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The solid, concrete walls and elegant, understated interior of this home are reminiscent of a French chateau

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Adventurous design isn't limited to new buildings. With the right approach – and a lot of lateral thinking – old commercial buildings can provide the ideal opportunity to create a home that's a little out of the ordinary.

This home, in a former telephone exchange, was designed by architect Philip Jones, who says the solid, massive feel of the building inspired the interior design.

"The owner wanted to enhance the European feel of the interior and the architectural features, which included 300-400mm thick concrete walls, towering ceilings, solid concrete beams and steel windows," he says.

One of the first jobs undertaken was the removal of a large section of roofing. This created an enclosed courtyard. The rest of the building was stripped back to its raw state. The steel windows were returned to their original state and concrete walls and beams exposed. To complete the look, new beams were built to replicate the solid concrete ones, and fireplaces were plastered in traditional French style. The flooring features demolition kauri floorboards.

The design of the original heavy, wood front door has been re-created in doors throughout the home.

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"In addition, there are 12 sets of very tall French doors, which march all around the house," says Jones. "It is quite an introspective building, but several of these doors open to the courtyard, which provides a quiet, reflective space for the owners."

Today, the ground floor also doubles as Mantells – a private function venue, but the current owners have furnished the entire home to enhance its French chateau feel.

"We wanted an understated look, with a mix of modern and antique furnishings," they say. "It was particularly important to keep the décor simple and uncluttered."

The colour palette throughout the house is restricted to warm neutral and black shades. In the formal living room, white canvas sofas and leopard-skin velvet chairs are placed around a large fireplace. Tall candelabras and lighting that washes the walls and ceiling add to the castle-like ambience of the room. Antique furniture includes a French dresser and an Italian rococo mirror. Several chandeliers also help to create a sense of drama.

While most of the walls are deliberately bare, one wall in the living room displays the owners' collection of antique, ecclesiastical cushions.

Bedrooms and bathrooms on the second storey continue the chateau look. The master bedroom includes a large, four-poster bed and small, French café tables with marble tops. French doors – a smaller version of those on the ground floor – open to a balcony.

The austere look of the bathrooms is also in keeping with the theme of the interior. Fittings in these rooms include a zinc bath and a traditional tin basin.

First published date: 22 November 2003

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Credit List

Architect Philip Jones, Philip Jones Architect (Auckland)
Interior design Annie and Colin Mantell
Main contractor Cosford Building Services
Bricklayer Gerry Cunningham
Paints Porters
Living room art deco cupboards Gary Langsford Gallery
Mirror Barry Thomas Antiques Chandeliers,
French armoire in dining room Antiques and Angels
Living room rug Advance Flooring