This story begins with two couples – Auckland-based Jan and Kim McDell, their daughter Hannah and her husband Duncan Anderson. Back in 2003, they joined forces to find a retreat out of Auckland.
Now, there are several reasons why this project could have foundered. In-law jokes aside, the four had a mixed list for their dream property. “One wanted bush, one wanted beach. Jan and Kim were happy with 10 acres and Duncan wanted 100,” says Hannah. “The first property we looked at was a Matakana vineyard and, although it was too expensive, we all agreed Matakana was a great area.”
Then their agent told them of a nearby 20ha (50-acre) farm and the four trekked north again. Along a ridge, facing north-east, with wide rural views and Omaha and Little Barrier Island in the distance, it was judged perfect by the panel.
Kim and Duncan, who’d both grown up in the country, felt as if they’d come home and Jan and Hannah soon fell in love with an old red timber woolshed – thought to be more than a century old – on the property and started their own tradition of long lunches held in the shed’s lean-to. There was also a two-bedroom cottage onsite where the families could stay.
Five years ago, discussions began on the form a new home on the site might take. There was talk of restoring the woolshed. Sadly, it was beyond repair but the desire to preserve as much of the old farm building as they could and incorporate some of its features into the new house became the project’s inspiration.
Architectural designer Peter Were – Jan’s brother – was commissioned to create the design. The 282sqm house would have three parts. A new “shed” would sit on the site of the original, with a 5m extension out the front. Together, this shed and extension would contain the shared living spaces plus the Andersons’ quarters: two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a bunk room for the children – Nigella, eight, Monty, seven, and Daisy, three. An annex would be built for Kim and Jan to the east of the shed, with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a study, linked to the rest by the entry hall.
A gentle demolition of the old shed got under way and, over a new frame, new skin and battens were added to the north and west walls. The old shed’s faded weatherboards were wrapped around the south and east walls as a facade.
“The builders tried to talk us out of reusing the old timber, but they soon embraced the idea when the first rows went up,” says Peter. “We used the shed’s old roofing iron for the base skirt and the original doors now form shutters over a bunk-room window, positioned in memory of a ramped doorway into the old woolshed.”
The kitchen sits under a lantern window running along the roof line, bringing light and ventilation to the core of the new shed. Finished in dark tones, the kitchen was designed to be unobtrusive at night. “Farmhouse kitchens are usually quite dominant but we wanted one that blended into the background,” says Jan.
Though references to the woolshed abound, the glazed front is very contemporary. Sliding doors span the 8m width and the cathedral window reaches 4.2m high, embracing the view. Shabby-chic furnishings and family antiques soften the industrial-style materials, which have come either from the original shed or look as though they have. The whitewashed kauri floorboards were milled from roof beams salvaged from the Chelsea Sugar Works.
Jan and Kim owned a luxury boat-building business for many years and Kim has an eye for detail and finish that was put to good use when he stepped in as occasional project manager: “I’ve loved the entire process and the challenge.”
As custodians of a slice of local farming history, the Andersons and McDells have honoured tradition in an idyllic location. The results have certainly rewarded their efforts. With just a few finishing touches required to the new house, the McDells have put their Auckland home on the market and are spending more time up north. The Andersons are delighted to be giving their children a healthy, rural living experience that’s close to the coast as well. And their home is settling gracefully into its new life.
“We wanted something understated and functional – plain on the outside and a surprise on the inside,” says Jan.
“A lot of people say that building is stressful, but we had fun – the whole process was lovely. We’d always believed the site deserved a special place and we didn’t want to lose the woolshed. This way we haven’t.”
The old woolshed appealed to us because: We loved its character and history. (Kim)
Working with our architect, who was also a family member, was: Easy, as we all shared the same vision. With the four of us plus Pete making decisions together, there was never a split vote. (Jan)
My favourite part of the home is: The bunk room. It’s like a babysitter! (Hannah)
The best part of the project: Honouring the old shed and remembering it in new ways, with design details that remind us of the original building we all fell in love with. (Hannah)
For more images click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Story: Jesma Magill
Photographs: Tessa Chrisp