Ranger's life inspired design

BACK TO NATURE: Ross Wilson’s back to nature Motueka Valley home.
BACK TO NATURE: Ross Wilson’s back to nature Motueka Valley home.

Ross Wilson is the kind of man who is happiest when living in nature. A childhood spent living in lighthouses, isolated and windswept, coupled with a career as a DOC ranger, spending much time out in the bush living in huts, has obviously influenced his choice of place to live and build. It is no wonder he has chosen a 54 hectare block up the end of Shaggery Rd, off Westbank Rd near Motueka.

Ross decided on this block after searching for five years, with a clear list of "must haves" including a stream, no sprays used by surrounding landowners, close to a township and yet secluded. It certainly takes a keen punter to visit him: a long winding gravel road, a ford with plentiful water, then a steep grind up to a platform carved from the hillside, where his home sits.

Consciously designed with DOC huts in mind, Ross's home is a compact 127sqm including the garage, clad in Karaka Green colour steel, with contrasting window surrounds in Scoria, and roof in Mist Green. Apart from the enclosed internal porch off the garage and grates on this porch and the front veranda for scraping mud off boots, the resemblance to DOC huts finishes here. Ross worked closely with architect Peter Olorenshaw, who designed a warm, cosy and functional three bedroom home incorporating many sustainable features.

Built by Andrew Hausman of Motueka company Spencer Builders, with occasional help from other builders and Ross when he could, it took one year to construct. Peter Olorenshaw project managed the build, while Ross spent a lot of time and energy researching and locally sourcing the smaller things like handles, taps and shower fittings. The internal floor is polished concrete on an insulated pad, with deep piles going into the ground on the stabilised building site. Ross's love of timber is evident with the use of large macrocarpa beams spanning the living spaces, forming gracious arches, with a high ceiling to add a greater sense of space. These beams were made locally by Timberworks, who specialise in using a traditional method of joining timber beams by using oak pegs rather than nails. Ross was beaming with pride when telling me that he was allowed to hammer in some of these pegs.

Between the open-plan living space and the rooms running along the south section of the house, there are three high electric windows which can be easily opened to allow heat to flow through. They also add extra light by way of a set of clerestory windows, also at height, allowing natural light in from the north.

Central to the living space is a big Nectre dual wood burner and cooker, which is surrounded on three sides by a low wall made from rocks collected on the property. Ross says this works really well for heating the house in winter and he loves the sensible multi-purpose of being able to cook as well as functioning as a wetback for heating hot water. This feeds to a 300-litre hot water cylinder hidden on a cleverly designed shelf accessed through the laundry. There is also an evacuated tube solar panel on the roof. Two 22,000-litre water tanks pump water up to a tank beyond the house, then water is gravity fed down to the house again. Ross says that should he ever lose power, this 24,000-litre top tank will keep him supplied with water for a considerable time. He also has a septic tank with a drainage field.

The kitchen, made by local builder/cabinet-maker Bruce Hovernden, features macrocarpa with a red gum bar, and lawson's cypress tongue and groove ceiling. Ross likes the idea of baking, so he had a commercial oven installed, although he says his lifestyle at the moment means he spends most week days away in the bush, but aims to become more domestic over time.

Ross loves his new home and says there is only one thing he would change - the bath. He now has a girlfriend, and says it would be much more convivial to have a bigger bath with taps in the middle rather than at one end.