The glam Hamilton home hosting a lifetime memories for a young family


When the family lived in Auckland, Kylie would often have to use a giant umbrella to shield herself from the rain when barbecuing the family’s meals. Now, dinner and Kylie are both protected. “Old houses often don’t allow for practical cover when it rains in summer,” says Noel. “So that was part of the design as well — it had to have the barbeque by the kitchen but undercover.”

There’s never a dull moment in this striking family home built by an energetic Hamilton family — and that’s just the way they like it.

Words: Sarah Templeton  Photos: Jane Ussher

The harmonious lines of Noel and Kylie Jessop’s Hamilton home often belie the beautiful chaos within its walls and grounds. One young inhabitant may run gymnastics drills on a practice bar inside while another slides down a hill on a rubbish bag.

Juggling the weekly routine of a busy blended family means no day is ever a facsimile of the one before. “We get every second weekend off together [as a couple],” says Kylie. Apart from that, there are always kids — it depends on whether there are two kids, four, or maybe more…”

This evening, they have all four at home: Carter (13), Aja (11), Jayden (8) and Layla (7). School discos and sports practices are on the next day’s agenda. It’s a juggle, but after six years, the family has learnt how to make it work.

The Jessop house is made of two “boxes”, one cantilevered over the other. The bottom of the house has four bedrooms, a bathroom and a lounge area that Kylie and Noel anticipate the kids will use often when they are teenagers.

“Noel is organised, clutter-free and calendar-oriented, with a mind always focused on the task and where the finish line is. I’m the wing-it type,” says Kylie. “We bring out the best in each other.”

So opposites do attract. As with most clichés, there’s truth in this one — opposites had a role in the design of their award-winning Waikato home. From a distance, Noel Jessop Architecture’s S&P House — or the Fish-Scale House as locals know it — is juxtaposition in action. It appears as two boxes, one sitting perpendicular to the other. A timber-clad bottom storey provides a base for the top box with unique three-dimensional black cladding.

Fittingly, when first sketching a design in 2018, the couple’s non-negotiables also contrasted. With more than 25 years of architectural experience, Noel was focused on simplistic form and function, while Kylie wanted an aesthetically light and bright abode. Kylie, a sun-lover, required outdoor living; Noel, on the other hand, is a fan of cool and shade. A keen barbecue lover, Kylie wanted a spot to cook over an open flame within chatting distance of her “kitchen man”, a steadfast recipe follower. Noel would have been happy to stick the washing machine in the kitchen. “Are you kidding?” asked an incredulous Kylie, who knew the family’s demands required a dedicated laundry.

The outdoor shower is where Jayden (8) and Layla (7) rinse off post-swim, while Kylie and Noel’s standalone ensuite bath is a slightly more relaxing spot to bathe.

Even the property’s position southwest of the city is on the edge of a split: Hamilton City Council controls one side of the road and Waikato District Council maintains the other. Noel says he was the one who was particularly keen about buying the land from a local farmer’s son.

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“I love heavy metal, and Kylie likes R&B, so our music choices are chalk and cheese. But when we were buying it, I discovered Nail [Tony “Nail” Vincent], the lead guitarist of Devilskin, one of the country’s biggest heavy metal bands, lives next door. I said: ‘It’s a sign. It’s meant to be.’”

Meant to be it may have been, but fate can’t be fully credited with the final product. In 2018, Kylie, Noel and the kids were living an hour north, renovating Kylie’s small (by comparison) brick house in Pukekohe. In the first year of their relationship, Noel shuttled between the South Auckland town and work in Hamilton.

The home’s open-plan kitchen and living spaces allow for family members to do homework at the table, chat at the kitchen counter, or pile onto the larger-than-life couch for movie nights.

A shift to The Tron was on the cards, but an exact spot proved evasive until one of Noel’s clients approached him about subdividing and selling a piece of farmland approximately half a kilometre from where the couple would come to build. “We came for a drive out here, and I showed Kylie where it was. We thought this could be perfect: close to town, but not in town,” says Noel.

Council bureaucracy over the aforementioned split road meant the subdivision claim was denied, and dreams of a rural build were dashed. But the area had gotten under Noel’s skin. A spontaneous Trade Me check revealed a nearby section had gone up for sale that same day. Was it another sign?

The site was nothing more than a farm paddock. “It was a woollier, rougher version of the paddock next door,” says Noel, “with only an old shed full of rubbish with sheep running through it.”

Yet, Hamilton-born-and-raised Noel knew the neighbours on various sides, and with the section’s unique position overlooking the rolling hills of Temple View, a plan “clicked into place”. He did have the professional benefit of architectural vision, something Kylie admits she lacks. “But I trusted him, so I said, ‘Okay, let’s do it.’”

Given Noel’s architectural expertise, one might assume that the resulting home is an accumulation of inspiration and lessons picked up over 25 years. He says this is a common misconception. “Everyone’s different, so how Kylie and I live in our own house will be different to other people. People might think this would be the perfect house with the best and latest of everything because of my background and what we do. But it must still function for us as a family and accommodate the kids.”

Making time for each other is essential for making family life work for Kylie and Noel. “I am a huge believer in fairy tales,” says Kylie. “I am a huge fan of rom-com movies and books, and I always told myself I’d have a love like that one day. When I met Noel, I instantly knew he was my happy-ever-after fairy-tale.”

That meant bidding farewell to Pukekohe’s state-house sectionalism and embracing an open-plan design with the barest minimum in walls. “I don’t like being separated. I like to be a part of everything going on,” says Kylie.

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“Here, someone’s always in the kitchen; kids can be doing homework or playing outside, and you can always talk or laugh and be involved.”

Those who drive past in the summer months will see the whole family outside. The kitchen is a thoroughfare and a site for a quick after-school snack before it’s straight into the pool, usually with friends in tow. Noel is never quite sure how big of a brood he’ll arrive home to each evening.

“Growing up in Auckland, my brother and I would always eat and play outdoors, and I wanted the kids to have the same thing here,” says Kylie, who can be found in the thick of it, kicking soccer balls or baking treats to feed the hungry masses. “I don’t like to sit still, either. I’m go, go, go. Noel has to remind me to sit and relax — and eat.”

A stay-at-home mum, Kylie is occasionally asked if she gets bored at home during the day. “And I say, ‘You simply can’t understand how much there is to do on this property when the kids aren’t here.’ They think we live a life of leisure.”

The property has been transformed from farm scrub into a manicured hill, the land sprawling dramatically away from the home’s east-facing glass windows. All that remains of the property’s previous life is a section of farm fence at the top of the hill.

Lawn mowing is a monumental four-hour, twice-weekly task in the summer, requiring three different types of machinery. While long grasses once grew as tall as Kylie herself, she tackled them with her usual levels of grit.

“I bought a line trimmer and just figured it out,” says Kylie. “When I get an idea stuck in my head, I just say, ‘Let’s go’. There’s no talking me out of it. I just get stuck in.”

Noel arrived home from work to find swathes of shorn metre-high grasses in the driveway or, on one surprising weekend, a delivery of 150 or so star jasmine plants to fulfil a Kylie hedging project, delivered by their friends at Farrell’s Nursery in Pukekohe.

He takes it all in his stride, although he insisted they nip out to purchase a posthole borer for that particular task.

“I wasn’t going to be digging 150 holes by hand. But I love that she’s in all guns blazing. I just go along for the ride.”

The ensuite bath views the pool and out to the road beyond through a floor-to-ceiling window. Kylie says everyone “freaks out” at the thought of being seen by passers-by. “I say that I just smile and wave. But honestly, nobody is looking”

They estimate they’ve planted close to 1000 plants, including a dozen or so fruit trees planted by Kylie that allow the children to grab an on-the-go snack easily. Pōhutukawa, magnolias and gently waving palms now coexist harmoniously throughout the property, softening the house’s sharp edges.

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“The magnolias and Lomandra tanika grasses will look so pretty in five years’ time, the pōhutukawas in 10 years and the lancewood in 15 years,” says Kylie.

The landscaping efforts paid dividends three years ago during a spur-of-the-moment decision to make it the site of Noel and Kylie’s wedding.

The swimming skills of the youngest two family members have come along in leaps and bounds over the past few summers. But Kylie and Noel have drilled safety into them: “They know that even if they have their togs on and are ready, they don’t get into that pool unless there’s an adult present.”

Truthfully, Kylie would have been content with a quick stop in Vegas on the way home from a United States vacation, but Noel had his heart set on a day spent with family and friends. The couple found mutual contentment in a small backyard shindig attended by loved ones, marked by lucky timing. The house was finished — just about — and the wedding date was only a week before the country went into lockdown.

“We didn’t have a driveway; it was still just dirt,” says Kylie. “I had to lift my wedding dress so it didn’t get covered in mud.”

But as with most things, even the mud had its upsides. “It had been such a dry summer. But because we used the neighbour’s bore and irrigated the grass constantly before the wedding, we have the lushest, greenest grass in our wedding photos that you’ll ever see in Hamilton. It looks so funny: like a green oasis.”

A GRAND SCALE

Visiting neighbours are often impressed by the scale of landscaping, not to mention lawnmowing.

“Just look for the house with black fish scales on top,” is Kylie’s advice to first-time visitors. The distinctive cladding was inspired by a cardboard model. “We’d done work on buildings with that flat, perforated metal you see heaps of around. I was playing with cardboard for another design, and I thought, ‘Why can’t we be a bit more three-dimensional?’”

Impressed with the modelled result, he decided to try it on a larger scale. Where better to experiment than his own home?

The result is a striking structure, jutting dramatically out of the landscape. As is common with rule-breaking design, there was a bit of neighbourhood gossip during the building process, especially while both storeys were covered in black screens.

“At one point, it looked like two big black boxes. We heard a couple of comments — not directly to us — ‘Oh, we hope they’re not keeping it black.’”

Those views weren’t shared by the judges at the 2021 ADNZ Resene Architectural Design Awards, who awarded the house a gong in the Residential New Home category. “It works well for us. I think because we live in it every day, we’re a bit blasé about it,” says Noel.

“And the kids don’t see it as an award-winning anything. This is their home. This is where Kylie and I are. This is where we lie on the couch and have movie nights.”

WHEN TWO BECOME ONE 

The busy blended family from left to right: Carter (13), Aja (11), Noel, Jayden (8), Kylie and Layla (7).

Blending families with children of different ages — Noel has Carter (13) and Aja (11) and Kylie has Jayden (8) and Layla (7) from previous relationships — is a recipe for a dream or a nightmare, one that’s long been the subject of television shows and movies like Full House or The Brady Bunch. What advice do Noel and Kylie have for making it work?

Keep the children talking: “I ask a million questions,” says Kylie. “And it’s up to them if they answer or how. But 24/7, I’m asking questions. I like to know things — you ask a question, and it might just prompt a conversation about this or that and give them a chance to tell a story you might not hear otherwise.”

Make quality time count: “I picked them up from school the other day, and I’d had enough of housework, but I knew if I came straight home, I’d do housework, so I said, ‘We’re going for a bike ride,’” says Kylie. “They were all grumbling, and I said, ‘You have no choice! We’re going out.’ We jumped on the bikes, and then we were off, racing up and down hills and stopping to pick leaves and check out new neighbourhood builds.”

The house caters for Kylie’s love of heat and sun and Noel’s preference for cool and shade. A covered outdoor fireplace at the rear allows for evenings spent outside, toasting marshmallows.

Prioritise time as a couple: “The biggest thing we’ve found — and I know not everyone can do it — is taking that time for us,” says Noel.

“Any family — blended or not — you forget about that, but because we have four kids, we make that effort.” The couple takes time to catch up over coffee every morning when the kids are at school.

“It’s only 20 minutes out of our day, and we look forward to it each morning — where we can talk about stuff that’s relevant to us, not necessarily about the kids.

“It’s easy to say, ‘I’m too busy at work’, but everyone is. You can make yourself as busy as you want to be.”

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.

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