Dream plan in the valley

18:22, Feb 19 2013
The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May
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The home of Toby and Kate May

It‘s amazing what can come from a trip to buy eggs.

Four years ago, Kate and Toby May drove up Picton's Boons Valley Rd to buy a free range dozen, and were struck by the beauty of the valley.

"We came back the next day and $5 for eggs turned into a two-acre purchase," says Toby, from the spectacular home now on that land.

The long and lovely four-bedroom home was designed with attention to sustainability, from six-inch thick walls, packed with woollen batting, to radiators heated by a wetback behind the "gourmet" fire, which is also an oven.

But their most powerful tool is the sun, and none of its movements have been left to chance.

Well before the plan was finalised, the couple and their designer, Dai Jones, of Daisign in Blenheim, mapped the impact of the sun year-round, ensuring the roofline would block direct sunlight through a wall of north facing windows and doors in summer, but allow its warmth in winter.


That mapping dictated the placement of clerestory windows, which sit high on a wall running east-west through the house, ensuring the southern side gets direct light in cold months, and is cooled in summer, when they can be opened.

Kate says they were initially unsure about the look of the roofline, split by the high windows, but were won over by their function, which has proved itself again and again. "Summer has been fantastic, with virtually no sun coming directly into the house."

The home is 100 square metres bigger than their last home, a small conventional build in a Waikawa subdivision, but its power consumption is lower, says Toby, calling the previous home their "biggest inspiration".

Underwhelmed by how hot it was in summer, how cold it was in winter and the pathetic and expensive inadequacy of dozens of recessed lights, they used it as a model of what not to do.

"It was a stock-standard conventional new house and we were just so disappointed in how warm it wasn't and how much power all the recessed lights used."

In their new build they gave their electrician strict instructions that not a single recessed light be included, opting instead for traditional drop lights that add character to an already rich interior.

Other homes from their past have been drawn on more kindly, including a Lockwood that inspired a wall of New Zealand-grown cedar above their bed, and on a feature wall in the TV area.

The flip side of that wall, a feature of the main living area, is painted brick, a stunning look that also acts as a heat sink when the low winter sun stretches into the home.

But the most striking of the interior walls is in an indoor-outdoor barbecue area, clad in the exterior rough brick of the house, with the concrete of the veranda underfoot. Wide doors open the room to the outdoors, its walls and flooring making it a seamless extension of the exterior, but can be closed off on cool nights, and a long sliding window and door opened to the dining room.

Toby designed the room early on in the process, again calling on past experience.

"You can have the most beautiful day and decide to have guests, but by the time they arrive it can be unpleasant.

"The person on the barbecue is out suffering in the elements and everyone else is inside."

The brick block in here and on the exterior has a rumbled edge, to give a more rugged appearance, and was pointed with a rough parget, to complete the mud-brick look.

That wasn't left to chance either, with the couple scanning the region and beyond for an exterior that appealed, and eventually knocking on a Blenheim home's door to discover its secrets. With its red roof on top, split by the

clerestory windows, the resulting home is beautiful against the steep bush-clad hills of Boons Valley.

When the couple moved here, initially building a large three-bay garage with added living, and spending a winter there while the home was built, the land was a bare paddock, with a couple of old man pines.

That's hard to imagine now, with thick plantings along the border, an orchard of 30 fruit trees, and beautiful native plantings around the home, some nestled within a bank of stones from Cullens Creek.

"We wanted to bring in as many native birds as we could," says Kate.

"You could hear them in the bush all round the valley but they would fly over and never stop, because there was nothing to stop for.

"This past summer we've had bellbirds and tui come and feed out of the flax, and I don't think it will be long before they come to the kowhai."

The land has proved incredibly productive for those tui tempters, and also for a fantastic vegetable garden behind the home, where abundant crops of cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, potatoes and kale, to name but a fraction of its produce, are harvested and transformed in any number of ways.

Once frustrated by the tight space restrictions of their former Waikawa section, they're now largely and happily self-sufficient, preserving, dehydrating and storing excess vegetables and fruit.

In perfect continuation of the journey that brought them here, they also trade their crisp crops for eggs.


During the design process, Kate and Toby spent a mountain of time researching eco builds, by talking to experts, searching the internet and checking design features out first hand.

Here are a few of the things they discovered:

Christchurch company Terra Lana for wool batting – terralana.co.nz

Software for mapping the sun's movement – through Dai Jones at Daisign

Their beloved Thermalux Gourmet Cooker - broadys.co.nz

Morgan's Road Nursery for advice and supply of root trainers

"Excellent local tradies" in builder Max Bloomfield, electrician Eric Godsiff and plumber Chris Ford. 

The Marlborough Express