House of the week: Conservation piece
Stephen and Theresa Cashmore bought their dilapidated house in the Banks Peninsula town of Akaroa based on a photograph and a hunch. "I could tell there was a very old house at its core," says Stephen.
Stephen's hunches are educated ones. The Auckland-based restoration expert has a master's degree in building conservation and has been behind such renovations as Canterbury's historic Otahuna Lodge, Fyffe House in Kaikoura and Christchurch's Riccarton House.
And he was right. At the heart of the house on Rue Balguerie were the remains of a two-up two-down built in 1867, originally the home of Irish widow Anne Kearney and her five children. A single-storey wing had been added in the early 1880s and, under the occupancy of Emma Rhodes in the early 20th century, further changes were made. "Local recollection says she ran it as a new mothers' nursing home," says Stephen.
From 1943, under the stewardship of Ellen and Lou Hopkins, the original cottage morphed into what became known as the Hoppy House. "Lou was a typical do-it-yourself Kiwi," says Stephen. "He pulled the place apart, changed the roof line, filled in the front verandah, put a lean-to on the back and basically bungalow-ised it in the style of the day."
While Lou didn't set out to preserve history, Stephen credits him with saving the house in an era when so many of Akaroa's old buildings were being pulled down. "It would have been lost. People don't seem to understand that once heritage is gone, it's gone forever."
Stephen recognised in the decaying cottage a project close to his heart and an opportunity to have a holiday house in a charming seaside town. "Stephen just loves bringing things back from the brink," says Theresa.
The restoration of what the Cashmores have named Kearney-Rhodes House has been a family affair. For the past seven years, it has been the working holiday destination for the couple and their children, Jamie and Olivia, now in their 20s. "We camped here – you could even call it glamping – and did everything but the building," says Theresa, who is an artist and calligrapher. Their offspring are equally creative, with Olivia in fashion design and Jamie a sound engineer. "On a good day, it's great; on a bad day, the creative spirit gets a little edgy," says Theresa.
It has been a journey of discovery, often rewarding, at times frustrating, and always accompanied by a deluge of decisions and decorative dilemmas – whether to salvage or re-make, to strip or leave. Many of the decisions evolved as they moved through the house step by step.
"I've tried to be gentle with it," says Stephen. "We wanted to be sensitive to the previous occupants."
They have preserved Ellen Hopkins' bedroom as a 1950s memorial to the much-loved local character who lived to be 102. "It wouldn't have been right to get rid of her room."
They hoped they would find more original building material in the house, but aside from a couple of walls and ceilings, most had been reshaped and re-lined. But they did discover a wall of 1880s tongue-and-groove in the kitchen, which they matched throughout the living area and painted with a wash close to the original. "No one back then put three coats of paint on anything. They had next to nothing to live on. We've tried to reflect that simplicity," says Stephen. "That's part of its charm."
A 19th century bathroom doesn't have quite the same charm, so the Cashmores have installed modern fittings and added an en suite, using 1880s salvaged English tiles.
The restoration has attracted a lot of local interest, prompting Stephen to attach an explanatory sign to the fence outlining the house's history and their restoration goals. "People stop in the middle of road to see what we are doing," says Theresa. "That's been one of the most wonderful things about it. We've met so many people who have fond memories of this house."
Now with five bedrooms, two bathrooms and modern comforts, the house is not a time capsule. But through sensitive restoration, Stephen and Theresa have managed to keep the spirit of the house alive.
"People use houses as they need to," says Stephen. "Now we're in another era. In 10, 50 or 100 years someone will come along and do something else with it."
- NZ House & Garden