Tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac in the Ashburton subdivision of Braebrook sits a tidy, unassuming, newly-built house. Behind its modestly lovely tan brick exterior and underneath its charcoal grey roof, one may be surprised to learn that it was a finalist in the 2014 Registered Master Builders House of the Year competition. But as owner Helen Spicer opens the door and warmly welcomes me inside, I am immediately hit with the feeling of home and it is instantly obvious why this home has been so highly recognised.

“One of the judges pulled me aside and told me, ‘It feels like a home,’” Helen says of her Gold Medal House award, meaning it scored 90% or more of the points available. “Here it was up against all of these multi-million dollar homes, and I’m thinking, ‘How could my little house compete?’” The warmth and personality of Helen’s home, combined with the impeccable design, execution, and decor, was what won over the judges.

As I walk through the door and enter the spacious foyer, straight ahead a striking accent wall of black and grey floral print attracts my eye. “I wanted a big entrance,” Helen explains. The high ceiling, tile floor and wide vestibule achieve exactly what she was after – a welcoming, comforting sensation.

She leads me to the kitchen through a doorway to the left, and we emerge into the heart of her home. An open-plan living area encompasses the kitchen, lounge, and dining areas. To the right is her kitchen, defined by a large island/bench space, beneath which barstools are lined up for guests. Helen’s own personal vibrancy and zest is mirrored in her kitchen by the bright, lime-green accent wall behind her gas hob and split-compartment oven. “I am really happy with the colour,” she says. “I just love it.” To the right of the large, stainless steel fridge/freezer is a sliding door, behind which hides a massive, walk-in food cupboard. “I especially wanted a big pantry that I could shut the door and hide everything behind,” explains Helen. A perfectly placed single dishdrawer completes the room, disguised by the same exterior as the kitchen’s other cabinets and positioned at just the right height so she doesn’t even need to bend down to load it.

Where the kitchen ends and the plush, charcoal grey carpet begins, Helen’s expansive living area is characterised by the piece-de-resistance – a large dividing wall in which a double-sided gas fire is situated. On the lounge side, a 60” television is mounted on the wall above the fire, opposite a comfortable lounge suite, making for a warm and cosy atmosphere when Helen turns on the fire and sits with a hot drink to enjoy it, which she does every morning and evening. On the other side of the wall is her dining area, which also enjoys the cosiness of the fire. Along with a single heatpump located on a wall in the lounge and aided by a heat transfer system, the gas fire is enough to heat the entire home.

This whole kitchen/living area is completely surrounded by large ranch sliders, which Helen throws open on pleasant days to take advantage of lovely weather and fresh air. With three walls composed entirely of these sliding doors, Helen is able to maximise her space, essentially transforming it into an area where the indoors and outdoors blend seamlessly together, and enabling plenty of sunlight to filter in. On the kitchen side, directly across from the island, the doors open out onto a large wooden deck, where Helen often hosts meals and get-togethers on fine days or evenings. “I wanted a living kitchen,” Helen clarifies, as she explains how she’ll line up food and drinks along the island inside where guests can load up plates and then easily drift back outside to enjoy their meal.

On the other side of the room, more doors slide open from the lounge out into Helen’s backyard, where a stream bubbles peacefully, meandering through the property. “This is what made me buy this section,” she says of the stream. Having previously lived in the country her entire life, the tranquil brook was a lovely, welcome surprise. “It’s not something you’re used to having in town,” she says.

Back inside, Helen leads me through the rest of the 4-bedroom home that she shares with her Jack Russell terrier, Jock. The master bedroom is a peaceful haven, with a king-sized bed and large windows comprising a whole wall, again maximising the use of sunlight. The neutrality of her grey colour scheme allowed Helen to accent with pops of vibrant colours; turquoise is the colour of choice for her master bedroom. Walking to the ensuite, one is greeted by a mirror that stretches the entire height of a narrow wall. “It’s great for getting ready,” Helen points out. The ensuite itself is a spa-lover’s dream, complete with a spacious rain shower and large spa bath, something Helen deemed a necessity.

The remaining three bedrooms are equally as impressive, each with its own unique decor. As we walk the hallways, passing the laundry, small office, and separate toilet and shower/bath (gorgeous and functional with its double sink), we arrive at “Raewyn’s room,” the bedroom Helen’s friend from Oamaru has claimed as her own for her frequent visits. The king-sized bed faces another glass door which opens directly onto the back deck, allowing guests to come and go freely without disturbing the rest of the house.

As Helen and I settle at the kitchen island, she explains how she was browsing plans on the internet and came across Jennian Homes in Timaru. She rang them straightaway to see if they designed and built. “They were excellent, right from the start,” Helen enthuses. She chose the square footage and base plan, then changed it exactly to her liking. “We made so many changes, you wouldn’t recognise it!” she laughs. She highly credits Ali Erber and Matt McKeown at Jennian for being with her every step of the way. She told them her budget and what she wanted, and they were honest in the reality of building, yet tireless in their pursuit of achieving what she wanted. When certain features were unattainable, they sourced her other options until she was happy. She never felt like she had to settle. “I loved every part of building, right from the beginning,” Helen says.

While her home is everything she dreamed of – and more – Helen isn’t afraid of new beginnings. “Ten years down the track, I may not want such a big house. I wouldn’t be afraid of building again, and I wouldn’t build with anyone else but Jennian,” she says. But for now, Helen couldn’t be happier. “My house is my house how I want it to be,” she beams. “I still walk in every day and go, ‘wow’.”