House of the week: 10 year wait for Wellington renovation
A broken radio might not be the usual catalyst for a new home but that's what led journalists Tracy Watkins and Derek West to their house in the Lower Hutt suburb of Petone.
Roll back the clock to 2005, when Derek was trying to get his beloved 1940s radio fixed. The only repair shop was in Petone, so the couple drove out from their rented Wellington apartment – and immediately felt as if they'd come home.
"Petone has a really relaxed feel as well as some great cafes and quirky shops," says Tracy. A bonus is that it's only 12 minutes to the Beehive, where she spends her days grilling politicians as political editor for Stuff.co.nz.
Tracy and Derek had been looking for their first home for ages and estimate they'd seen hundreds before stumbling upon this 1910 single-bay villa in a quiet street near the beach. Fortunately they were able to see beyond the smashed windows, holes in the floors and a dingy lean-to that housed the laundry and bathroom.
"This house had classic good bones, a 12-foot stud and was private," says Derek. "We knew we could make something of it."
However, a lack of cash meant it was 10 years before they were able to get stuck into renovating. "The longer we lived here the more we realised it wasn't going to be a quick tidy-up but a major rebuild that wouldn't be cheap," says Tracy.
The couple lived without hot running water in the kitchen for a decade, which shocked their friends. "When we bought the house it was one of those things we didn't check – you just assume there's hot water. There was a tap after all," says Tracy.
A plumber delivered the bad news – if they wanted hot water in the kitchen, they'd have to rip up the flooring in the living room, which they knew would be extended down the track.
"Rather than do it twice we decided it would have to wait," says Tracy. "We boiled a lot of jugs of water over those 10 years."
They roughed it, too, in the old lean-to bathroom. "The shower was held together with marine glue and an old tarp that a mate rigged up for us," says Tracy, although a $30 Trade Me shub made things marginally more convenient a few years later.
All this would change though. In 2015, the planets aligned when Derek was offered redundancy from the Dominion Post newspaper. "Not only had we saved enough by then, it also meant I could project manage the renovation," says Derek, who is now a bulletin editor for Radio New Zealand.
Tracy had long been a fan of interior designer Sandy Palmer, so they enlisted her help. The brief was simple: demolish the lean-to, push back the western wall by 3.6m and open up the pokey back rooms to create a large, light-filled kitchen, dining and living space. This is now the heart of the home, anchored by a 3m-long island topped with the largest piece of continuous engineered stone available.
The free-standing pantry was controversial. Sandy snapped up the vintage Chinese doors and suggested building a cabinet around them, but Tracy wasn't convinced.
"I couldn't see how they would work with the kitchen we wanted. But Sandy asked us to trust her and the cabinet has now become a focal point."
Other recycled and vintage finds include the laundry shelves, which came from a French railway station (via So Vintage in Hawke's Bay). The laundry window was spotted by Derek in a Nelson salvage yard while en route to the airport.
One of the major bugbears of the unrenovated house was its lack of storage, so Sandy borrowed space from the bathroom to incorporate wardrobes in the master bedroom. The wardrobe doors came from an old church in Nelson.
Because of the proportions of the new open plan area, the couple needed big pieces that, as Derek says, "don't look like doll's furniture". That includes the 2.8m dining table bought on sale at Kirkcaldie & Stains and mismatched vintage French chairs. An elegant console started life as a massage table. "Wellington joiners Fox & Table replaced the top with matai from the old Whitcoulls building in Lambton Quay," says Derek.
They love the way the new living area has opened up the back of the house, which used to be blocked off by the old lean-to. "It's so light and spacious and airy," says Tracy. The extensive art collection is mostly on loan from friend Simon Wilson who is overseas.
But it's the warmth and comfort of their renovated home that's been a revelation. "It was a beautiful house but had wooden floors and no insulation. I get up at 5am every morning to go to the gym and some mornings it was just painful," says Tracy.
"Some nights before the house was renovated I used to get home and turn on my electric blanket and just crawl into bed, it was so cold." These days, however: "Walking through the front door at night is just heaven."
They couple have now finished the last phase of their monster do-up – landscaping the garden so that the whole back of the house can be thrown open.
"Now we just want to sit back and enjoy it. This house has been a long time coming," says Derek.
- NZ House & Garden