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Story Rebecca Russell Photography Simeon Patience
Courtesy of Plenty magazine: Winter 2007
How an Auckland couple switched their spacious bush home for a city apartment created in a lofty corner of the old George Court department store.
Seeking a change of pace in mid-life, people often gravitate to seaside or country. But instead of moving out of town some are moving closer in, lured not by rural silence but by city buzz.
Kay and Tony Rennell lived for 17 years in a beautifully restored villa tucked away in verdant Titirangi. They happily raised their two daughters, now both in their 20s, and were content to enjoy life in the west Auckland hills. But then, in a bold shift, the couple sold the family home early last year and moved to an apartment in Karangahape Rd, Auckland’s uptown bohemian heartland.
“I guess the catalyst was when our youngest daughter was old enough to leave home,” says Kay, 52. “Tony had suggested the idea of moving to the city for a while, but I held back. But suddenly, there didn’t seem to be a reason to resist.”
On the face of it, the Rennells couldn’t have made a more extreme move. Their former 3000-square-foot house was surrounded by trees and tuis. Now they live in the landmark 1924 building, George court, a former department store that is now home to several floors of flats.
“We looked for some time for an apartment,” recalls Tony, 62. “But nothing really seemed right until we stepped inside this one. We wanted a heritage apartment and with this one it was an instant ‘yes’.”
Their grand building cuts a slightly incongruous figure as it presides over k Road’s colourful streetlife, grungy cafes and die-hard fashion victims. The Rennells have a two-bedroomed corner apartment with windows on two sides that look over the city. The strikingly high ceiling stud gives a sense of space and drama to the open-plan living-kitchen area. The interior had already been done up by the previous owner, so Tony and Kay intend to leave things unchanged for the time being. Most of the furniture is recycled from their old house. What was left over was donated to their youngest daughter.
“We loved the feel of light and glass,” says Kay, who admits Tony was the driving force behind the move. “He spent two years trying to convince me to leave our house. I thought the change would be difficult because was very attached to our old place. But it hasn’t been hard at all. I love being here and don’t miss a thing. I have half the housework and no gardening.”
Like many people pondering retirement in a few years, the couple were keen to simplify their lives, but also to experience a change – to live a life less ordinary.
“I love the buzz of k Road,” says Tony, who works as a company divisional manager. “I like it that we can walk everywhere – cafes, restaurants, bookshops, the theatre. Where we lived before, it was a 20-minute drive to the nearest café. Now we just step outside our door and everything is there. The only downside is we are a little lazy about cooking because it is so easy to pop out and get takeaway from the Asian food court across the road.”
Tony’s ‘master plan’, as he calls it, has paid off, with the couple happily embracing urban life at a time when many people are in an empty family house considering the next stage of life.
“We wanted a change and to concentrate on the things we really enjoy,” says Kay, an administrative clerk.
Their eventual goal is to retire (“Maybe next year if they let me,” says Tony with a wry smile), buy a boat in France and spend six months of the year sailing the French canals. Apartment living means they can “lock up and leave”. If overcome by an urge to be at one with nature, they simply take off to their bach in the Coromandel. It’s the perfect arrangement.
“I was a little unsure at first because the apartment didn’t have a balcony, but it really doesn’t bother me now. We have the parks, the Domain. The city is our garden,” says Kay.
Her enthusiasm for the move now matches, if not exceeds, Tony’s. “The noise was really the only thing I had to get used to. On the first night, there were sirens from police, fire engines and ambulances all coming at us. Honestly never thought I would sleep again. But after a month adjusted, and now don’t notice a thing.”
After 33 years of marriage, they describe the change as “like having a second childhood” and seem refreshingly and genuinely pleased to share each other’s company in what is a considerably reduced space.
“We have brought up the kids and done the whole suburban thing,” remarks Tony. “As a young couple living in the suburbs, we hung out a lot at neighbours’ houses. We were all in the same boat and couldn’t afford to go out. I just see the move here as a natural progression. It’s our time to have some fun and enjoy our lives.”
Reprinted by permission. Copyright 2007 Plenty magazine Winter 2007 published for Hanover Group. Subscribe to Plenty today.