Loving every moment
When it comes to bach selection, Jenny and John Villiger are adamant that a little irrationality goes a long way. The couple say their Whangapoua beachfront home, on the eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula, is far too close to the water's edge to be deemed a safe asset, what with winter storms and the threat of elevated sea levels. During one particularly bad gale, the surf carved sand dunes from the edge of their section and they feared their oversized front deck would be carried out to sea.
But they're not worried. "If you were logical, you'd think this is a terrible investment. Which it is, with global warming," says John. "But we have loved every minute of being here."
Well, almost every minute. Jenny recalls their first night on site, more than a year before construction began on the modern, insulated house they now inhabit. That miserable June weekend in 2007 they were holed up in the property's original bach, with the wind whistling through gaps in the elderly joinery.
"There was a howling gale and it was freezing cold. I remember lying in bed and saying, "Oh, we've made a terrible mistake." We couldn't warm up, even with a heater on each side of the bed."
But they were quickly charmed by the little wooden bach, with its high ceilings and wide, covered front verandah. The generous backyard was ideal for tents and ball games, gutting fish and escaping sea breezes to bask in late afternoon sun. At first the Villigers planned to renovate, until the wish list escalated, council regulations stymied them and rebuilding began to make more sense. Though they vowed to retain many of its features, the old bach needed too many repairs and was too small for the swarms of visiting friends and family, including adult children Maya, Peter and Greta. Not to mention future grandchildren.
Initially, there was talk of a new bach with dual living areas and a self-contained suite out back. But they couldn't bear to consume more precious yard space or destroy the grand old pohutukawa on site. "We didn't want a big place, dominating the beachfront. Old Whangapoua was modest baches, not big houses. And we liked the idea of traditional bach living, where everyone meets together, not off in their own separate living spaces."
So architect Jane Aimer helped the couple pare back their wish list to a smaller, simpler L-shaped design with three bedrooms, one communal living space and generous verandahs front and back. No outdoor fireplace - "We didn't want it to look too urban" - and certainly no flashy cladding or shiny building materials.
Whitianga-based builder Rod Percival ensured the timber and material from the old bach were redistributed to worthy homes. Some was given to the local playcentre, another bundle became a woodshed and the sleepout was removed, renovated and turned into someone else's guest accommodation. Rod also convinced the Villigers to use sustainable New Zealand timber.
The resulting unassuming house folds quietly into the landscape, surrounded by a natural-looking native garden. Jenny, a landscape designer, revels in her beach project where tree planting in sandy soil is a pleasure after digging clay around their home in St Heliers, Auckland.
Jenny and John have also pitched in to help fellow residents plant restorative grasses on the dunes and trees alongside the local Pungapunga River. She chairs the Whangapoua Reserves Group - an ideal introduction to the district's people.
"The first time we came out here, the neighbours had a New Year's Eve party that was extremely wild and we thought, "This is fun". It really is a community - very social, quite established. I really notice generations of families come here. Three or four generations, so there are lots of grannies and grandchildren."
John surfs with two of the men who helped build the Villiger bach and shares fishing tips with the owner of the local beach store. This sense of community is important to the couple, who spend about a third of the year at their beach house. Jenny commutes to her landscaping clients as necessary and John's pharmaceutical consulting work does not require him to be in an office every week. He can conduct business by internet and telephone: "I have to close the door so people can't hear the sea crashing."
John and Jenny owned a bach further down the peninsula, at Whangamata, for five years. But they hankered after something less densely populated, more laid-back. They had never visited Whangapoua Beach before John spotted glossy photographs of the idyllic-looking property in a real estate magazine. It looked too good to be true.
Then John visited the property. It truly does look like paradise, he told his wife, describing the scenic drive off the main road, past farms and salt marshes, to a sleepy settlement strung along white sand. "It's relatively un-urbanised. There's only one store. No one wants a cafe. No one ever wants kerbs or street lights. It's where people just want to come and holiday. Here, we live differently from Auckland. We walk along the beach to the store for milk and the paper and don't get in our car if we can help it."
The house itself ensures they remain in relaxed holiday mode. "Sure, it's a nice place," says Jenny. "But it's not precious or fussy. We spend so much time all together, with family and friends, mostly in one room and usually with the doors flung open. It feels like a real bach."
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