Garage home eventually leads to beachfront bliss.
The bite of an icy Dunedin winter can often leave people dreaming of summer days.
And when you’re living in a converted garage with an outdoor loo, it’s only natural your mind should wander to a warmer place.
But for 18 months, Tess Dibley, 34, and Zac Williams, 30, endured just that while they built themselves a new home in the latest season of Grand Designs.
“We were very much of the view that we were working towards something and I think that made everything a bit easier,” says Dibley, who left Melbourne to join Williams in chilly Otago.
So how did Williams convince her to do that?
“We met in Wanaka and it’s a beautiful part of the world,” says Williams. “(It’s) very easy to show off the country when you’re up that way and so I said, ‘Let’s have a go at it’.
“Back then obviously a house build wasn’t talked about but she did fall in love with the area.”
Fast-forward four years and the couple have just woken up in their new beachfront dream home complete with a two-metre-long fireplace, triple-glazed windows and lots and lots of insulation.
“It’s very, very different to what life has been like up until now,” says Williams.
The house, inspired by a bach at the settlement of Taieri Mouth which Williams worked on as a building apprentice, and drawn by the same architect, is right on the frontline of Dunedin’s dramatic Brighton Beach.
“It’s a bit stormy, it’s pretty rough and the breakers are pretty close over a small tussock-covered bit of land,” says Williams.
A stone’s throw down the road is Williams’ mother’s building site which was formerly home to the couple’s minor dwelling.
While living there, not only was builder Williams working on his own house to share with Dibley, but his small building company had been hired by his mum to realise another dream home 12 years in the making.
“To do your first major big one out on your own for your parents is pretty cool. You see them work for 10 years really hard to save up to build it so I’m very aware of what’s gone into saving for it above all.”
Fitting in his own build with Dibley around day jobs was no easy feat and the couple would often be found working nights and on weekends.
“It’s a pretty exposed kind of site as well as lots of sleet and rain and wind which made it all very challenging,” says Dibley.
But what materialised was a 167sqm place to call home consisting of two very exposed glass gables either side, joined by a flatroof link that acts as the dining area between the living room and master bedroom.
With neighbours only on one side of the house, privacy is a non-issue and Williams describes waking up to the view as “stunning”.
Nothing short of the Kiwi dream and being such a young couple, how they did it may leave many people scratching their heads.
“We never paid for any labour in building the house and if we did then the house would have cost maybe $200,000 more.
“Because we did everything from digging to putting insulation in which took us over a month we were able to cut a lot of costs.”
He also says because it’s Dunedin, house prices are nothing like they are in Auckland.
Rather than buying a house good to go, Williams found reward in having his craftmanship on display.
“There’s elements through the house that we both love,” says Williams. “Like the floors are Tasmanian oak and she’s from Tasmania.”
And while Dibley says she knew the house was going to be beautiful, there was one thing she needed.
“One of the things Zac said was, ‘What do you want?’ And what was quite unique to me is that I wanted a bookshelf,” says Dibley.
Now that the build is over, Dibley has got her bookshelf and is keen to enjoy the outdoor living areas with the books she has been collecting since she moved here. Williams, on the other hand, will be venturing away.
“I ride mountain bikes a lot so the last couple of years I haven’t done as much of that so I’m really excited to get back and do what we used to do in the weekends.”
Neither Williams nor Dibley is in a rush to do it all over again.
“We never built it to sell or to change or anything,” says Williams. “But as a job I’d do it again. Tess won’t.”
“No!” she confirms.
“Because we did everything from digging to putting insulation in which took us over a month we were able to cut a lot of costs.” – Zac Williams (right) with Tess Dibley