Handmade magic in Wainuiomata

RHIANNON MCCONNELL
Last updated 05:00 22/09/2012

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Home & Garden

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In a rural valley of Wainuiomata, on a hill called Grace, sits a home made almost entirely from secondhand, re-purposed and handmade items.

The lights are made from old boilers, the bath was once in a garden collecting rainwater and a striking bench in the kitchen is an old butcher's block.

Education assistant Shelley Gardner and her farrier husband Jeremy began dreaming of the home in early 2007 when they moved, with their two daughters, from South Africa.

Shelley says the land was just a hill when they arrived.  "We had to do everything. We had to clear it and grade the driveway."

During the two years of building, the family lived in a bach  on the property, with no plumbing or electricity. They used a long drop for a toilet and cooked off a gas stove. 

Shelley insisted on a working shower but baths were a luxury saved for very cold days. "Baths were a treat. We had a shared bath and everyone took turns."

Shelley and Jeremy project-managed the house and partnered with Carterton carpenter Chris McEwen to do the design and build. 

The only role an architect played in the process was signing off the papers.

McEwen and his partner Wendy Blair were fully onboard with the Gardner's vision.

A key part of the build was the use of repurposed wood. "A lot of builders won't do that anymore, it's too much work and too labour intensive," Shelley says.

But McEwen built up a pile of mixed wood, including two totara beams that were once in an old pub. The beams became the kitchen and bathroom benches. "He turned them into something beautiful. They were blackened and old and full of nails."

That describes the Gardner's home perfectly - things blackened and old made beautiful.

Shelley gives a lot of the credit to Jeremy, who loves to look at something and give it new life. He made the lights in the house from old boilers that he found at a scrapyard. 

"He polished them up and made them all shiny and new and I looked at them and said, 'I want them to look old'."

So they put the boilers outside for three weeks to return them to their old state.

The kitchen is built around an old butcher's block from South Africa - another example of the couple's skill at making unwanted things beautiful.

"Jeremy would not part with it. He found it on the side of the road. It was green and he cleaned it up and fixed it up," Shelley says.

It is one of the things people comment on most in their home.

With two bedrooms and one bathroom, the house is just big enough for the family. The master bedroom is downstairs, while the couple's daughters share the long attic room upstairs. The girl's room has an old-fashioned cupboard and bookshelf in the middle to create their own spaces.

"I loved sharing a room with my sister and I wanted them to have that intimacy," Shelley says.

The bathroom is one of their "scavenging pride and joys".

"The lights are from Trash Palace, the bath is from the garden, the copper's old copper and the shower head is off Trade Me."

One of the striking features in the bathroom is the exposed plumbing.  When the Gardners asked their plumber how he felt about it, he loved the idea. He had been trained in the skill but had not been able to use it much.

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Every room in the home tells a story and has been made on a tight budget, with creativity.

"Everything in this house we have tried to either have second-hand, re-purposed or handmade," Shelley says. "We want the soul flavour, the heart of people who worked on it, to be visible in it. We want to show that character."

The predicted five months of building turned into two years and there are still things to be completed, such as the driveway and landscaping. 

"We didn't want to borrow more from the bank so we just saved and saved and built and saved and built."

They like taking it slow and "letting the wood settle and find its colour".

Her favourite place is on an old church pew under double windows in the kitchen. "I think that's my little special spot."

Shelley says one of the best parts of living where they do  is sitting out on the deck looking across the valley. "You can see the birds and horses and see the river. That's a magic place."

- The Dominion Post

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