Brendon Hartley is living the dream. The Kiwi racing driver – who has twice won the famous Le Mans 24 hours race and competed in Formula One – not only gets to do what he loves for a living, but has been based in glamorous Monaco for the last six years and travels the world, staying in five-star hotels and flying business class.
Now the 32-year-old from Palmerston North has been able to tick off something else on his wish list. He and wife Sarah have built their dream home in Acacia Bay, Taupō, which will initially be used for holidays when they get the chance to pop back to New Zealand, but will eventually become their permanent family home.
“Being able to have somewhere that we know we’ll eventually call home was a big thing,” says Brendon, speaking on a podcast to Coast FM host Sam Wallace.
He and Sarah, who are expecting their first child in January, started thinking about buying a house in New Zealand in 2017. After their parents and friends recommended investing in property, they initially looked at houses they could rent out in Auckland.
“Then we started thinking, What about building a holiday home? It doesn’t have to bring in an income. I’m still earning money, I’ve still got a career. What if we can actually build something that we are really proud of and can enjoy?” Brendon tells Sam. “It felt like the right thing to do. Every year we come home, we’re still sleeping at our parents’ spare room or my old bedroom that I grew up in.”
They settled on Taupō because they both spent childhood holidays there and they love the beauty of the area, as well as the location close to mountains – both are keen mountain bikers.
Sarah found a piece of land in Acacia Bay online, and they got friends to drive down from Auckland to check it out for them. “They said, ‘If you don’t buy it, we probably will.’ It was exactly what we wanted – it’s quite elevated, it looks out over Taupō. It felt quite ballsy to commit to it without actually setting foot on it but we absolutely love it. It was one of the best decisions we’ve made.”
An architect friend gave them ideas when it came to the design of the home, and they were also inspired by cedar-clad dwellings they saw in Aspen, Colorado, along with the simplicity of Scandinavian houses. The four-bedroom house was built by Landmark Homes Taupō, and won a regional award in the 2020 Registered Master Builders House of the Year awards.
In what turned out to be perfect timing, while the house was being built in 2019, Brendon signed a partnership deal with new sponsors Altherm Window Systems. Not only has the Kiwi company proved a great help to his racing career, but the advice of its expert staff was invaluable when it came to the windows used through the house. Getting glazing right was crucial to make the most of the stunning views of Taupō and Mt Tauhara while keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer.
“We were able to chat to them and figure out what kind of windows we’d want,” says Brendon. “The collaboration worked so well because we ended up with massive windows and doors across the whole front of the property.”
They have used a range called Metro Series ThermalHEART, made by Altherm manufacturer, Apex Windows, which combine clean lines and a contemporary look with being able to handle a wide range of weather conditions.
Altherm’s ThermalHEART technology takes the fight against winter cold a step further with an additional thermal insulator stitched into the core of their aluminium window system improving the thermal performance up to 35% better than standard double glazed windows.
As you’d expect for a racing driver, the garage is a good size although at the moment it’s only occupied by a 1967 Mini Cooper S. Brendon admits he’s a fan of small cars – he also owns a GR Yaris rally car – but made sure there would also be plenty of room to store mountain bikes.
“When we come back to New Zealand, you’ll find both Sarah and me out on our mountain bikes in Taupō or Rotorua. That’s my big passion outside of driving race cars quickly.”
Life as a top racing driver is extremely high-pressured, as Kiwi Brendon Hartley will attest. A professional driver since the age of 15, the two-time 24 Hours of Le Mans race winner runs on nervous energy when he’s on the track, so when he’s at home it’s important to have an environment where he can be totally relaxed.
That was something Brendon and wife Sarah kept in mind when they recently built their dream home in Acacia Bay, Taupo. The couple are based in Monaco but wanted a place in New Zealand that would serve as a holiday home now, and their permanent abode in the future.
With the help of an architect friend, they came up with a design intended to make the most of the stunning setting and breathtaking views of Taupo and Mt Tauhara.
The living space has a wall of windows that frame the outlook, and soaring raked ceilings to create a feeling a space. At one end is a room where Brendon can chill while enjoying the calming view and listening to music.
“Music’s one way of dealing with pressure,” he tells Coast FM Radio host Sam Wallace in a podcast. “I said, ‘We don’t want a TV, we’re putting in a record player’. I love sitting in that room – I’ve got a leather listening chair and massive speakers… look to the left and you’ve got the view out towards Taupo.”
The windows play a crucial part in both the functionality and aesthetic appeal of the home, and when it came to choosing what joinery to use, Brendon was thankful to have the assistance and technical expertise of Altherm Window Systems, a Kiwi company which is also his sponsor.
He opted for Altherm’s Metro Series ThermalHEART 2.4m high stacker sliding doors, made by Apex Windows, to open up the house to outside, plus a bi-parting sliding door that links the dining room to the outdoor entertainment area. Seeing the steel framing and engineering work required to put the enormous glass doors in place was “a whole learning process,” says Brendon.
Roof windows have also been used to good effect throughout the home, not only providing light in areas like the kitchen and main bedroom, but allowing hot air to escape in the warmer months. “I like the idea of being able to have airflow throughout,” Brendon says.
Awning windows at each end of the living space also help with ventilation and mean there’s no need for air conditioning in this part of the house. Meanwhile the roof windows are electric and come with blinds for night-time.
Many features in the smart home can be controlled by an app, even when Brendon and Sarah are on the other side of the world. Originally from Palmerston North, Brendon has a great life in Monaco but looks forward to coming home for visits and is pleased to know that when the time comes for him and his family (he and Sarah are expecting their first child in January) to shift back to these shores, they’ll have the perfect family home.
Brendon, who started racing go-karts at age six, left school at 15 and moved to Portugal when he was signed as a Red Bull Formula One development driver.
“At the time it was a no brainer but I look back now and think my parents were borderline crazy to just let me hop on a plane like that and go for it,” Brendon tells Sam. A year later he was living in Germany, and since then the highlights of his racing career have included driving for Formula One team Toro Rosso.
That was the fulfilment of a childhood dream, and one of the biggest challenges he’s ever faced because of the demands of driving so fast. “You were breaking for the hairpin but your brain was still back at the previous corner,” he recalls.
He’s now best known for endurance racing, and as well as crossing the finish line first on two occasions at Le Mans, has also won the FIA World Endurance Championship twice.
It’s one of the best decisions Kiwi racing driver Brendon Hartley has made. In March last year, as the world was starting to shut down thanks to Covid, and races were being cancelled, he and wife Sarah decided to leave Monaco, where they are based, and temporarily head home to New Zealand.
They were able to ride out the lockdown in luxury and comfort in the holiday home they’d just had built for them in a stunning spot in Acacia Bay, Taupo.
“I think the day we arrived it was announced we’d have to do a self-quarantine in the house – before that it was something that didn’t even exist,” Brendon tells Coast FM host Sam Wallace in the Heart to Hartley podcast. “We got back to the house in New Zealand and we had space. Our friends in Monaco were stuck in their apartments for one or two months. We absolutely nailed the decision.”
They ended up spending three months in the house, enjoying the peaceful location and the striking views out over Lake Taupo to Mt Tauhara in the distance. Built to a very high standard by Landmark Homes Taupo and featuring windows by Brendon’s sponsor Altherm Window Systems that perfectly frame the spectacular outlook, the house was the ideal place to relax and recharge.
But Palmerston North-born Brendon, who has been racing professionally since the age of 15, didn’t want to take a complete break from driving, so he rented a racing simulator. Fortunately, there was ample room in the generous garage for one. “I’ve done plenty of sim work in the past as my job, but I’ve never got into the gaming side of things,” he admits.
He got together with fellow Kiwi racers to form a virtual series called Racing Local in which some of the biggest names in motorsport took part in a range of different disciplines, from go-karting to speedway, while raising money for New Zealand businesses.
“It was a very cool experience,” says Brendon, although he adds that after three months, it was a relief when the simulator was collected. “I was happy to see the back of it! But after a year and a half of not having it… I’m quite keen to get involved again. At some point I may be able to convince Sarah to install a sim back in the garage.”
Brendon, who is one of the best endurance racing drivers in the world, having twice won the epic 24 Hours of Le Mans race, was also able to spend a very memorable Christmas in the Acacia Bay house when it was first finished in 2019. Both his and Sarah’s families joined them for the holidays, and they had a very happy time swimming in the lake, mountain biking, walking and cooking barbecues.
“It was really special to have everyone come together in the house that was a labour of love for us. It made it feel like home from the word go.”
With their first baby due in January, the Hartleys won’t be home for Christmas this year, but are looking forward to when they can get back and once again enjoy all their home here has to offer. In the meantime, it’s nice to be able to make it available to their friends and family.
“They can use it to escape from their daily life,” says Brendon. “It makes me feel good that they can come and enjoy it as much as we do.”
While they’re cooking barbecues and taking in the views, he’s continuing travelling the world to compete in endurance events, which he describes as a discipline he fell in love with after driving in Formula One. His Toyota team won the 8 Hours of Bahrain race in November, his third victory in the 2021 World Endurance Series.