Grand Designs NZ: 'Rescued' villa pops up in Central Otago landscape gallery video

Relocating an 1880s Christchurch villa to Central Otago was a labour of love for Jamie and Melissa McMurtrie, seen here ...
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Relocating an 1880s Christchurch villa to Central Otago was a labour of love for Jamie and Melissa McMurtrie, seen here with Grand Designs host Chris Moller.

Queenstown boasts some of our most spectacular scenery, but the rugged landscape is the last place you'd expect to find a two-storey Queen Anne villa with a turret.

On Grand Designs NZ this week, builder and paragliding pilot Jamie McMurtrie and wife Melissa embark on a major rescue mission – relocating such a villa to the magnificent Gibbston Valley.

They've already relocated two villas to the valley, from the rubble of the Christchurch earthquakes, and Jamie wishes they could have saved them all.

The Queen Anne-style villa has been compromised with shallower gables and a less pointy turret, but it's still an ...
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The Queen Anne-style villa has been compromised with shallower gables and a less pointy turret, but it's still an unexpected sight in this landscape.

"We were watching a digger smash a beautiful old house into tiny little pieces, and we both kind of went, 'we should have one of those before they destroy them all'."

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The sheer scale of the project was especially daunting for the owners and builders.
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The sheer scale of the project was especially daunting for the owners and builders.

Having blown the budget on relocating the last villa, they want to do it all again on a block of land next door. Well, actually, they decide to build new and fill the house with old items, such as stained glass windows and a beautiful wood staircase.

Which is how they happen to go shopping for an antique staircase and end up buying the whole house, as is, where is – an ornate Queen Anne-style villa in central Christchurch, which was built in the late 1800s for a "gentleman". It costs them $16,000.

The house has been doctored, badly, over the years, but the McMurtries are shown a picture of the original version, and they both go "wow". And that's how this project starts.

The McMurtries, with daugher Daisy and Moller, stand on the staircase that sparked the whole project - it came with ...
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The McMurtries, with daugher Daisy and Moller, stand on the staircase that sparked the whole project - it came with house attached.

"Somehow we wing it, and there's never really a budget involved," says Melissa. "No budget, and no time plan," agrees Jamie. Well, that sounds like a recipe for disaster – it's surely one of the reasons they found themselves wanting to downsize a mortgage with the last villa.

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"If we're going to put too much of a cap on things, we could do the house a disservice," says Melissa.

It's great to see the son of the former owners, Tom Brodie, who grew up in the house, helping out with the deconstruction. He admits pulling the family home apart is a bit like "putting down a family pet, but to know it's going to be reborn makes it worthwhile".

The house eventually makes it over to the picturesque Gibbston Valley, despite a series of hold-ups. There are nerve-wracking scenes of the house tilting on the back of the truck, and squeezing close to the rock face in the gorge.

Jamie McMurtrie had to design the turret as he went.
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Jamie McMurtrie had to design the turret as he went.

COUNCIL HAS A SAY

And this is where is gets interesting. Like the other two villas, this huge old house has been relocated from a built-up area in the middle of a city. And very slowly (putting together an "antique kitset" is a story in itself), the house pops up in the middle of the Central Otago landscape, looking completely out of place.

We are not surprised the couple had trouble getting a consent from the local council, which is focused on preserving the natural, rugged character of the landscape. The negotiations were eventually resolved with compromises on both sides – the roof and turret are lower than the original, so the proportions are altered substantially.

The turret room is a parents' retreat.
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The turret room is a parents' retreat.

Still, it's a weird thing to see a two-storey villa such as this sitting in this landscape. Of course, there are many grand villas in the countryside, but invariably they are surrounded by mature trees and extensive planting. We have never seen them when they were "new". And never in this rugged mountain landscape.

What does host Chris Moller think of it? He thinks the council's height restrictions have cast it into "an architectural no-man's land". True architect that he is, he wonders if the house might be more offensive to passers-by with its proportions altered, than it would have been otherwise.

"It feels already as though it's struggling to fit in," says Moller. "I worry that it might never look like it belongs."

On the inside, the grand proportions remain.
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On the inside, the grand proportions remain.

But back he comes a year later and he finds it "breathtaking", although the roof and turret still bug him (and us), because, of course, architecture is all about good proportions. But the grand circular driveway is a good start in terms of the landscaping. 

Inside, there are plenty of recycled features that look amazing, including those stairs, the mosaic floor tiles and a large table built from old off-cuts. Every room tells a story, and every room has a "knock-out view". 

This couple are clearly talented, and they have done an amazing job creating a family home for infant daughters Daisy and Matilda. They have no regrets, even though their non-existent budget is double what they thought they would have spent. And they haven't ruled out doing it again.

Recycled elements, including the bricks in this chimney, feature throughout the house.
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Recycled elements, including the bricks in this chimney, feature throughout the house.

But are they thinking more villas? The question has to be asked: Should this really be the changing face of architecture in Central Otago?

Grand Designs NZ screens on Three on Tuesdays, 7.30pm

Every room has a stunning view.
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Every room has a stunning view.

Melissa McMurtie's flair for interior design is evident throughout the home.
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Melissa McMurtie's flair for interior design is evident throughout the home.

 - Homed

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