Who needs more?

The mod­est size of this new-build is not just about bud­get but also ef­fi­ciency, run­ning costs and liv­ing with just a lit­tle less

Your Home and Garden - - Contents - Text by Sharon Stephen­son. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Guy Fred­er­ick.

This mod­est yet stylish Wanaka new-build is just right for a fam­ily of five

Given the choice, most of us would prob­a­bly pre­fer not to spend too much time in the laun­dry. Leigh Cooper, how­ever, doesn’t mind lin­ger­ing in the sun-splashed laun­dry of the Wanaka home she and her hus­band, Nathan, built last year.

It’s easy to see why: Leigh’s previous laun­dry was lo­cated in an unin­su­lated garage and dur­ing cold south­ern win­ters the pipes would of­ten freeze. “It cer­tainly wasn’t fun do­ing the wash­ing in those con­di­tions,” laughs the mother-of-three.

Apart from an in­ter­nal laun­dry, the cou­ple’s wish­list for their new, 182-square-me­tre home in­cluded three bed­rooms, an of­fice space for Leigh’s graphic de­sign busi­ness and an en­suite. “My of­fice was pre­vi­ously the kitchen ta­ble, which isn’t a good way to work,” she says.


This is the sec­ond house the cou­ple have built, so they had a pretty good idea of how the process works. Both love ar­chi­tec­ture and have the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of skills: an artis­tic eye (Leigh) and build­ing abil­ity (Nathan, who works as a joiner).

There was cer­tainly room to build a big­ger house on the 900-square-me­tre sec­tion, but the cou­ple say they had a bud­get to stick to, and a more com­pact house is cheaper to main­tain and run, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing Wanaka win­ters. “One thing about build­ing smaller is you get used to liv­ing with less – ie we don’t need lots of toys or 20 tow­els or two couches. We find it a much bet­ter way to live,” says Leigh.

Nathan loves old barns and the cou­ple de­signed the house them­selves around this con­cept. They then called in Stonewood Homes, who had built their previous house a few streets away, to make their dream a re­al­ity.

Nat­u­rally, Nathan did all the join­ery work, which in­cluded the kitchen, laun­dry and bath­room cab­i­netry and the Tas­ma­nian oak win­dow and door­frames.


Although grate­ful for the ad­van­tages of mod­ern build­ings such as in­su­la­tion, dou­ble glaz­ing and heat­ing, both Nathan and Leigh love char­ac­ter homes, es­pe­cially vil­las, so were keen to in­cor­po­rate some of those fea­tures into the new house.

That in­cludes the colo­nial-style skirt­ing and ar­chi­traves, which took Nathan a week to in­stall, as well as tongue-and-groove doors. Nathan spent a good year painstak­ingly sourc­ing vin­tage spur win­dow catches and solid brass door­knobs on­line and at garage sales to en­sure their home had char­ac­ter.

“So many new-builds are lack­ing in char­ac­ter, but by in­cor­po­rat­ing these classic el­e­ments we’ve man­aged to bring in an­other layer of in­ter­est,” he says.

Ex­ter­nally, the house is thor­oughly con­tem­po­rary, with black Colorsteel cladding that was not only kind on the cou­ple’s pocket but also their time. “It doesn’t need oil­ing or paint­ing and is pretty much ze­ro­main­te­nance,” says Nathan.


In or­der to maximise their bud­get, the cou­ple opted for an open-plan liv­ing, din­ing and kitchen area. It also suits a grow­ing fam­ily bet­ter (the cou­ple have three girls, Madi­son, 8, Har­riet, 6, and Char­lotte, 3). “We spend a lot of time to­gether as a fam­ily so it was im­por­tant to have this re­lax­ing, open space,” says Leigh.

The white­washed liv­ing room was built around a long (2.1 me­tres) leather sofa, which the cou­ple bought be­fore the house was even built. “I had it in stor­age for a year, but know­ing its di­men­sions meant we could de­sign the space to suit it,” says Leigh.

Be­hind the kitchen is the but­ler’s pantry-cum­laun­dry, po­si­tioned for easy ac­cess to a wash­ing line that Nathan has con­cealed be­hind a slat­ted wooden fence. Nathan also made the black­board out­side this util­ity area, which keeps track of the gro­cery list and dis­plays the girls’ art­work.

In line with their de­sire for a small­ish house, the cou­ple de­signed one of the bed­rooms to com­fort­ably fit two sin­gle beds. “Har­riet and Char­lotte love shar­ing a room and it’s a great bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for them,” says Leigh.


The cou­ple’s affin­ity for pre-loved and vin­tage style can be seen ev­ery­where, from the wooden skis on the liv­ing room wall that Nathan found lo­cally, to the mid-cen­tury mod­ern Don Fur­ni­ture chair that Leigh paid $30 for at a garage sale (it has been re­uphol­stered in a char­coal wool fab­ric by a friend). An­other old arm­chair was a $40 Trade Me find and is des­tined to be re­uphol­stered, too.

Nathan’s hand­i­work is also ev­i­dent through­out the house, from the rus­tic, re­cy­cledrimu stools in the liv­ing room, to the cou­ple’s bed and the 1930s din­ing chairs, gifted by friends, which he sanded back and re-cov­ered.

Although oper­at­ing on quite a tight bud­get, the cou­ple man­aged to splurge on light­ing, in­clud­ing the three black metal pen­dants above the kitchen bench, which they sourced on­line from Paeroa light­ing spe­cial­ists Mr Ralph.

An­other trea­sured piece is an art­work from Auck­land artist Flox, with whom Leigh did an illustration course a few years ago. “I’d like to do more of my own art be­cause there are a lot of walls in this house to fill!” she says.


Although the build took slightly longer than an­tic­i­pated (for­tu­nately the fam­ily was able to live in Leigh’s par­ents’ nearby hol­i­day home for the du­ra­tion), the cou­ple say the process went smoothly and they love their new house. “There are still a few land­scap­ing projects to sort out, but we are so glad to be in here. We love the house and the com­mu­nity and don’t see our­selves mov­ing any time soon,” says Leigh.


> Find out the ‘square me­tre build rate’ be­fore you start de­sign­ing the house. This gives you a ba­sic idea of how much you can af­ford to build. Also talk to your bank to see how much you can com­fort­ably bor­row.

> Keep a note­book/diary doc­u­ment­ing all dis­cus­sions with trades­peo­ple; just be­cause it has been dis­cussed doesn’t mean it will hap­pen that way! Sim­ple things – like the way the floor­ing planks run, the po­si­tion of heated towel rails or the place­ment of taps – can end up dif­fer­ent to what was dis­cussed. So doc­u­ment ev­ery­thing.

> When de­cid­ing on room size, mea­sure ex­ist­ing rooms that you like the size of and think about the fur­ni­ture that will fit into that space. We made mock-up draw­ings to scale which gave us a bet­ter idea of room size.

> In a smaller house you re­ally have to think about stor­age. This in­cludes the at­tic space and how you can utilise it. We put in at­tic trusses which al­lowed us to have am­ple stor­age in our roof space.

> Take your time with the fin­ish­ing de­tails – eg light fix­tures which can re­ally make a house. Keep paint and floor­ing sam­ples for a few days and place them in dif­fer­ent lights as they can change. Choose your floor­ing, wall colours and cur­tains at the same time as this way the com­bi­na­tion works bet­ter.



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