“We have been living here for almost 10 years, I just love Ponsonby,” says property developer Tyrone LeRoux. “It’s cosmopolitan and open minded and actually has a relaxed down to earth cool vibe about it. It’s also accepted to be more creative, to take risks with the interior fitout of a property. There is no need to be too conservative.”
Tyrone is the founder of Urban Space, a boutique property development company responsible for ‘some of the most stylish and innovative renovations completed in the Ponsonby area in the last few years’. The developer is keen to stress that he doesn’t flip properties, rather usually spends around a year on each bespoke house. “I love buying property at auction,” Tyrone tells me. “It’s always exiting and best fun when it’s two developers up against each other for the same house — because strategy is important. You need to know when to stop too. There is no place for ego in my business and sometimes it’s better to walk away than make a mistake by paying too much.”
Originally from South Africa, Tyrone’s father was a builder meaning the developer-to-be “grew up on and around building sites”. “As a kid I remember being kept awake late at night with construction noise,” he recalls. “We also used to move house quite a bit, too.” too.” Tyrone found inspiration in design magazines, and felt especially drawn to European trends: “I decided that fashion was my thing and a good creative outlet, so I studied clothing design with a focus on menswear in Durban.”
Tyrone later moved to London to attend Central Saint Martins College, but in a twist of bitter-sweet serendipity, couldn’t raise enough cash to complete the course so wound up back in the building trade. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” admits the developer. “I saw a different side to the industry and realised how fun, interesting and creative it was. That’s where I did my apprenticeship. I worked for a developer who specialised in loft warehouse apartments and refurbishing old buildings. He was progressive in the way he did things as at the time loft living was still a new thing in London.”
Tyrone eventually founded his own businesses before meeting his future wife, Bridgette, and, in 2006, they relocated to New Zealand: “That’s when I began developing property here in Auckland, specialising in bespoke, high-end villa renovations in and around Ponsonby. The rest is history.”
How do you set about imagining a vision for a property?
“I have goals that I would like to do with houses, if the site or situation allows. Recently I achieved a longstanding goal to transform a villa into a garage. The villa façade opens up James Bond-style to reveal a garage. I’d always wanted to do this as it would unlock the potential of a lot of houses with no off-street parking in the inner-city area, but still retain the heritage look of the façade from the street.”
Is there any place, person or philosophy you fall back on for inspiration?
“My mum has always been an inspiration. We had little money when we were growing up and she struggled to buy school clothes for us after her and my father separated. She always used to say, ‘Make an effort, pride is free’, ‘Money doesn’t buy style’ and ‘Never give up, chin up’.”
Tyrone tells me he’s also inspired by electronic music, and being out in a boat on the gulf; and turned off by “arrogance, show-offs, and people not wearing shoes in shopping centres”. He takes pride in his straightforwardness and honesty, in creating jobs, and most, importantly his “amazing wife and kids”. The couple used to move into each house that Tyrone was renovating, but his wife would become so attached to them that she would become tearful when they left: “When we had our two kids, we had to make a decision. To take the leap and stay in one of them, which we do now. It always feels like a privilege living in one of my houses.”
Are there themes that run through your work?
“Good proportions, clean lines, well designed, understated, courtyards, bespoke, details, and finished well.” Most products and materials are bought from Kiwi companies, while all interior fitouts are also made locally. “We do a lot of bespoke, so I do mostly rely on local craftsmen and keep as much as I can ‘in-house’,” says Tyrone. “I think with housing becoming more modular, prefabricated for the masses, the market for bespoke, high-end individual dwellings will continue to grow.”
Where’s the next ‘Ponsonby’, and would you consider working there?
“I have often thought about that. For now, I’m happy where I am as it takes a long time to learn a suburb and market. Plus, if it’s fun, why change for the sake of change? I like older buildings so probably somewhere like Avondale with its proximity to the city, heritage buildings and transport connections, as well as a high street with character buildings.”
I end by asking Tyrone what are the essentials for any stylish dwelling, and he says that though it may sound crazy, it’s no different to styling clothes. “It should be orderly, with a sense that thought has gone into the space or objects, including proportion,” he says. “Also, a space that’s not a slave to trends. It could be personal or interesting objects that give a house style. That give it a personality. Nothing too flashy — there is no need for designer labels everywhere. Money doesn’t buy style.”