Google was their friend when a capable couple built their own home in Gibbston Valley.
A Central Otago couple decided to buy land just seven weeks after meeting... and now they adore the place they built together
Shelley and Neil Chilton’s story reads like a romance novel. They met seven years ago. Just seven weeks into their long distance relationship (Neil was based in Arrowtown, Shelley in Invercargill) they decided to buy a property together.
“Everyone was like ‘whoa, slow down,’ but we knew what we wanted. We were just waiting for them to catch up,” says Shelley.
They bought a 1.4ha slice of Central Otago’s Gibbston Valley, which had been subdivided mostly into 8ha lots. Shelley and Neil bought one of the two smaller plots, their size limited because the historic stone fences surrounding it were unable to be divided.
An ambitious new build followed, with Shelley and Neil determined to do most of the work themselves. At this point in a classic romance novel, conflict would ensue, but the Chilton’s bypassed that chapter.
“I have the ideas and he makes it work,” says Shelley. “So we’re the perfect match.” >
“Shelley is instinctive, she never sleeps on a decision,” says Neil. “There were never any dramas, there was never a day that was a drudge.”
Their plans included a main house with one bedroom, just for them, and a guest house for family, which they tackled first – to test their building skills before they embarked on their own home. They guest house has a coastal look, so they named it The Boathouse, even though there’s no sea or boat in sight.
When family and friends didn’t use it as much as anticipated, the couple put The Boathouse on Airbnb. It’s been so popular that friends now have to get in early if they want to visit.
Shelley owns a fashion store and Neil’s a musician, so they had the flexibility to put in long days on site. Shelley was happy to swap her dresses and heels for gumboots and overalls and pick up a paint roller. Neil got to grips with gibbing, plastering and concreting. Google was their not-so-secret weapon during the build, along with YouTube clips on how to gib and plaster.
“We’re the sort of people who like to do things on our own,” Shelley says.
After a long day on site, they didn’t collapse with exhaustion in front of the TV. “We’d finish the day, grab a bottle of wine and take it down to the house, put some music on, light some candles and just enjoy our achievements,” says Shelley.
One of Neil’s most gruelling jobs was refinishing 3000m of salvaged kauri after the Christchurch earthquake. He handsanded the lot to use as flooring for the entire house. >
A romance story isn’t complete without a wedding, and so halfway through the build Neil and Shelley got married. “The house was just a shell, so the day after the wedding we put a barbecue inside and everyone came for a party. It was so much fun,” says Shelley.
Although the house was finished in 2014, there are more improvements planned. Plans to put in an outdoor bath are in the works, as well as a pond for a new flock of Peking ducks, after their last brood was killed by a ferret.
Visitors to the house can’t believe it’s new. That’s exactly the reaction Shelley hoped for. “I love a house with soul, and things that aren’t too polished.” Light fittings came from France, Amsterdam and the Invercargill tip shop. “It’s not all about getting the best and most expensive, it’s about getting the look.”
Now that the build is over, Shelley and Neil are happy to indulge in a sleep-in. They particularly love their bedroom, which takes up the entire top floor. “We’re in our fifties, why not treat ourselves?” says Shelley. There’s nothing like lying back on their pillows and looking at the mountains, and only rolling out of bed when they want to.
When they do, it’s straight to work. “We love to get outside, there’s always plenty to do around the property,” says Neil.
Surrounded by paddocks, hills, vineyards and vast skies, their location looks as though it’s been plucked from the pages of a novel. And they know it: “We pinch ourselves every day, and most of the people who live around here feel the same. We all walk around with smiles on our faces.”
THIS PAGE (clockwise from top left) Shelley loves to collect old French pots; the fireplace was a $40 find that they stripped back and painted, the gas fire itself came second-hand from the Lyttelton police station. Dudley and Airedale Freda sit in the door leading to the entrance; the indoor window was salvaged after the Christchurch earthquake. Shelley and Neil’s electrician breathed a sigh of relief when he was given the kitchen lights to hang and wire – they’re the only new light fittings in the house.OPPOSITE Shelley picked up the French window shutters from Den of Antiquity in Queenstown and Neil cut them down to make them fit; the chandelier was found on Trade Me – it’s from Amsterdam and the previous owner had it for 50 years.
THIS PAGE Shelley spied a broken chandelier on the floor in a closeddown store; she tracked down the owner who gave it to her along with three others; she then used all four broken chandeliers to make one for their bedroom – it took the electrician all day to wire and set it up. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top left) Shelley and Neil Chilton in their bedroom, it’s 64sqm and, along with a walk-in wardrobe and en suite bathroom, takes up the entire top floor. The lights hanging in their bathroom were collected from the Invercargill tip shop; they had the vanity custom made to fit the “old piece of marble” and ceramic bowls Shelley found. The laundry is just off the kitchen and features more tip shop lights. The stairwell posts had been sitting in Shelley’s garage for 29 years; Shelley and Neil had to google how to build a staircase: “We also had our builder friends who we would call up to ask advice and borrow their tools. If we were really stuck they would come over and help us out.”
THIS PAGE One of the historic stone walls borders the vegetable garden; when the Chiltons first bought the land, they put a small kitchen in the greenhouse beside the vege garden and parked a Kombi van outside to use when they visited. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top left) A small verandah leading off Shelley and Neil’s bedroom sits above the entrance to the house; they love to fling their bedroom doors open and look at the mountains. Shelley likes to let the garden “ramble and seed” on its own. They chose stone paths for a natural look. The Boathouse can be glimpsed just behind the main house; the Chiltons built the large stone walls themselves with rock from the property.