A year’s grace
There was no buying and flicking on for these first-home buyers who instead chose to lavish some longterm love on an old Christchurch villa
Sometimes renovation is about knowing what to keep as well as what to rip out – Gail Harris originally wanted to chop down the cherry tree in her front yard (pictured top right) but her mum told her to give it a year. Now its pink spring blossom is the centrepiece of her formal garden.
When love kicks in, there’s no turning back. In 1998 Gail and Cory Harris were young and dating when they spotted their dream cottage for sale in the leafy Christchurch suburb of Beckenham. At that time they didn’t know that the tree-lined avenue was renowned for its superb, faithfully restored villas but, stepping inside at that first open home, Gail knew she’d found her ideal home.
“I came through and I just fell for it, quite quickly, quite heavily. I was so keen to get it that I knocked over all the Open Home signs on the path as we left, just in case someone else came along and wanted it as much as I did,” Gail laughs. She also bought her first ever lottery ticket that night in the hope it would enable her and Cory to get on the property ladder. She did not win the lottery, but somehow the pair managed to buy the home of her dreams.
The previous owner was a builder-developer who had subdivided the property for a townhouse development at the rear. “He had literally dipped the house in cream paint, inside and out. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it,” Gail recalls. “Before we took possession, we’d take sandwiches and sit in our car over the road and talk about all the things we were going to do.” A mass of architecturally inappropriate changes had been made to the home over many years by various owners, and the garden was unkempt.
But Gail and Cory could see beyond the faults. “I have always loved villas and I saw the potential straight away. I never noticed the children’s swim school next door, the kindergarten opposite and the primary school over the rear boundary of the original site. At the time, we didn’t have children,” says Gail. These were all neighbourhood bonuses that would become obvious later.