The best of homes and hobbyists

SARAH DUNN
Last updated 10:38 25/03/2013
RON FLETCHER
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

PIECES FOR PEOPLE'S PLACES: Christine Boswijk’s workshop gallery overlooks the Waimea Estuary.

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Sarah Dunn checks out two contrasting charity trails in Nelson, with something for both men and women.

From stylishly sublime to seriously simple ... two very different styles of Nelson creativity were on display last week as the Blokes in Sheds tour followed NZ House & Garden magazine's first Nelson homes tour.

Nearly 800 people from around the country bought tickets to the House & Garden event, but it was an orderly crowd who moved through the house in Atawhai's Springlea Heights.

Mostly made up of older women, the visitors held their shoes in black plastic bags so as not to mark the wooden floors. After quietly taking in the lounge and entryway, they ventured forth down hallways and into bedrooms to point out the mosaic tiling, inspect the artwork and admire the impressive view of Nelson Haven across the infinity pool.

Owner Carleen Reich-Simko says she had no hesitation about opening her home to strangers. "I throw huge parties all the time. This house is a party house, on purpose."

She and husband Steve Simko built the adobe-style house in 2008, adding many of the colourful details themselves. Designed to make the most of natural heat and light from the Nelson sun, the residence also has a terraced orchard and a large kitchen garden.

NZ House & Garden editor Sally Duggan says many homeowners were apprehensive before the tours began, but rules developed by the magazine set them at ease.

No children, pets or shoes are allowed inside, and up to 15 volunteers keep watch over the property during the tour.

"The number of volunteers depends on the size of the house and how many treasures there are," says Ms Duggan.

The volunteers are sourced through the Cancer Society and Look Good Feel Better. Local branches receive all the funds raised by the tour, which totalled about $50,000.

Ms Duggan says that over the course of editing the magazine, she had become aware that Nelson had "more than its fair share of lovely houses".

The magazine tries to hold its tours in places New Zealanders like to visit, describing Nelson as a "destination of choice" for many Kiwis. The previous tour was held in Queenstown last year.

Ms Duggan says that while New Zealanders are diverse, she has noticed three particular points about houses in the Nelson area.

"First, Nelson homeowners are a bit more experimental."

Their homes are often more "arty", more eco-friendly and quirkier than residences in other parts of the country.

Second, people who build in Nelson are typically very conscious of the landscape around their homes, Ms Duggan says. She notes the number of houses perched on hills, nestled near estuaries and positioned to make the most of fabulous views, such as that from the Simkos' property.

"Finally, Nelson people seem to be really, really good at celebrating and supporting local artists."

In houses nearer big cities like Auckland and Wellington, local art often takes a secondary role behind international pieces, she says.

She praises the readiness of Nelson decorators to promote local artists like Jane Evans and Christine Boswijk, whose Richmond house was among the 11 featured on the tour.

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The word "experimental" certainly covers most of the destinations included in the Life Education Trust's Blokes in Sheds tour. Instead of showing well-manicured homes, the Nelson region's most interesting garden sheds were opened up for inspection.

Organiser Margaret Palmer says the trust wanted to offer something that would appeal to men as well as women. It was inspired by a similar project run by a trust branch in Northland.

"Everything is always for the women. It's always gardens and kitchens and whatnot," Ms Palmer says. "This was for the blokes, and women can come too."

The trust sold about 60 $15 tickets, raising $922. It received very enthusiastic feedback from visitors, who were overwhelmingly curious about other people's sheds, Ms Palmer says.

"A lot of people said, ‘There's too much to see. Maybe we should run it over two days'."

The trust did not have enough manpower to provide helpers for two days, she says, but if volunteers step up to take ticket money and serve as an extra pair of eyes, the trust might consider it for next year's tour.

Many of the shed owners keep their collections as spotless as a showhome, she says.

Richmond man Roy Packer's collection of local memorabilia was meticulously arranged and organised by type.

"Somebody commented that it must have taken him ages to get it looking like that, but I don't think he did that for the show. I think it's like that all the time."

Baden and Marion Biggs are master and mistress of one of the tour's most labyrinthine sheds.

The retired farming couple moved from Stoke to their Brightwater home in 1996, seeking more space.

They now have a large garage-style shed split into two different areas.

Mrs Biggs' half is filled with equipment of the kind that would be in a traditional Kiwi farmhouse.

Arranged carefully on shelves, hooks and tables, she has more than 30 sewing machines, about 40 hand and electric irons, silver teaspoons, typewriters, bottles, bottle openers, wooden chairs, children's tea sets and other knick-knacks.

Both collections are immaculately arranged so that each item fits cleanly into the space around it.

Mrs Biggs' room looks a little like a museum crossed with a Magic Eye picture, while Mr Biggs' shed is closer to Pigeon Valley's Nelson Transport Museum in appearance.

Mrs Biggs explains that the project began when the couple found an old horse-drawn plough to decorate their garden in Stoke. One plough led to another, and soon there was a vintage tractor to pull them as well.

When the first tractor needed parts to fix it, the couple found a second tractor and, before they knew it, there were 11 tractors lined up in the shed.

After Mr Biggs began displaying his collection of tractors and ploughs at field days around Nelson, Mrs Biggs started to accumulate antique homeware to sell at the same events.

The couple decided their collections were finished in 2003, when there was no more room in the shed.

Asked whether she has ever been tempted to bring the homewares into the house, Mrs Biggs gives a firm "No".

"There would be no room in the house. I don't want any clutter."

She says she hadn't given the question of why she collected her bits and pieces much thought, but many were the same kind of equipment her mother used to use.

"Of course, when mum had that stuff, I wasn't interested," she laughs. "I just like looking at them."

Mr Biggs says many of the early appliances his wife owned came out before the metal irons and other non-electric items his own family used.

Their Tapawera farm did not get electric power until 1952.

"A lot of that stuff was around, but we didn't know about it."

All but one of his tractors were made by United States company Allis-Chalmers, but the pride and joy of Mr Biggs' collection is a shiny, red David Brown model from 1950.

His father was a "real old horse man", who waited until his son was 15 or 16 before he invested in a tractor.

As an adult, Mr Biggs spent years tracing his tractor through the district, before finally finding it lying wrecked in a paddock in Hope during the mid-1990s. Now lovingly restored, it sits just behind the shed door so it can be taken out and driven on sunny days.

The repairman in Mr Biggs gets a kick out of getting his wife's sewing machines and typewriters going again, while Mrs Biggs enjoys helping her husband keep his machines painted and well maintained.

The ownership of one tractor was apparently transferred to Mrs Biggs after she refused to let him dismantle it for scrap.

"It wouldn't be much fun for him if I wasn't interested, and vice versa," she says.

Mr and Mrs Biggs enjoy showing visitors around their miniature showrooms, explaining the stories behind the items and how they fixed them.

Mrs Biggs hopes her collection will be respected once she passes away, and not sold off separately.

"I just like to think it'll have a good home," she says.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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