House of the week: Rose-covered Akaroa cottage gallery

Bronwyn Thoms and Michael Goomes with apricot spoodle Meg.
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn Thoms and Michael Goomes with apricot spoodle Meg.

Twenty-two years ago, an elderly woman was weeding out the front of her old Akaroa cottage when a young mother with a small child stopped to admire the house.

They chatted for a bit, the older woman talking passionately about its history and the masses of roses she had planted in the garden. The two women never met again but, in a quirk of fate, that Banks Peninsula cottage is now the holiday home of the younger woman, Bronwyn Thoms.

Bronwyn, an interior designer with a life-long love of houses with a history, had always dreamed of doing up an old cottage.

So when her partner, Michael Goomes, spotted a dilapidated one for sale on Trade Me in 2011, he knew instantly she would want it. Even so, the fervour of her reaction was a surprise. "As soon as he showed me I said, 'I know that house and I have to buy it. Ring them now!'"

READ MORE:
House of the week: Converted Wellington cinema
House of the week: Cosy Arrowtown cottage
House of the week: Mid-century Christchurch home 

 
Meg on a revamped leather armchair: “It was terribly tatty so I used the leather cushion to patch the arms and made a ...
JANE USSHER

Meg on a revamped leather armchair: “It was terribly tatty so I used the leather cushion to patch the arms and made a woollen one instead,” says Bronwyn.

Banksia Cottage, named after the rose that still scrambles along its front verandah, was built in 1858 as the home and shop of a shoemaker named Parsons. 

One of the seven children who had crammed into two tiny upstairs bedrooms lived in the house for 99 years and by the time Bronwyn's gardening acquaintance, Jessie Mould, bought it in 1967 there had been several additions to the original rammed earth dwelling. 

After Jessie's departure in 2001, the house was unoccupied for a decade. By humans, at any rate. A possum took up residence in the attic and rats lined the walls with walnut shells.

When Bronwyn and Michael met, she had a salvaged segment of banister and he had a newel post – the two have been united ...
JANE USSHER

When Bronwyn and Michael met, she had a salvaged segment of banister and he had a newel post – the two have been united in the Akaroa house.

A huge tree in the overgrown garden began to lean against the house and soil piled behind the back wall, rotting the weatherboards. "It was virtually subterranean," says Michael, whose first job was to hire a Bobcat to separate house and earth. 

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The floor was sloping so severely that they had to lift the foundations and build a new plywood floor over the back half where concrete had been poured over rotten floorboards. (It still isn't level, but Bronwyn likes it that way.)  

"No sensible person would have taken this on," says Michael, who fell through the tongue-and-groove ceiling into the master bedroom when he ventured into the attic.

Bronwyn found the heavy, vintage yellow linen at the Little River fete and had the chair upholstered using deep tacks ...
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn found the heavy, vintage yellow linen at the Little River fete and had the chair upholstered using deep tacks without trim to disguise them; the green cotton on the cupboard is a Pierre Frey fabric.

Together, the couple "papier mâchéd" over the hole and covered the borer-ridden ceiling with floral wallpaper. "It was a mission but it's come out really well," says Bronwyn.  

Michael and Bronwyn are well equipped to resurrect even the sorriest house.

The couple run Plane Tree, an interior design and antiques business in Christchurch, and Bronwyn studied conservation and restoration as part of her design degree. She loves fabrics and colour, while Michael is the collector of the team.

“The whole kitchen probably cost $500,” says Bronwyn; she added a touch of pink with a cupboard, topped appropriately ...
JANE USSHER

“The whole kitchen probably cost $500,” says Bronwyn; she added a touch of pink with a cupboard, topped appropriately with a shoemaker’s block (the original owner was a cobbler).

They wanted to create neither a show home nor a museum. "It's very much a house for living in," says Bronwyn, who has furnished the cottage with a mixture of turn-ups from Michael's treasure hunts, family hand-me-downs and a few flashes of designer fabric or wallpaper. 

"I like to throw a lot of pattern and colour together," she says. "I've left everything that didn't need painting as it was. When he first saw it, Michael commented that there was 'a bit of a clashy green thing going on'. But it is what it is. The bravest thing we did was to leave it alone as much as possible."

HOLDING ON TO HISTORY

Old hats hang on the original hall hooks; Bronwyn chose Lily of the Valley Sandberg wallpaper for the entry porch.
JANE USSHER

Old hats hang on the original hall hooks; Bronwyn chose Lily of the Valley Sandberg wallpaper for the entry porch.

Bronwyn and Michael credit previous owner Jessie Mould with saving the house by getting it heritage-listed, although the listing added some frustrations and a lot of red tape to the restoration process. "Luckily the local council people were really helpful," says Bronwyn, but even putting in a retaining wall needed an archaeological assessment. Bronwyn is adding to the historical records by keeping an archive book that includes photographs and scraps of original wallpaper. Some of the newspapers that were used to insulate the walls date back to 1869. She has also kept every bit of glass and china found in the garden.

 Q&A:

Best budget tip: Recycle, reuse, think long-term lifespan.

Formerly two rooms leading off a hallway, the dining/living area is now light and spacious.
JANE USSHER

Formerly two rooms leading off a hallway, the dining/living area is now light and spacious.

Best seat in the house: Front verandah – elevated from the street but close enough to overhear comments on the state of the garden.

Favourite household chore: Love the chores! Keep it real: wash your dishes by hand, clean your own windows, mow your own lawns. Easy to say when it's a holiday home, I guess.

A quote I often use: From Winston Churchill: "We shape our homes and then our homes shape us." 

Bronwyn “slapped some pale pink paint” over the existing 1980s wallpaper in the master bedroom and the couple ...
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn “slapped some pale pink paint” over the existing 1980s wallpaper in the master bedroom and the couple wallpapered the ceiling after Michael fell through it.

If I win Lotto I'd like to: Restore more beautiful buildings in Akaroa and preserve this unique town.

Best time to visit: Winter is lovely – calm and quiet.

Best places to stay: Check out Banksia Cottage on booking.com. Also Kathrine and Hugh Fraser at Coombe Farm, coombefarm.co.nz.

All the china in the Baltic pine corner cupboard belonged to Bronwyn’s mother and grandmother; Bronwyn found the ...
JANE USSHER

All the china in the Baltic pine corner cupboard belonged to Bronwyn’s mother and grandmother; Bronwyn found the stylised painting of male gymnasts in a Wellington junk shop.

Bronwyn Thoms

Flowers from the garden.
JANE USSHER

Flowers from the garden.

Bronwyn Thoms and Michael Goomes walled off the hall and put in a window to enlarge the living area and create an entry ...
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn Thoms and Michael Goomes walled off the hall and put in a window to enlarge the living area and create an entry vestibule.

The Cath Kidston tiles are carried through from the kitchen to the bathroom; the couple left the existing pedestal basin ...
JANE USSHER

The Cath Kidston tiles are carried through from the kitchen to the bathroom; the couple left the existing pedestal basin and bath but added an authentic-looking stainless steel shower.

A rope railing provides a handhold when mounting the precarious staircase that leads to the upstairs bedroom.
JANE USSHER

A rope railing provides a handhold when mounting the precarious staircase that leads to the upstairs bedroom.

“It’s an odd-looking house,” says Bronwyn; the high facade of the shoemaker’s shop with the bedroom above can be seen at ...
JANE USSHER

“It’s an odd-looking house,” says Bronwyn; the high facade of the shoemaker’s shop with the bedroom above can be seen at left, the more conventionally charming cottage has a rose-clad verandah.

Roses and foxgloves.
JANE USSHER

Roses and foxgloves.

Bronwyn’s son, Campbell, left and his friend Lyle Matthysen offer Meg and black cairn terrier Eddie titbits from the table.
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn’s son, Campbell, left and his friend Lyle Matthysen offer Meg and black cairn terrier Eddie titbits from the table.

Bronwyn makes her own seedling pots using newspaper moulds.
JANE USSHER

Bronwyn makes her own seedling pots using newspaper moulds.

The potting shed, formerly the shoemaker’s shop, is unchanged but filled with collectables.
JANE USSHER

The potting shed, formerly the shoemaker’s shop, is unchanged but filled with collectables.

 - NZ House & Garden

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