Bringing a vision to life: a healthy, joyful home that fits perfectly [Part 1]

“You build like this because you have a commitment to better housing, not just for yourself but for everyone.”

—Nadia Sole

Nadia and Gavin Sole live in a certified Passive House home in Richmond, Christchurch built by Ethos Homes. They were very knowledgeable clients who did a tonne of research and had clear ideas about what they wanted.

“Our intention from the outset was to create a healthy home, and one we would live in for a long time,” says Nadia. “We built without any inclination toward resale. We have three [teenage] sons and we thought a lot about the life phases yet to come. Neither of us feel like the kids need to quickly leave home or never return. If in years to come they lived here with a partner, how would that work? If they lived here as adults, how would they have their privacy, and us ours? We considered all of these things.” 

The house is delightful, a ranch-style home with four bedrooms, each with its own mezzanine, plus a music room and study. The boys’ bedrooms are connected via a ‘secret’ tunnel accessed through their wardrobes. The large loft is currently configured as a games room but can be readily converted to an apartment in years to come.

The route to getting there was not an ordinary one. A commitment to appropriate size drove initial design decisions, says Nadia. “We didn’t want any wasted space. I had a really good handle on how we live and what suits us. I took my house design along to the architect to get his input and have it drawn up. We wanted the smallest possible footprint while maximising our use of space. Every single square metre had to earn its place, our final footprint is only 150 square metres. When we realised the roof space would be inside the thermal envelope, we decided to build up into the loft area.”

Space under the stairs is used as a reading nook and dog house

“We looked at different systems and certifications. Gavin found Ethos Homes and Passive House. We liked the certainty provided by independent certification. Also the plaque is quite cool at the doorway!”

Builder first

“So we chose the builder first—before we had a section or an architect. We met Pete [managing director of Ethos Homes] during an open day at a Passive House home he had built for another client and we were certain straight away he would be a great choice. His way of relating to us, how he communicated, it was excellent.

“From there, we found the site. Pete looked at it with us, talked about whether it would suit our objectives. Only then did we find the architect. Pete’s involvement was really important during the design phase. He explained how each of our decisions impacted on the building performance and it meant we didn’t make mistakes at the beginning that would be expensive to fix down the track. We were relying on his experience long before his team were on site with their tools.”

“Pete introduced us to Karen from Meta Architects, who came in to do Passive House modelling and designed some construction details. That was great. Karen’s amazing, so clever and incredibly talented in this field, and we’d use her again in the future without a doubt.”

“Most people put building out to tender, but it’s too important a job to give to the lowest bidder. Our contract with Ethos Homes was a charge-up arrangement. People warned us against it, but there has to be trust in the relationship. Pete was just brilliant. There was no sense of him mucking us around or trying to earn as much money as he could. And vice versa, it was incredibly fair. We showed all our cards at the beginning and so did he and that was the kind of relationship we wanted. We’re so glad we found him.”

Team talk onsite at the Sole’s home

“We never questioned the quality of the build. Pete has such high standards that anything sub-standard was picked up by him or his team and sent back or corrected before we even saw it. It was the same with all the sub-trades he uses, they all had equally high expectations and handled any issues themselves. I remember a window being sent back by Anthony [from Weathershield, the window manufacturer] because it had this teeny, tiny imperfection we would never have even noticed. It was quite amazing and we were deeply grateful that everyone involved had such high standards.”


Part 1: The right builder | Part 2: Certification | Part 3: Healthy materials