Corban and Alex Walls’ new home on Auckland’s North Shore is a showcase of everything that New Zealanders have come to expect from the couple, with trademark sophisticated styling and clever design that makes the most of the beautiful bush setting and sea views.
The pair became household names after winning The Block NZ 2014 with a 12-week house renovation that still sets the standard for what can be achieved on a reality TV show. These days, Corban is a director and engineer at design and project management firm Special Projects, and Alex runs interiors and homewares business A&C Homestore.
When it came to their own build, they had the luxury of time and every element in the two-storey three-bedroom home in Island Bay shows careful thought and combines to create a relaxed oasis of contemporary family living for the couple and their two small children.
Creating the dream
Alex and Corban bought the steep section in March 2015, persuaded by its native bush and elevated views of the water. “For me, if it’s going to be a home I want to be next to a reserve, or the bush, or have a view, because I grew up in the country so I struggle with Auckland as it is,” says Corban. “I want a sanctuary as my home.”
While the section offered the potential for all of that, it did require some outside-the-box thinking (and major earthworks) to achieve it. By cutting into the side of the hill, they created enough room for a build that gives them the best of both worlds. “It makes it feel like upstairs and downstairs are almost two completely separate houses,” says Corban. “Upstairs you’ve got all-day sun and the pool and it looks over treetops to the water, and then you walk downstairs and it’s cut into the side of the hill and amongst the punga ferns. You sit in the bath and you’re looking out into the trees.”
Unlike the pressure cooker environment of The Block, Alex and Corban were able to take more time over this build: it was five years before they finally called it home in December 2019. Corban says although much longer than they’d planned, it let them create exactly what they wanted.
“This house was never supposed to be like this, but the longer it took the more we added and the more I refined the design. Everything we wanted, we said ‘Let’s just do it – we’ve come this far’. It’s not a big house, so we spent money on materials and details.”
Bringing the outdoors in
The home takes much of its inspiration from nearby Island Bay, which Alex knows well having grown up in the area, and where the family enjoys spending time now.
She photographed the beach and its limestone cliffs (a favourite shot now hangs in their living room) and these images set the tone for the home’s colour palette.
“That’s the way Alex works,” says Corban. “Whenever she designs a range she always starts with ‘What’s the inspiration, where’s it all coming from?’”
The cliffs are echoed in the home’s exterior with its distinctive split-face travertine stone, which Corban ordered 40 tonnes of direct from Turkey after struggling to find what they wanted locally.
“I was certainly a little bit nervous when the trucks started to arrive and they were craning pallets of stone onto the site,” he says. Two labourers helped him put the 70kg stone blocks up over six weeks – a job he describes wryly as “good exercise”.
Between his architectural design and Alex’s beautiful interior execution, the overall impact is an airy home that exudes a sense of calm. Sheer curtains filter light through the floor to ceiling windows, natural fabrics are used in soft furnishings, oak adds a lightness to flooring, dining furniture and cabinetry, muted earthy tones in textured tiles create an organic feel and brass detail in cabinetry, tapware and even door handles add a polished finish.
Corban’s engineering wizardry is evident inside too, with towel rails that run hot water through them to keep warm, and an extractor fan concealed within a shelf above the stove top that’s activated by a stylish Saturn Zen button on the splashback.
“That’s a speed dial for our hidden extractor fan that I designed and built. All the grilles and everything are in that shelf and they extract up the wall and out through the roof. I love kitchens and I hate extractor fans; it’s just one of the many things that I’ve always wanted to do and this house got it.”