A Taranaki renovation
|Home for good
Sandy smith claims she is a terrible advertisement for her profession. Despite selling hundreds of properties in the last 27 years, the New Plymouth real estate agent has never managed to leave the “very little, ordinary, two-bedroom square box” of a home she fell for in 1974.
She recalls her instant attraction to the original heart timber cottage all those years ago. “It had a really amazing feeling of peace and quiet and I thought, ‘I have to have it’.”
And it was her decision to buy the little cottage that brought husband-to-be Peter Smith, a technology teacher, into her life.
A couple of years after she moved in, Sandy’s friendly neighbours noticed the gutsy mother of two young boys tackling yet another tough chore by herself. She had already taken a chainsaw to the living room wall to admit more sun and laid brick paving and paths. This time, when they saw her digging trenches for a soak hole, the older couple intervened and insisted their son hop the fence to help. Peter, who had grown up next door, was home visiting his parents for Christmas.
Romance blossomed over the shovels and the pair wed two years later. “It sounds very Mills & Boon,” Sandy says. “I married the boy next door. From then on, the poor chap hasn’t had a chance. He’s been doing jobs round here ever since.”
Although it was the tranquillity of the cottage that initially attracted Sandy, the ensuing years were far from quiet. The couple had two more sons. The house underwent a series of additions and alterations to accommodate the growing, noisy brood and their large, hungry friends, who were inevitably drawn to Sandy’s kitchen. The dining room was extended. A purpose-built sleepout was added on, then nicknamed “the swamp” for its semi-permanent layer of teenage mess.
And then, in 2010, years after the last Smith boy headed off to university, the abode was doubled in size and treated to a year-long top-to-toe renovation.
“We did the reverse of what we should have done, which was to buy a big house in the beginning and downsize later. But we couldn’t afford a big house then. And one of the reasons I kept this house is because the boys have had so much fun here.”
The couple are both enjoying a brighter, more spacious home now that its makeover is complete. But Peter wisely left the planning and construction to his enthusiastic wife and their builder son Zach, who stepped in when their attempts to buy another property failed.
Other homes they looked at were too new or too close to other houses. The Smiths’ back fence overlooks a reserve and green valley, with borrowed views into Peter’s childhood garden.
“Neither of us could agree,” says Sandy of their house-hunting. “Peter did find a place he really liked, with five-car garaging. And it was absolutely not me. So I thought, we’re going to transform our own little sausage.”
Sandy spent 18 months planning the renovation, down to the smallest detail. Vast numbers of interior design magazines were read, pictures were assembled and long lists of desirable features were made.
In the kitchen, Sandy compiled an inventory of every implement and dish, then decided where and how they should be housed. She even measured the “bend over” space required to pull baking safely from her oven without bumping into the kitchen island behind.
Every window has been sited to frame a favourite view and decking and doorways have been carefully placed to accommodate the elements.
“Because I’d lived here so long I knew every inch of the place, in terms of where the sun comes from, where the wind is. I thought to myself, how do we live? How will we live in the future? I think back and wonder how on earth did we cope for space when we had all those boys and their friends here?
“Now we’re heading into our dotage, I wanted it light and bright and easy to clean and somewhere the grandchildren could feel happy running in and out of. When the grandies come here, it’s like a bombsite but that’s the way I like it.”
She jokes that Peter failed to obtain anything on his wish list. Garaging is minimal and he has a “man corner” in his wife’s office, in place of a full-sized man cave.
However, Peter reckons the house gives him everything he needs. “I like the light, the sun.” Best of all, the boy from next door hasn’t had to leave his old neighbourhood.
“I like the land, the area. It’s very private here but still in town and I couldn’t live in a place where you can see in your neighbour’s window. I’m glad we’re staying put.”
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Story: Sue Hoffart
Photographs: Paul McCredie