Recycled is free and better than new

John Cruickshanks has transformed an old church into a domestic dreamland with a raft of sustainable techniques and recycled materials.
John Cruickshanks has transformed an old church into a domestic dreamland with a raft of sustainable techniques and recycled materials.

John Cruickshanks knows a thing or two about sustainable DIY, having learned the hard way when his wife announced - out of the blue - that they were the proud owners of a church in Paekakariki.

At first the film industry scenic painter was shocked.

But after a good sit-down, he mulled over the unilateral marital investment and got on board with the daunting do- up.

The self-described Jack of all trades and master of some set about transforming the deconsecrated 79-year- old Our Lady of Lourdes into a dream dwelling for the couple and their four children.

Including the mezzanine, the cavernous pad is 200sqm, and will be around 260sqm by the time it's finished - "hopefully next year".

"It's been a labour of love. I've spent literally hours, months, days and nights machining all these huckery bits of wood into what I think is a beautiful work of art."

He did it by keeping a magpie's eye on the street for found objects, taking unwanted stuff from mates' houses, scouring Trade Me, trawling op shops and raiding skips and demolition sites while turning his hands to the building skills of generations past. "Beg, borrow and steal . . . you could say."

The once-sacred site has become a vision of Kiwiana writ large. Pohutukawa funnel the salt air on to the coastal section, which still features the old garden grotto that once contained a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Back indoors, the interior framing is fashioned from recycled rimu sourced from old buildings and skips. Purlins, rafters, sarking, architraves and skirting boards were made from the bracing of an entire roof bought from a fellow DIY enthusiast.

Kitchen benches, tables, doors, wall linings and all manner of other fittings and fixtures were similarly sourced, including the garden deck, which features a post-beach shower replete with pre-loved shower head and sand- filled tray.

Renovating a house from repurposed materials takes time and patience, but Cruickshanks reckons the hand-me-up approach is infinitely more satisfying than buying ready-to-install conventional products from the big box warehouse retailers.

"You might have to work harder, but you're going to end up with a much nicer product in the end. You need to source and machine every piece of timber to the right size and shape. You don't get a house out of a box - you get your own house."

Eschewing insulation batts is a case in point - instead of stuffing the walls with regular fibreglass, he used scraps of recycled wool from shearing shed floors.

"We shredded it and pumped it into the wall. It's the best insulation you can get, it's totally green and works naturally with the timber of the house. It holds together and doesn't shrink like batts."

Using conventional materials and construction methods only where the council required it has given the home a rustic, vibrant feel, and Cruickshanks says there are still many avenues to indulge that sustainable creativity outside the bounds of local bylaws.

"Gardens, fences and sheds are good places to start with if you're looking for a small project. Often they don't have to be code-compliant - you can knock up a woodshed or a fence from recycled products.

"In my garden it all came from the skip. There's nothing new."


Old tyres can be made into potato gardens, a tyre swing for the kids or a homemade worm compost.

If you come across a clean 44-gallon drum at the landfill or recycle shop, turn it on its side, grind it in half, and you've got a charcoal BBQ. You could even put a couple of rods of rebar through it to create a shelf for a grill.

If you're doing garden maintenance and have a tree to cut down, cut a cross- section and make a chopping board. Or a board for noughts and crosses for summer afternoons.

Use old skirting board to make herb racks for the kitchen, or a key holder for beside the front door. Find some old beer crates, turn them on their side and stack them, and you've got a convenient cubby hole shoe rack.

Make a table out of old skis, or an old door from the recycle shop. While there, pick an old window and make a miniature glasshouse where your chilli will thrive.

The Dominion Post