Old English charm

00:47, May 11 2012
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
Hillsfield House
The home of Jo and Steve Hill
The home of Jo and Steve Hill

Jo Hill loves English country magazines from her homeland, happily flicking through pictures of grand old houses with their formal gardens and tree-dappled parks beyond.

So when it came time to build their own home in a rural corner of Renwick, she and husband Steve knew exactly what they were after.

"We wanted a different style of house from the ones being built at the time, " says Steve. "We knew this property was special, we had to do it justice, and we knew we had only one chance to get it right."

The couple bought the 2ha section in 2000, falling for its views of the Wither Hills to the south, the Richmond Ranges to the north and Gibson's Creek along the boundary.

They first planted blocks of olive trees on either side of the building site, then gave their landscape designer a clear image of the classic English shape they were after.

Now autumn colours blaze in a small park beyond a large formal garden, where buxus hedges and white chipped pathways are softened by a cottage influence.


Miniature ponies amble in the park and the garden is bordered by a wide spreading tree with a gorgeous tree house, which sons Callum, 11, and Alex, 15, made steady use of when they were younger and which continues to enhance the charm of the property.

The house Steve and Jo built seven years ago completes the package.

Originally intended to have the traditional high walls of a Georgian home, the designs were adapted when quotes came in well beyond budget.

Steve instead created a home with upstairs rooms inside a high-pitched roof, cutting back significantly on the cost while retaining the feel of an English country home.

The living areas and the boys' rooms are downstairs, while upstairs there's a master bedroom, en-suite and study with an outlook over the park, stream and distant hills.

They also kept costs down throughout the process in smaller ways, for example, finding recycled solid wooden doors and having them dip stripped then given a walnut stain. The final product cost marginally more than a hollow new door, but had a solidity and authenticity worth a lot more.

Jo also loves that the doors are not completely straight, unlike the clean lines she sees in contemporary homes.

"I find modern styles very rigid and they would be wrong for this house, " she says. "We love the more relaxed approach with our furnishings and a traditional, country style. It is a place where you feel you can come in, kick your shoes off, curl up on a sofa and immediately feel at home."

Two gleaming cars in the garage continue to snub contemporary styles, with a 1927 Hudson Essex gleaming in green beside a 30s-styled sports car Steve built himself.

Steve, who teaches aeronautical engineering at NMIT, bought the Hudson two years ago and, with the help of his good friend Dave Sales, from Jalopy Engineering, spent long hours building it into an "old-school hot rod". The original body hides an altered underbelly, with a V8 and brand new chassis making it a smooth ride when Steve and Jo join others in the Blenheim Sun Valley Roadsters Club for a cruise.

They also use the Essex to deliver their B&B guests to restaurants and wineries, just part of the added service that saw Hillsfield House Bed and Breakfast win the 2011 and 2012 Trip Advisor Travellers' Choice Awards.

Jo says the B&B was a vague notion for "way down the track" when they built the house, which included a fourth bedroom in the high-pitch roof of the separate garage that would suit the purpose well.

The notion became reality far sooner than expected and the success of the business meant that the garage below was soon transformed into a second room.

Jo has continued the style of the main house in both the Loft and Courtyard rooms, with antique pieces, muted colours and a focus on comfort.

She says the bed and breakfast, although hard work, has been great fun, and she still gets a buzz when international guests leave praising the region.

"It is awesome to know that, along with everyone else who is involved in showcasing Marlborough, we have played a part in making their holiday such a success."


The Marlborough Express