Views of city lights and country starry skies mean a Tau­ranga cou­ple have the best of both worlds.

A new home’s ru­ral set­ting is just right for a cou­ple who aim to live off the land while run­ning their busi­ness from home


‘Those who don’t be­lieve in magic will never find it,” says a framed Roald Dahl quo­ta­tion hang­ing on Ni­cola and Ben Smith’s bath­room wall. Ni­cola and Ben are be­liev­ers, and have cre­ated their own slice of ru­ral magic down a cherry blos­som lined drive­way high in the hills about Tau­ranga.

Their new ar­chi­tec­turally de­signed home has ex­pan­sive views – tak­ing in the Kaimai range, rolling coun­try­side, Mauao (Mt Maun­ganui) and the ocean be­yond. The one-hectare block has plenty of room for Ni­cola’s two horses, Elly their cavoo­dle and seven free-rang­ing chick­ens, as well as a dres­sage arena and sta­ble block, raised veg­etable beds and fruit trees.

The cou­ple moved into a car­a­van on the land two years ago while their house was be­ing built, and then into a shed that later mor­phed into part of the sta­ble block.

Those days were both busy and heady, as they run their fit­ness­based busi­ness from home, have horses to ex­er­cise and did all the land­scap­ing them­selves. They used a hum­ble wheel­bar­row to move a mon­u­men­tal amount of soil, put in 3000 plants and dug holes for fence posts. Ben even did all the fenc­ing. It was very “ar­ti­san”, he says mod­estly.

Get­ting the land­scap­ing fin­ished was a pri­or­ity, par­tic­u­larly as they were keen to be eat­ing their own pro­duce – from three raised potager beds and nu­mer­ous fruit trees. >

Grow­ing their own food is part of a wider vi­sion, as the cou­ple as­pire to live off the land and off the grid. So­lar panel in­stal­la­tion is part of their long-term plans, but they al­ready col­lect rain­wa­ter, have a sus­tain­able sew­er­age and plumb­ing sys­tem, and water their trees with piped grey water.

Words like sus­tain­able and en­ergy-ef­fi­cient were dot­ted through the de­sign brief the cou­ple gave to ar­chi­tec­tural de­signer Adam Taylor. He sug­gested cladding their home in poly­styrene sheets filled with con­crete, cre­at­ing a solid con­crete mass that’s ex­cel­lent for heat re­ten­tion, as well as us­ing ar­gon gas in­su­la­tion in the home’s stacker doors. He also ori­en­tated the house to the north.

“It’s like hav­ing a house wrapped in cot­ton wool,” Ni­cola says. “It’s ther­mally wrapped, and the sun heats the con­crete floors.”

Covenants de­creed their house needed to be at least 175sqm, and theirs is a smidge big­ger. De­signed with two pavil­ions feed­ing off the en­trance area, it has three bed­rooms, two bath­rooms, two of­fices and has been de­signed so it can eas­ily be ex­tended in the fu­ture. There are thoughts of a big­ger din­ing space, dou­ble garag­ing and maybe a guest wing.

In the in­terim, the fre­quently used out­door seat­ing area – with pizza oven, out­door fridge and built-in gas bar­be­cue – pro­vides an­other liv­ing space. Come sum­mer­time this area will be warmed by an out­door fire­place – per­fect for a cou­ple who revel in ru­ral life.

Their new home base ful­fils dreams that filled Ni­cola’s head when, as a teenager, she rode her horse on Golden Bay’s beaches. Ni­cola says it was a “dream come true” when Ben had fin­ished the fenc­ing and her horse Lucy could join them, along with her new horse Leo. >

Run­ning their busi­ness from home means roomy and fresh of­fices (one each) were a must in their new home. Ni­cola and Ben own Forever­, which streams work­outs into your liv­ing room, and in­cludes a horse-rider fit­ness pro­gramme.

That these uni­ver­sity sweet­hearts ended up with a fit­ness busi­ness is no sur­prise, as Ni­cola stud­ied sport sci­ence and Ben mar­ket­ing. He also made a name for him­self on the rugby field, play­ing in the same rugby team as the other Ben Smith (the All Black) at Otago Uni­ver­sity. He was a mem­ber of the Steam­ers and went on to play pro­fes­sion­ally for Calvisano in Italy. Dur­ing their four years in Italy, Ni­cola and Ben started their busi­ness, al­though things were a lit­tle more rudi­men­tary back then.

“I re­mem­ber tack­ing up a white sheet on our apart­ment wall as a back­drop for our filmed work­out ses­sions,” Ni­cola says.

Me­men­toes of those Ital­ian days hang on the walls of the spare bed­room – black and white photographs that Ni­cola bought dur­ing am­bles through mar­kets.

Ben and Ni­cola’s decor style is big on the nat­u­ral el­e­ments. There are cowhide and sisal mats, sheep­skin throws, linen fur­nish­ings, and both the liv­ing and me­dia rooms fea­ture teak tree stumps used as cof­fee ta­bles. There’s no need to go far for fire­wood as it’s stored un­der the black steel bench the fire sits on. Handy, plus it adds to the rus­tic am­bi­ence.

It’s that com­bi­na­tion of ru­ral ap­peal, as well as not be­ing too far from the city, that’s part of this home’s magic. Ben re­calls their first night at the prop­erty. Up un­til then they had only vis­ited dur­ing the day, so the view of both stars and city lights “blew us away. It was a very cool sur­prise.”

THESE PAGES Mod­ern, roomy and with a fire­place… these were all on Ni­cola and Ben Smith’s wish-list for their new build in Tau­ranga, and Irene James from Sab­bia De­sign helped them pull it all to­gether; the kitchen over­looks this seat­ing area in the open-plan main liv­ing area; the art in this room, and the me­dia room be­yond, was bought on a trip to Bali.

THIS PAGE Adam Taylor Ar­chi­tec­ture de­signed the house, JBH Build­ing con­structed it, but Ben’s happy to have played a ma­jor role in build­ing the per­gola; Ni­cola says her hus­band has learned to love and un­der­stand her horses; horn­beam trees line this av­enue lead­ing to the dres­sage arena. OPPOSITE (clock­wise from top left) The chick­ens have plenty of room to range – the thriv­ing veg­etable beds are a favourite spot. Ni­cola has many happy places on her prop­erty and this is one of them; Tau­ranga land­scape de­signer Michelle McDon­nell helped Ni­cola and Ben with their land­scap­ing de­ci­sions. Ben with his pizza oven; an out­door fire­place is next on the list.

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