A sim­ple Raglan bach re­minds its owner of happy English hol­i­days and cre­ates new mem­o­ries for the next gen­er­a­tion


Neigh­bours used to call Har­riet Di Maio’s cot­tage “that hor­ri­ble or­ange bach”. They can’t say that any more. Since buy­ing the ram­shackle home 10 years ago, Har­riet and her hus­band Gio­vanni have lov­ingly re­stored it, keep­ing the cool retro vibe while elim­i­nat­ing all signs of or­ange.

Har­riet, an in­te­rior de­signer, and Gio­vanni, a builder, are the sort of peo­ple who love to look at houses and dream. When Har­riet’s fa­ther died they in­vested the money he be­queathed her in a lit­tle place by the sea. Raglan, with its wild beaches, is just an hour away from their home in the Waikato town of Cam­bridge. And that hor­ri­ble or­ange bach was the fi­nal house the real es­tate agent showed them af­ter a long day of see­ing noth­ing that ap­pealed.

“We loved it straight away,” re­calls Har­riet. “We couldn’t even go in­side be­cause they didn’t have a key so we just stood on the rick­ety deck and looked at the in­cred­i­ble view.”

In­side there was a lot more or­ange – cur­tains and car­pet. The place was cramped, the shower was in the kitchen, and the win­dow frames were rot­ting. But it was north-fac­ing and warm, with­out a hint of damp, and to Har­riet it just felt right.

“Af­ter we’d bought it we used to drive out some­times just to sit on the deck and have a pic­nic and then go home again,” she says. >

Fam­ily and friends pitched in with the ren­o­va­tion, re­plac­ing the ugly old cladding with new weath­er­boards, and build­ing a spa­cious new deck. Har­riet knew how she wanted the bach to look in­side – not too mod­ern and per­fect, and most def­i­nitely not char­ac­ter­less. “It was al­ways re­ally im­por­tant that we kept it orig­i­nal so that as soon as you go in, it still feels like a lit­tle sea­side cot­tage,” she says.

The usual ren­o­va­tion story is that un­seen hor­rors come to light once work starts. But there was no chip­board or fi­bro­lite hid­ing here. The car­pet came up to re­veal beau­ti­ful wooden floor­boards and be­hind the kitchen ceil­ing Har­riet and Gio­vanni were de­lighted to find a pitched roof with tongue-and-groove lin­ing, and orig­i­nal beams.

“Even though it was a shack, there were all these struc­tural el­e­ments I’d have wanted to cre­ate that were al­ready there,” she says. “It was so ex­cit­ing.” Once the in­te­rior had been stripped back to the bare bones, she painted all the walls and ceil­ings white and be­gan col­lect­ing trea­sures to fur­nish her new hol­i­day home. >

“My style is very nos­tal­gic and English,” Har­riet says. “It’s based on my slightly rose-tinted child­hood mem­o­ries of fam­ily hol­i­days in Norfolk and Dorset with the sound of seag­ulls and the beach, and lit­tle piles of shells ev­ery­where. So I al­ways try to recre­ate that pe­riod.”

One pho­to­graph from that era was a par­tic­u­lar in­spi­ra­tion. It shows a young Har­riet with her broth­ers and fa­ther at a beach hut they used to stay at in Norfolk. To recre­ate the care­free beachy feel cap­tured in that im­age, she trawled junk stores and scoured Trade Me for retro items. “The crock­ery came from op shops and I picked up the lit­tle Formica din­ing ta­ble for $20 on Trade Me,” she says. “It was all done on a re­ally tight bud­get.”

While Gio­vanni is the builder of the fam­ily, Har­riet has a flair for bar­gain hunt­ing then turn­ing trash to trea­sure. Tired old pieces like the kitchen plate rack and the chest of draw­ers in the bed­room were spruced up with a coat of paint.

But her very best Trade Me buy is the model yachts dis­played on a high shelf in the liv­ing area. “They’re beau­ti­fully made and so in­tri­cate with tiny lifeboats and rafts; and they fit per­fectly.”

There is no ob­ject so pre­cious here that peo­ple can’t re­lax for fear of break­ages and Har­riet loves the way hol­i­day­mak­ers who have rented it via Bach­care of­ten rear­range the lit­tle dis­plays of shells, ad­ding their own finds, or leave be­hind their books on the shelves and toys in the boxes be­neath the bunk beds.

This place truly is tiny, just two small bed­rooms and the liv­ing space, but re­cently the cou­ple in­vested in an ex­pen­sive ad­di­tion: a per­gola with a Lou­vretec roof to shel­ter the deck.

“The view is so won­der­ful but we could never sit out there for long be­cause it was just too hot,” says Har­riet. “We ummed and aa­hed for so long about putting a cover over it be­cause I didn’t want the deck to feel closed in. But now it’s great be­cause it’s made a lit­tle out­door room.”

This Kiwi ver­sion of a beach hut has been where Har­riet has made a lot of won­der­ful new fam­ily mem­o­ries with her own chil­dren Mat­teo, 13, and Valentina, eight. When they were younger they spent hours ex­plor­ing the bush at the bot­tom of the steep sec­tion and the whole fam­ily used to fit into one big kayak, in­clud­ing Timmy the pug. Now Har­riet’s days are spent gath­er­ing shells on the beach, go­ing for walks in her gum­boots, brows­ing round the Raglan shops and then watch­ing the sun­set from the out­door bath, of­ten with a glass of wine in hand.

When cousins come to stay a tent is pitched on the deck and mat­tresses put on the floor, and some­how ev­ery­one is fit­ted in de­spite the lack of space. “It’s not ter­ri­bly com­fort­able,” ad­mits Har­riet, “but it’s re­ally nice to have ev­ery­body there.”

Har­riet is cer­tain her late fa­ther would love his legacy – the sim­ple, charm­ing beach house with its stun­ning, ever-chang­ing view. “Some days the wa­ter is like glass, oth­ers it’s stormy and wild. In ev­ery room you get a bit of view. Even from the bath­room you can look through a tiny win­dow and see the sea.”

THIS PAGE (from top) Vin­tage seascapes re­flect the tra­di­tional sea­side cot­tage look. Har­riet with Mat­teo, Valentina and Jack Rus­sell Evie in the tiny open-plan kitchen; the bench­top was made from re­cy­cled tim­ber and Har­riet lime­washed the Trade Me plate rack.OP­PO­SITE Gio­vanni built the shelves to house a large se­lec­tion of books, games and DVDs; the model yachts were a Trade Me find; a palette of blues, greys and white is con­tin­ued through each room.

THIS PAGE (from top) The fam­ily comes to Raglan all year round: “I al­most love it more in win­ter than sum­mer be­cause there’s no­body on the beach,” says Har­riet. Har­riet and Gio­vanni on the large wrap­around deck, which was built by three gen­er­a­tions of Di Maio men: Gio­vanni, his fa­ther Giuseppe and son Mat­teo; the tub chairs came from Mitre 10.OP­PO­SITE The master bed­room has the best view in the house: “It’s won­der­ful to wake up and look straight out at the boats in the bay,” says Har­riet.

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