House of the week: Rose-covered Akaroa cottage
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!'"
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Best budget tip: Recycle, reuse, think long-term lifespan.
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."
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.
- NZ House & Garden