A mod­ern cube ex­ten­sion brings new life to a Whanganui villa.

A slow ren­o­va­tion of this 1908 villa cul­mi­nates in a high-con­trast con­tem­po­rary kitchen ex­ten­sion


Rain fell so fiercely the day con­crete steps were poured for An­drew Tripe and Carolyn Nick­lin’s Whanganui house that parts of the sur­round­ing town flooded. It was al­ready a lousy win­ter to ren­o­vate – the wettest on record – but June 2015 was es­pe­cially mem­o­rable.

Dur­ing this par­tic­u­lar del­uge, the city’s iconic river burst its banks and builders work­ing on the cou­ple’s hill­side fam­ily home in­sisted An­drew sign a waiver ab­solv­ing them if the con­crete failed to set.

A faint out­line of rain­drops re­mains etched into the in­ter­nal step that con­nects an orig­i­nal sec­tion of the house with a new ad­di­tion. “It’s all part of the story,” An­drew says, shrug­ging off the im­per­fec­tion.

And this home has gath­ered plenty of tales, in­clud­ing sev­eral re­vealed by an el­derly stranger who knocked on the door and ex­plained he had lived in the house as a boy. As he told it, a .22 ri­fle was once used to rid the chim­ney of a pos­sum, and the mys­te­ri­ous ad­ja­cent build­ing was not the school­house the fam­ily had thought but a bil­liard room built in 1912, com­plete with re­in­forced floor and a view­ing plat­form for ob­servers. >

The Nick­lin-Tripe chap­ter of the story be­gan in Man­gawhai Heads where the cou­ple lived be­fore mov­ing to Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia with their chil­dren Jonty, now 14, Theo, 12, and Phoebe, nine.

For­mer Whanganui farm boy An­drew had no plans to re­turn to his roots un­til a fam­ily Christ­mas visit with his father in 2009. They were al­ready feel­ing a pull back across the Tas­man and con­sid­er­ing rais­ing their off­spring in a smaller, qui­eter place. With a start, they re­alised they had found what they were look­ing for in Whanganui.

“This city ticks all the boxes,” An­drew says. “It’s a bril­liant place to raise a fam­ily and have a fan­tas­tic, easy life­style. The schools are among the best in New Zealand, it has a sense of his­tory and her­itage.”

Within months, they had lo­cated a sec­tion be­side Vir­ginia Lake, bought it by phone from Mel­bourne, moved the fam­ily into a Whanganui rental prop­erty and en­gaged an ar­chi­tect.

Soon af­ter, they re­alised their build­ing plans were not the best op­tion. The sec­tion that had seemed gen­er­ous by Mel­bourne stan­dards felt in­creas­ingly in­ad­e­quate for three grow­ing chil­dren, two of whom were sports-mad boys.

So when this old villa in St Johns Hill ap­peared on the mar­ket, they pounced. The four-bed­room, 3.5-bath­room prop­erty in­cluded sprawl­ing 5500sqm grounds with a ten­nis court, pool and a rab­bit hutch.

Ren­o­va­tion dis­cus­sions be­gan im­me­di­ately. Carolyn, who de­signs jew­ellery that she sells through Whanganui’s Sar­jeant Gallery, had quite grand ideas re­gard­ing the ren­o­va­tion and wanted to fin­ish ev­ery­thing be­fore they moved in. Man­age­ment con­sul­tant An­drew, mean­while, was stick­ing by his favourite Latin proverb: fes­tina lente, make haste slowly.

In ret­ro­spect, Carolyn agrees they needed to think care­fully about their al­ter­ations. How­ever, there was no ques­tion the un­usual bath­room off the mas­ter bed­room needed to change: ac­cess to the so-called en suite was through an ex­te­rior door. Then a tiny low-ceilinged room full of rab­bit food was con­verted to a walk in wardrobe, be­fore they pol­ished the kauri floor­boards, tore down shred­ded cur­tains and re­painted. >

The for­mal din­ing room, on the other hand, de­manded preser­va­tion so they even­tu­ally con­verted the space to an of­fice and li­brary.

Al­though there was noth­ing charm­ing about the ex­ist­ing draughty, lean-to kitchen, a series of un­ex­pected de­lays meant they lived with it for three years. Dur­ing that time, only one stove el­e­ment worked prop­erly, a sec­ond el­e­ment op­er­ated only on max­i­mum and the cook had to lean on the oven door to keep it closed.

“On a win­ter’s day it would be two or three de­grees Cel­sius in there and the wind would whis­tle through it,” Carolyn says. “Ev­ery win­ter I said I’m never do­ing an­other win­ter in this kitchen. It’s amaz­ing what you can learn to live with.”

Af­ter much dis­cus­sion, the cou­ple de­cided the best way to in­te­grate the new kitchen with the rest of the house was to opt for bla­tant con­trast. Hav­ing re­alised the chim­ney was an earth­quake risk, they hit on the idea of reusing the bricks to en­case the kitchen and din­ing area in a kind of brick cube.

An­drew, who re­mem­bers vis­it­ing brick­works with his grand­fa­ther at age five, knew they would have no trou­ble sourc­ing more bricks lo­cally.

But first they had to scrub them clean. “We did it the first time, and then, be­cause of all the de­lays, they got mould on them and we had to do it again,” says Carolyn. “It was one of the hard­est, skin-tear­ing, back-break­ing jobs.”

To them, the re­sult­ing struc­ture was ab­so­lutely worth the pain. “We love it,” says Carolyn. “I love the way it con­nects the house. It’s a piece of art in it­self.”

THIS PAGE An art­work by Fleur Wickes on dis­play in the for­mal lounge; a BoCon­cept sofa fits the whole fam­ily for movie night (and for watch­ing cricket and rugby). OP­PO­SITE (clock­wise from top left) The rimu-lined for­mer bil­liards room is fit­ted with built-in beds and is used as the kids’ hang­out. The orig­i­nal bil­lards scoreboard and rules of the game pro­vide a re­minder of the room’s his­tory. The ad­di­tion to the house steps down into the kitchen via a glass-pan­elled walk­way. For­mer oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist Carolyn in her work­room; she and a friend started their jew­ellery busi­ness Knock-Knock De­sign three years ago.

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