House of the week: Hawke's Bay coastal living in Pipi cottage
A life-saving event clashed with a life-changing one on the day Louise Worsp bought her coastal Hawke's Bay home.
As medics wheeled her into theatre for emergency surgery one autumn morning in 2013, Louise hastily signed forms and completed tender documents so a trusted friend could rush them to the vendor. By the time the anaesthetic had worn off, Pipi Cottage was hers. (You can see this home on NZ House & Garden's Hawke's Bay house tour on 24 February.)
The two-bedroom, fibre-cement property first caught Louise's attention decades earlier, when she was a homesick Northland-raised schoolgirl attending a local boarding school.
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"It's an iconic cottage," she says. "We all knew it because of where it sits in the village, positioned so it looks out over Te Awanga lagoon and all its bird life and the sea behind and those spectacular Kaweka ranges. It's more than a century old and it has these gorgeous little windows in nearly every part of the house."
By the time Pipi Cottage reappeared on her radar, Louise had spent seven years living on a Rhodesian cotton and tobacco plantation, raised sons Hamish and Duncan, been divorced and moved out of Auckland for a quieter provincial existence. She initially rented a Napier apartment near the sea and found work as a personal assistant in a real estate firm.
"I desperately hankered after a simple lifestyle away from the stress of city life. I just kind of fell in love with Hawke's Bay."
The Te Awanga house purchase raised her quality of life several more notches.
"It's my favourite place to be. It mightn't be the most beautiful view in New Zealand but there's something about it. Every time I come home I feel this amazing sense of wellbeing. Not just this cottage, it's this whole region. I'm not surrounded by concrete, there's open space and room to move and think."
The surgical scars were still healing when she moved in and unpacked beloved pieces of furniture, pottery inherited from her mother and the oil painting that has hung in every New Zealand house she has lived in since childhood. The gilt-framed artwork, which depicts England's white cliffs of Dover, reminds her of the landscape at nearby Cape Kidnappers.
Floor to ceiling shelving was installed to stash favourite books and she immediately set to work uncovering the overgrown garden and planting hedging along the front. A vegetable garden and fruit trees have been added and the lopsided, cobwebbed garden shed has been allowed to stay, albeit with a new coat of roses clambering over the sides.
Major interior renovations required more extensive planning. Given the kitchen's central position in the house, the high, curved kitchen bench and view-stealing cupboards had to go. Louise stayed with a friend while tradesmen completed a new, pared-back, sleek-lined kitchen that preserves her garden outlook and watery views. The roof has also been replaced, the bathroom refurbished and every room has been repainted, including the bedroom that charms her guests.
"It's so crooked and quaint and quirky. The gorgeous little windows are crooked and it's a really peculiar shape, not square or rectangular. Nothing fits properly."
From this guest room at the front of the house, visitors can watch the procession of children and horses, surfers and dogs that pass en route to the sea. Ducks, swans and an occasional white heron come and go, along with shags that perch in the single skeletal tree that stands in the lagoon.
Two resident Canadian geese regularly head to Pipi Cottage for food and attention. "I adore them and consider them my own, they're absolute characters," says Louise. The birds were dubbed Syb and Sal, in honour of two close friends, and the names have stuck, despite her discovery that both geese are male.
All the locals take a proprietorial interest in any new families of ducklings, goslings or cygnets and are similarly supportive of fellow humans. Louise knew no one in Te Awanga when she arrived. Now, a steady stream of passers-by knock on her door, with some staying for a sunset gin and tonic. She has reconnected with school friends in the surrounding district and regularly trades books or house-watching favours with nearer neighbours.
"In the four years I have been in Hawke's Bay, I have met more people than in all the years I lived in Auckland and made some special friendships. People have just been wonderful."
"It is not difficult to persuade my family and Auckland friends to come down and stay and they can certainly see why I made this move. I completely feel I belong here."
Her next project is inspired by the bike trail that meanders through the village, connecting cyclists with local wineries, galleries, food producers and coastal scenery.
"I'm going to get a bicycle and practise in my backyard, where nobody can see me. Then I'll be off and away."
Nothing in my house: Is from Rhodesia, apart from photographs. That was a fascinating part of my life, but as civil war escalated we had to leave in rather a hurry, without money apart from some cash stuffed down my jeans.
I wanted: Simplicity in this house. I'm a bit of a collector and hoarder and I was keen to move away from that tendency. I don't know if I've totally achieved that.
Favourite recent purchase: My coffee table is a Paris postal sorting table bought from my local So Vintage store at the end of the street. It's so heavy, other furniture has to be moved around it.
My garden shed: Is always a bit terrifying. I like to open the door and wait before I enter, because of all the little creatures inside.
Summer Sunday favourite: The farmers' market at Hawke's Bay Showgrounds, with fabulous local produce beneath beautiful trees. Or buying cherries from a roadside stall.
Favourite local wine: It's tough to choose but the Elephant Hill rosé is delicious in summer and the winery is walking distance.
- NZ House & Garden