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The spice rack slides out from the wall, Jan Landmann revealing it with a magician’s flourish.
We’re being shown the standing-height rack for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Jan really likes it — both the reveal and the way it disappears back into the wall.
Like a great deal of what inhabits her St Leonard’s home, the rack is the handiwork of husband Michael. And there’s a story attached, which is the other reason.
It involves the Hettich runner that facilitates the rack’s vanishing trick. It was cannibalised from something else — Jan can’t quite remember what — in yet another example of this home’s discerning repurposing.
A very short distance away, in kitchen cupboards also made by Michael, there is a similar sort of innovation.
There, oven trays are stood to attention by a series of metal racks that were once part of a stereo cabinet.
These are modest examples of the approach Jan and Michael have taken to renovating their extended villa, but telling. There’s a creativity involved, imagination, and then a finesse in the execution.
There are more immediately striking examples of the approach in the large open-plan room in which we are standing. Its 70 square metres are bounded on three sides by large sash windows that came from a Dunedin bank — though Jan’s been unable to find out which. The floor is polished rimu that was once part of a Timaru warehouse. And bifold doors that open on to a panoramic view down Otago Harbour are of recycled oregon, from the Reid Farmers building demolition.
And we haven’t yet left the large additional room at the front of their villa.
Michael, a breast and general surgeon, and Jan, who manages the private practice part of his workload, have lived in the house, on its 1.6ha of West Harbour hillside, since 1999.
It was then still relatively newly relocated from Mornington, by its previous owners, and a festive pink, purple and turquoise. It already had the bank windows but not the rimu floor or the bifold doors.
"This view was what it was all about," Jan says, of the impossibly long painterly vista down over Quarantine Island/Kamau Taurua and on to the distance. "It was love at first sight."
"We had no money when we came so it was a good way to be able to have something to live in and still renovate as we went and we certainly have. We are still doing it 22 years on."
"There really hasn’t been a surface in the house that hasn’t been changed, starting with the floor."
A very significant part of the Landmanns’ efforts have been around making their home more energy efficient, which is to say, warmer and more liveable.
She’s from the US and he’s from Germany, so the draughty charms of New Zealand’s porous homes were lost on them.
Because the years they have been working on the place have tracked the period during which energy efficiency has moved from the fringes to centre stage, they’ve been able to watch as products have become available and new approaches patented.
"Everything we have done along the way has just been a huge learning experience. How to make things water and weather tight. How to insulate. We have learned a lot in 20 years of doing it. And we have watched New Zealand’s availability of ideas and materials evolve as well."
Take those beautiful big bank windows, for example.
They have been retrofitted with double- and triple-glazing, courtesy of Mike Hodges and Cathy Mann at Retrowood.
"It’s brilliant and it works and it functions," Jan says.
"You used to stand in front of these windows and your hair would blow in the wind, seriously."
All the house’s windows are now double-glazed, during the process of which Michael added another neat feature. As each window in the original villa rooms was rehung he made a groove in the frame into which was inserted a feathered strip. That now reduces draughts and makes the windows easier to open and close.
The door into the front room, on the landward side of the house, was caught in the wind and blown off its hinges in first week they were there.
There were issues with the south-facing old front door too.
"The door was so awful back there that when we had a southerly the rain would come in over the top and go about three metres down the hallway — we would have a wet hallway constantly."
The small enclosure for each of those doors features double-glazing, so there are three panes of glass between you and the weather once you are safely inside.
The house’s envelope is nearing completion now, finally cocooning the owners against the elements.
That effort went up another gear when they added their long-planned bedroom extension.
It strikes out towards the harbour on the villa’s starboard side to share something of the same grand view as the front lounge.
As it was a new build, the Landmanns were able to incorporate all the energy efficiency measures they wanted.
So, there is Eurotech double glazing, solar hot water heating built into the roof, layers of insulation underfloor and walls thick with it.
"This was where our chance to do things properly with insulation really came into play," Jan says.
For example, having learned that timber framing can account for up 16% of heat loss, due to thermal bridging, the Landmann’s insulated both the 90mm-deep sections between the wall studs and with 50mm sheets of high R-rated Kooltherm between the framing timber and the weather boards.
"You see how quiet it is," Jan says.
"I think we’ve turned it on once."
The bedroom addition has an en suite, which occupies half the space of one of the villa’s former bedrooms. The other half of that room is now a guest bathroom — the wall between insulated, of course.
"Every bit of this energy efficiency that we are trying to do was a learning experience for the builders and was an effort in research for us to try to get people to understand that there should be something out there that would do what we wanted it to do," Jan says, noting it is much easier now, if still not entirely straightforward in all cases.
Back when they started on the renovation, they had to convince plumbers to lag water pipes, Jan says. And no-one would double-glaze their front bifold doors.
That’s the next job.