Architect Daniel Marshall says the shift in customer needs and attitudes began two decades ago.
“Before, people wanted to do things cheaply. The idea of a more finely crafted home with larger budgets didn’t come until the early 2000s,” he says.
“Now people want tailor-made solutions on particular terrains. We joke around the office now that only the tricky sites are left.
Architect Francis Whitaker, known for his work around Queenstown, says the houses he builds are “simple houses in beautiful surroundings”.
“If you don’t have the environment, it won’t work, and we have the most stupendously beautiful physical environments,” he says.
Her clients are well-traveled and educated “aesthetes of life”. They don’t give what he calls “a gourmet brief”, but focus on what gives them personal pleasure.
“They are interested in beauty, in lifestyle, in health and well-being, in their families; they are wonderful and valuable people who contribute to their communities. They know they should be paying for something really special, and they do their research thoroughly,” he says.
“They understand what you are saying. It is extremely satisfying to analyze the site with them so that they understand the climate issues in New Zealand.
Marshall said his customers often have very specific requirements, not only for specialty rooms such as home offices, theater-grade media rooms or free-standing guest bedrooms, but also for air quality, soundproofing and ventilation, special landscaping and durability.
little black book
“There has been a seismic shift in New Zealand and around the world when it comes to healthy environments, comfort and performance. We also talk about resilience – having their own solar panels and batteries, water supply, etc. he says.
But bespoke artwork doesn’t come cheap.
Marshall says buyers would be looking at costs of at least $8,000 to $10,000 per square foot for things like exposed wood, fine craftsmanship, not including engineering, groundwork or landscaping.
Covid-induced supply chain issues didn’t help. “We had to make decisions about the supply chain in our designs, what things cost and what we can replace. For a recent project, we used a block of German terracotta and directly imported European triple-glazed joinery,” he explains.
An urban seaside project of more than 1500 m² will probably cost more than 12 million dollars and will include a warehouse-basement for the owners’ 10 cars.
Interior designer James Doole, who has worked with wealthy actress Diane Foreman on many of his home renovations, says projects can take as little as three months, but others can take up to at three years old.
« The interiors of the new Victoria Lane apartments [in Auckland’s Remuera]we put that together with developer Richard Kroon and Leuschke Architects over two to three years,” he says, adding that interior budgets can run into the millions of dollars.
Doole relies on a black book of New Zealand artisans for bespoke furniture, lighting and fixtures and importers of fine antique furniture from Europe. “They can do anything. Sometimes with international customers, we shop overseas, but we try to stay local,” he says.
However, it is not always about creating state-of-the-art glass and concrete buildings.
Auckland estate agents Terry and Diana King set up their agency, Remuera Register, to fuel their passion for interior design, and now they’re helping buyers see the potential for upgrading – but not overdoing it – in large old mansions they sell.
Behind closed doors
“When people do their due diligence, they call on their architect. What torments me is that I can see what the house should look like and love it when it comes out exactly the way I saw it,” he says, scrolling through a list of must-see architects and designers from the city.
Many of them declined to participate in OneRoof’s article, citing customer confidentiality. They rarely participate in awards, their work is not seen in magazines, and some of their projects never appear on their websites.
Jason Bonham, who runs a design firm with offices in New Zealand and Los Angeles, says most people have no idea how many high-end projects there are in New Zealand. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding, people only see mid-level projects in magazines, but the top end is amazing,” he says.
“We did a $10 million renovation for the architecture and interiors, not including the art. Over the past five years, we have negotiated $20 million worth of artwork through a New York art gallery for our clients.
Like his colleagues, Bonham is bound by confidentiality for his private clients, but says there are clients with budgets of $10-20 million for their homes in New Zealand.
“There is a lot of wealth here. It’s very quiet and very different, a mixture of self-made and old money,” he says.
“International clients are very involved in their local communities. They could bring 40 to 50 million dollars to the community.
Bonham says every project is different. “There is no budget. We can never repeat anything, because these people are connected in social circles and do a lot of entertainment at home, so we keep an inventory not to repeat the same in their friends.
Bonham says he is often called back every four or five years by clients to refresh an interior or rework their furniture and colors. “Because of Covid, people were living in the house a lot more – they weren’t traveling or on the boat – so they wanted to be surrounded by more comfort and great art.
But the public will rarely see this comfort or art. Bonham says most luxury homes are well hidden for good reason. “Homeowners want lifestyle space, privacy and a real sense of security. Lots of very high tech security – hidden cameras and microphones etc. – in their homes.
“There are places in the Bay of Islands, Matakana and Waiheke – big houses that you wouldn’t know about. They can have an area of 1200 m² to 2000 m², to accommodate art, car and furniture collections.
Build it, they will come
Whitaker says his Australian clients like homes that make the most of the mild climate, while Americans like being in a safe haven in the farthest corner of the world. Many Americans, he says, like that New Zealand’s mountain communities are still relatively egalitarian compared to the stratified resort towns back home.
It doesn’t hurt that luxury homes also appreciate faster than regular real estate, says Whitaker.
“They are savvy investors, they know the stock market. They can sell [a house] for more than they paid for it,’ he says, pointing to Millbrook’s first planned luxury community outside Arrowtown, where homes that originally sold for 1.3 million dollars now brings in $5 million.
Barfoot & Thomson agent Paul Neshausen knows there is a huge demand for designer houses done to a ‘Vogue’ standard; he regularly hears from clients who have between $10 million and $15 million to spend on those same homes.
The problem is that there aren’t many houses like this, says Neshausen. “I keep telling developers, build it and they will come.”
He says some developers are hesitant to build these kinds of large, expensive homes because, at the moment, there is too much of a struggle with councils to get consents, followed by more of a struggle for hard-to-find building materials.
“What was perhaps an 18-month build for a lavish $12 million mansion has no end date in sight,” he says.
PayPal billionaire and New Zealand passport holder Peter Thiel knows this pain point all too well. His mega home near Wanaka was recently rejected by Queenstown Lakes District Council planners “due to unfavorable results for the landscape”.
The 330 m long, grass-roofed complex with 10 guest accommodation units on a 1165 m² basement, a 565 m² private owner’s pod, a meditation building and other buildings of management was deemed too large for the rural area and the outstanding natural landscape.
The state-of-the-art home, nestled underground with floor-to-ceiling glass walls, was designed by Japanese firm Kengo Kuma & Associates who also designed Japan’s 68,000-seat National Stadium for the 2020 Olympics. will tell us if it goes ahead.