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.