beforehand and wanted the house to work around how we lived as a family. In the design, function was often the forerunner to form,” says Noel. It’s also an expression of shared experience. In the ensuite bathroom, where a sliding door opens completely to the great outdoors, a bath sits in prime position for the vista across the pool. This is a reinterpretation of a weekend spent at a client’s home, designed by Noel Jessop Architecture, in Fiji. “We have no curtains on the ground floor and it works for us. I love looking out at the night lights of the city,” says Kylie. 

There is a transparency to the dwelling which means the open-plan kitchen, dining and living room is visually connected to outdoor spaces. There’s the pool, of course, a fibreglass model that is half above ground, half in-ground, and cleverly designed to need minimal fencing. But there’s also a barbecue area sheltered by the 4 metre cantilever of the upstairs kids’ zone and ‘the romantic deck’, an intimate, covered space the couple love to hang out in. Bifolds stack back to make part of this an extension of the living room. “We chose to put a low fireplace in the centre of this deck, because one installed on the wall would have meant that we had to turn our backs to the view,” says Noel. From here he and Kylie can watch the kids play lawn soccer as the solar orb disappears beyond the horizon. Fibre-optic pinpoint lighting in the black soffit continues the star-scape inside. 

The kitchen is clean-lined and practical, with shelving cubbies for Kylie’s plants, and a bank of storage and display that runs along the southern wall. Here Noel’s books (think music, car, and architecture titles) mix it up with Kylie’s. “Everybody needs at least one Kardashian book in their life,” she says. “We had many conversations about how we don’t like clutter, but we still want places for stuff like photos and artwork that mean a lot to us,” says Noel. 

Four months after the couple moved in, days before the first lockdown, they were married on the lawn, the house providing an open-hearted reception for their guests. Hayden built a wedding bower from giant stems of tussocky toetoe and, standing beneath it, the Jessops said “I do” to each other and a future that is as far-reaching as the view.


Photography by Simon Wilson