House of the week: Wanaka new build is an eclectic mix of eras and style
Catherine Davis doesn't bother to follow current trends, but she can't resist a few bygone ones.
The Wanaka anthropology student's fascination with Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite paintings is evident on the walls and bookshelves of the mountain view house she shares with husband Tim, as is her fondness for historic print fonts and fabric designs. Her interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement is echoed in the home's craftsmanship and the use of materials like raw cedar and natural stone.
A complicated hot chocolate brew influenced by ancient Mayan recipes is often created on the free-standing cast iron range that manages to warm visitors to the grand kitchen despite the 9m ceilings. The kitchen's tall open shelving is designed to encourage guests to walk in and help themselves amid suspended skeins of garlic, copper pots and dried flowers. Some visitors are a little taken aback by the decorative skulls they find alongside the culinary items, tokens of Catherine's affection for the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
"Everyone wants to be in the kitchen and we decided not to fight it," Catherine says of the home they finished building in 2015. "It's how we live. Use it and enjoy it. The house is happiest when it's full of people."
Adult daughters Kimberley and Claire know to expect pots of home-made soup or batches of pancakes when they return home to visit. Then the family – Kimberley is an editor, Claire works in film – is likely to turn to the home's groaning bookshelves.
"I love having stuff happening in the kitchen but a lot of the way we live as a family is rugging up by the fire and reading," says Catherine. "Or talking about what we've read. You'll notice there's no giant TV over the fireplace. The essence of a home is books."
The 400sqm alpine lodge-style house is a culmination of the Davis' shared love of homemaking, through three renovations, five new builds and more than 30 years of marriage.
Both Tim and Catherine grew up in Taihape and lived in Coromandel and Manawatu before moving south. She was a post office worker who progressed to real estate sales and retail, with plenty of extramural studies along the way including art, creativity and anthropology. Tim began his working life as a shearer and is now a joint venture partner in Wanaka's PlaceMakers building supply company. In between, the couple sanded, painted and landscaped to fulfil their "very romantic" dream of creating, managing, then ultimately selling Hot Toddy Lodge at Cardrona.
In their first house, Tim undertook all the construction jobs including building a kitchen. "He's not a qualified builder and you couldn't do it now but we did everything ourselves.
I nailed the deck and he built it. I would paint and decorate. My mother always used to say, 'You find ways,' and we went at it with ridiculous enthusiasm."
By the time they found their current 4000sqm chunk of lupin-covered land, almost three decades later, the Davis' knew exactly what they wanted. But first they erected a cottage – Tim once again built the kitchen – and installed a woodburner stove. They surrounded it with plenty of native and exotic trees and a wild, herby garden full of old-fashioned roses. The late 19th century influenced their landscaping.
"It's always about nature, being caretakers of the land. It's about fostering creativity, absolutely a send-up of Victorian stiffness. It's just a philosophy that echoes well in both our hearts."
While living in the cottage, the couple constructed their main home, a stone's throw away. They moved across the driveway into the three-bedroom dwelling with sweeping views across to Treble Cone and surrounding mountains.
They took time – five years in all – to get the details right. Tim created the en suite washstand to his wife's specifications, and the couple travelled to Dunedin to meet the young craftsman who would construct their Douglas fir scissor trusses. Catherine scoured the internet for light fittings, added paint effects to walls and chose vibrant decor.
It was a wrench to leave their cosy cabin for the vastly larger living spaces of the big house. It took a year to settle in and acclimatise, to relish having room to entertain – the great room will easily absorb 90 people – and enjoy the generous master bedroom, multiple reading nooks and outdoor living areas.
For now, they rent the cottage to guests. Longer term, they've discussed perhaps moving back into the cabin themselves and renting out the big house.
"Who knows? We're loving this house but we adore the cabin too. And we're very passionate about Wanaka, its environment, its people. We loved the Manawatu but after 18 years here it's starting to feel a bit special, a lot like home."
My building advice is: Don't be overwhelmed by all the decisions. Realise what you love and don't be swayed by trends. Try to mitigate any superficial, non-urgent, be-in-by-Christmas deadlines and take your time. And when you've made a decision, stick with it.
I'm influenced by: Our travels in Canada. Both our daughters did some study there and we love the people – three of my best friends are Canadian. I love Canadian gardens, the way they always envelop the houses, so we planted lots of maples here. The rustic timber interior in this house is a very North American mountain vernacular.
Building a house is: Appealing. Tim and I enjoy working on it together. Sometimes when the site is covered with builders' waste it's not so appealing, but I love having a blank canvas. Building a new place doesn't faze me but leaving my old garden behind does.
I'm currently cooking: Frida Kahlo's chicken soup with lots of chilli, coriander and lime.
- NZ House & Garden