No need to ask Richard Devine why he chose to build his dream home in steel: as an engineer who’d been designing and building in industrial-strength steel for nearly 40 years, he knew the benefits. 

However, that’s not how the house was originally designed. 

When Richard and his wife Liane moved onto their Forest Road property, they lived for four years in a 144m² ‘tin shed’, experiencing rural life while also developing their new business in Taupo. 

During this time they played around with designs for the house they planned to build on the property. At this stage they didn’t think beyond a traditional timber-framed and timber-clad building. When they’d got all their ideas on paper, they took their floor plans to their architect friend Doug Johnson who designed their house according to their concept, and then prompt Council approval meant the Devine’s’ were ready to build their house – in wood.

Meanwhile, as they ‘got their heads round’ their new business, KiwiSpanNZ – building and supplying steel frame buildings, car ports, garages and rural buildings in sizes to suit most conditions – they increasingly came to appreciate the versatility of steel for residential buildings.

Richard soon realised the advantages of combining the wide-span steel beams they used in their sheds with the lighter weight AXXIS® Steel for Framing, and using COLORSTEEL® for cladding as well as roofing – and grasped the full potential of using steel throughout their new home.

So, Doug Johnson redrew the plans to specify steel – steel frames, steel cladding and steel roofing – which meant returning to Council for another building consent.

“Our consented design involved the juxta-positioning of five KiwiSpanNZ ‘tin sheds’ in three different sizes, each linked to another by passageways, creating easy-flow access,” Richard explains. “Each roof is supported by galvanised, high-tensile steel spans, which means the interior steel wall frames are not load-bearing, which in turn means we could put them wherever we wanted. That led to innovative interior design.”

This combination of modules gives the 380m² house an interesting roof line, while the corrugated COLORSTEEL® cladding, interspersed with recycled hardwood and stonework, presents an intriguing façade under the multi-level COLORSTEEL® 0.55 Plumbdek Roofing Iron.

All steel is in the subdued shade of Grey Friars, chosen for its consistency in blending with the native bush and rocky outcrops of the surrounding countryside. The property speaks of environmental awareness and a subtle modesty in this anything-but-modest home. The two steel profiles are linked seamlessly by the spouting, also in Grey Friars toning.

The portico’s trusses, beams and poles are of recycled hardwood, which has also been introduced in unexpected places, both out- and inside the house – and includes some cedar and a considerable amount of Australian jarrah from poles rescued from demolished bridges.

Inside, there are many eye-catching yet convenient features. Striking are the three different ceiling heights, according to the dimensions of the KiwiSpan frames used, which mirror the exterior roof line. A double-fronted central fireplace with stone surrounds directly warms two living spaces while under floor heating from a diesel boiler maintains warmth throughout the house, a three-unit DVS system ensures it circulates and double-glazed windows contain it within the house.

“Although we did choose a better-than-standard quality because of the location, not because of the design, we didn’t need to install any extra insulation because of our corrugated COLORSTEEL® cladding,” Richard explained, adding, “But we did put in a heat pump down in the family room to augment the warmth delivered through the DVS system.”

An innovative feature that has proved remarkably successful is the outdoor/indoor barbeque area, a four-metre wide by eight-metre long entertainment zone with the stone fireplace at one end and a barbeque at the other. The area is comfortable in all weather conditions as the COLORSTEEL® side walls slide back and forward, and stack to overlap each other – and so ensure both protection from the cold and a spacious indoor-outdoor flow into the summer sunshine. The stone work at the fireplace end of the room is complemented by subtle use of the recycled Australian jarrah which is such a significant feature on the exterior.

Both the lounge and the master bedroom have sarked ceilings lined with grooved plywood painted in light colours, giving them – and the house – an airy feel. Living, leisure and service area floors have been lightly ground to give an industrial salt-and-pepper effect with scatter rugs covering the lounge, kitchen and two-metre wide hallways, while the bedrooms are carpeted.

The actual building of the house was an inside job. Richard’s crew at KiwiSpanNZ were engaged to do the work, which they did in between other contracts. This meant the actual construction took a bit longer than if the crew had been focused on only the Devine house, but then, Richard and Liane had waited four years already – and were living on site anyway.

The fabrication of steel was also done on site – by Eddie Eagles and his Taupo firm of EziSteel, fabricators of light gauge steel framing and trusses for their New Zealand-wide market.

EziSteel set up their computer-controlled CNC roll forming machine on their purpose-built trailer in a shed on Richard’s property, where they manufactured the precision-made AXXIS® steel frames and trusses. Once the Devines had their concept plan, elevations and floor layout, Eddie’s expertise and his CAD programme did the rest.

The proximity was a bonus for both Richard and Eddie.

“This high tensile steel is so light, it took only two men to walk each section from shed to house site and lift the framing and trusses into place – and none of us suffered from those builders’ ailments: sore shoulders and back ache!

“Eddie’s manufacturing precision to 1/10 per mm ensured all the holes were in the right place, and although the build looks complicated, in fact this was more like a large jigsaw – with all the parts fitting perfectly. Steel is a very user-friendly material to work with – and there are no nails in a steel house: all parts are screwed or riveted together through those pre-drilled holes.”

As for changing your mind when you’re building with steel: “It happens all the time,” agrees Eddie. “But it’s no problem. A customer wants a window sill at a certain height but when it’s in place it’s too high and blocks the view from a sitting position – so we drill out the rivets and get out the tin snips, cut off the extra length and put the wall frame together again. Raising the height of the window sill is a bit trickier but still no real problem.”

Eddie’s expertise was invaluable, Richard feels. “He didn’t just supply the steel materials. He gave us all the support and advice we needed.”

And now over two years on, how do Richard and Liane enjoy living in their dream home? He says they have lots of admiring comments from visitors to add to their own appreciation of their home.

“We just love it,” Richard confirms. “The flow’s good. It’s really working for us. It suits the whole family. A while ago we’ve stayed for a night at an up-market hotel – and came away loving this home even more. It’s better than a 10-Star hotel.

We face north into full sunshine and never miss a sunbeam. We’re 660 metres high, with views of the headlands of Whakatane to the east and hills covered in native bush and farms to the north. We are surrounded by a panorama of rural New Zealand and the native bush sees to it that we are serenaded from dawn to dusk by native birds. What’s more, the trees we planted five to ten years ago have now really taken off.

“Heaven can’t be any better.”