Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
His relationship with the Ponsonby villa started way back in 1999, when he and partner Rachael bought their first house in the area, after coming home from overseas. That’s when he first saw the opportunity in modernising and developing old villas and bungalows. “All we did with that first one was open it up, get rid of some of the walls, and make it more of a party house,” he remembers.
“O’Neill St was the first villa where we incorporated a long pavilion out the back. It was a bit of an accident, really,” he says. “Originally, we were going to expand the house by installing a staircase and going upstairs, but for some reason we moved away from that concept; instead we opted for a long, low pavilion with lots of glazing, in the back garden.
“This created a very practical, stretched-out house that enjoyed all-day sun and inadvertently became the model for many of the villa renovations we did in the following few years,” he says.
Because there was no need for a staircase, the home had a more free-flowing feel, with a large, open-plan living space that was double the size of what Cameron would have been able to achieve if he’d opted for his first plan of going upstairs. The pavilion design also gave the O’Neill Street house the now ubiquitous indoor-outdoor flow into the back garden.
The Winning Formula.
Over the next few years, Cameron and Rachael gradually became more adventurous and confident with their designs, pushing the limits of the building envelope with glass walls, glass pathways, and eventually, a glass staircase – all with the aim of bringing as much natural light into the house as possible.
With each project, we tried to enhance and hone our designs, hoping that we weren’t being too outrageous to pitch it to a conservative market.
“It turned out we weren’t – not in Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, where there seemed to be an appetite for more creative homes.”
Swimming pools also became part of their blueprint. “Most aren’t particularly big, just a plunge pool in some cases, but the point is to create a more relaxing atmosphere by introducing water into the mix – closer to the resort-like feel you get at a boutique hotel. Lush tropical planting also adds to that ambience,” he says.
Creating contrast between the front and the back of a house is always one of Cameron’s goals when he takes on a renovation project – an authentic façade and picket fence at the front and a contemporary, relaxed and open feel out the back.
“I don’t want to give too much away from the street – so it’s usually just a tidy up and keep things original,” he explains. “Villas are nearly always small and boxy when you first enter them, which is fine, because that’s where I typically put the bedrooms and bathrooms. It’s out the back where I want the wow factor – big volumes and large amounts of glazing. That’s where you need it.”
During the past 18 years or so, Cameron has looked through literally hundreds of properties. He says that the factors that influence whether he bids on a property or walks away are fairly straightforward.
“The first is privacy,” he says. “There has to be a way of creating a sense of privacy in the back garden, but at the same time you need an opportunity to get as much light in as possible. Next is off-street parking, ideally garaging. Normally, if it hasn’t got garaging, or I can’t see a way of creating garaging, I will walk away. Then there are the neighbours – you need to have good neighbours. Everything else is doable.”
Concrete and Cantilevers.
Cameron says many of his designs over the years have been influenced by the modernist architecture in California, and also by Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan, who specialises in crafting cutting-edge, contemporary homes. “I like his simple lines, and I love the way he uses concrete and cantilevers.”
Cameron’s love of cantilevered ‘floating’ houses, and his desire to always try something new has led him to embark on his biggest project to date – an ambitious plan to create a small pocket of modernism, slap bang in the middle of ‘villa central’ – Grey Lynn. The location of this contemporary enclave is the former site of the historic Bethany Centre on Dryden St.
“After I bought the site and got planning permission for the new houses, I began to develop three homes myself, and sold the other four sites,” says Cameron. “I’m happy to say that those four now all have great houses built on them, designed by some of Auckland’s best architects – one even won the coveted Home of the Year award in 2015.”
Cameron and Rachael currently live in one of these homes – a modern take on Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House – and they are just laying the foundations for the very last house in the subdivision, which, incidentally, is also inspired by a modernist architect, John Lautner. This final house is modelled on the famous Goldstein House, and is Cameron’s most ambitious project to date, because of the intricate, lattice-patterned roof, which is cast in concrete.
I get bored easily, so I like to push the limits.
This attitude and drive has earned Cameron Ireland his well-deserved reputation for delivering unique and exceptional homes in the Ponsonby and Grey Lynn neighbourhoods. And, judging by this latest batch of projects, he is by no means finished yet.