Homes in unlikely spaces

17:00, Sep 28 2012
Duncan Sargent house
Duncan Sargent’s house in Wellington was once a discount grocery store.

Dotted around the country are conversion projects that make putting in a new kitchen and bathroom look like child's play. Obsession, focus and determination have turned all sorts of unlikely old buildings into not just habitable but covetable homes. A new book focuses on these improbable foundations for comfortable lives.

An old shed on a Marlborough vineyard? Surely this must have been turned into something terminally rustic. But, no, this gorgeous home is all white paint and stainless steel inside, as streamlined as any stretch of a modern architect's imagination.

Integrated living spaces have pale wood floors and the furniture makes more than a nod to fashionable mid-century modern. Like many of the renovated buildings, it does have new architectural credentials, but still, it began as an old shed.

In Wellington, furniture designer Duncan Sargent lives and works in Newtown's Constable St in what used to be Wellington's first discount grocer. It's smack on the street, which is as good for displaying the wares of an artisan in 2012 as it once was for showing off bags of tea, flour and sugar.

Sargent bought the building because he loved its space and potential. His approach was not to turn the place into a perfect workspace and show-home. It's a robust family home and even has a wall on which his two daughters  can draw. The rustic red-painted old shop retains its early good looks and it's not unknown for past customers and relatives of the brothers who ran the grocer to knock on the door to see what has become of the place.

At Lake Karapiro, in Waikato, a junk-filled, derelict petrol station with a great view has been converted into a startlingly modern home, all glass walls, polished stone floors, modern furniture and strategically-placed splashes of high-gloss red. The former mechanic's pit is now an easily accessed wine cellar.


The house, its new life given serious consideration by an architectural designer, was supposed to be a bach but the owners began to spend so much time there that they now consider it home.

Mill Cottage, once part of Canterbury's first water-driven flour mill, was built in 1852 but has been  fitted out to 21st-century standards. It's been refurbished, rather than converted, but is so sweet it warranted inclusion in the book. It features beautiful beams and bricks and William Morris fabrics and wallpaper  inside and a two-acre garden.   Greenery festoons its veranda and old trees produce cherries, plums, pears, walnuts and figs.

A century-old cheese factory which then became a woolshed, on the beachfront at Hapuku, just north of Kaikoura, is still proudly aware of its origins. The sign ''Hapuku Co-operative Dairy Co Ltd'' is emblazoned on fresh butter-yellow paint on a building so attractive to its owners that they shifted from Australia to do it up and live in it. Original features like the huge beam that runs its length and six solid sliding doors on runners were kept intact. Some of what would have been original features were reinstated, like air-vents, made to replicate vents in early photographs of the building.

The new interior is a blend of rustic and  modern, with rich, woody colours but modern fittings and furniture.

Other odd but beautiful homes include a converted 1900s Public Trust building in New Plymouth, a rebuilt woolshed near Auckland and a renovation of the 1921 Akaroa County Council building. A church is given a new life in the Coromandel, an old train station in Auckland and a new home is based on an old Banks Peninsular grain silo.

Converted Houses, by Lucinda Diack, photos by Daniel Allen, Penguin, $65.

The Dominion Post