The Midas Touch - Paeroa
A Paeroa landmark is experiencing new life thanks to a creative couple.
Greg and Katy Waite’s home occupies a small corner of a cavernous concrete building just off Paeroa’s main street.
It’s a miracle really, that their joint collection of antiques and art has fitted into the small space so comfortably. But everything has its place; the high ceilings stop the rooms from looking cramped, the low-slung casement windows are well situated for the sun, the vintage woodwork glows and the overall effect is charming.
Greg and Katy have created their home in what was once the nightwatchman’s quarters of the National Bank’s gold refinery, which served the Coromandel Peninsula mining industry early last century. And the pair are just a handy step away from work: a door in their kitchen opens to the main building – 651 square metres in total – which houses their antiques store, Antiques on Main, Katy’s art studio and a workshop where Greg makes one-off French Provincial-style tables and other furniture.
Greg and Katy moved to Paeroa from Auckland just over seven years ago, not long after their relationship began. Greg has been in the antiques business for thirty-five years and Katy is an artist from Scotland who studied ceramics and stained glass at the Edinburgh School of Art in the early 1970s. Their move to the small Hauraki Plains town signalled a new life, a pooling of resources and interests and, as it turned out, lots of hard work.
They bought the historic Willoughby Street property in November 1999 and moved into a little flat on the premises. Most of the building was derelict, showing only a few traces of its past life when it was central to the peninsula’s gold mines. The refinery was commissioned in 1914 but by the late 1920s its functions had been taken over by the individual mining companies and new uses had to be found for the site. There are some gaps in the history Greg and Katy have researched so far but the old refinery has been used as an underwear factory, for the manufacture of milking machines and, when the Waites bought it, as a demolition timber store.
“It was an amazing facility for its time,” Greg says, waving a hand around the cathedral-like interior with its soaring roof lines and chunky beams. He also points out the sturdy metal doors on the safe, which presumably once guarded a small fortune in gold.
Three small dwellings were tucked into the building when they moved in so, to get more living space, they merged their first flat with another one and then set about restoring the third flat, which is now tenanted.
Greg laughs as he describes the poky collection of rooms that confronted them: “It’s the kind of situation where you need to have a hell of a stiff whisky and wonder what on earth you’ve done.”
Katy stands in the small but perfectly formed kitchen and tries to explain the previous arrangement, where space was so tight she had to stay in one spot while she was cooking. “It felt like we were living in little cubicles,” she says. Greg chips in to say Katy’s description is too restrained: “It was utterly horrible, an ugly space.”
Not so now. But to get the full impact of the long, narrow flat, you must start at the front door. After a greeting from the resident cat, Henry Ford, you walk into the match-lined hall that is an informal gallery for Greg and Katy’s collection of mainly New Zealand art.
Their bedroom, with a matai floor and vintage French oak bed, opens off the hall; next stop down is a commodious bath-room then the corridor opens to the sitting room. Beyond that is the kitchen then an extra living room and second bathroom cum laundry created out of a tiny adjoining flat.
The living room is a skilful lesson in multitasking: it has one of Greg’s long dining tables, Katy’s piano, an office nook and a comfy couch that doubles as a guest bed. Greg and Katy have five children between them so extra accommodation is always needed. The living room leads to a sunny deck and a sturdy macrocarpa outdoor table set in a lush garden with views to a park. It is a quiet, green retreat just a few steps from Paeroa’s main street.
The flat’s flow of rooms is seamlessly linked by subtle pale green-painted walls, earthy-coloured upholstery and timber or painted concrete floors. But it is the furnishings that give the place its edge, as each room contains collectables from Greg and Katy’s lifelong interest in beautiful objects. (Katy jokes that things tend to “move in and out quite quickly”, however; Greg sometimes sells items from their home in the adjacent shop.)
Katy’s paintings hang throughout the flat, complemented by other pieces. She and Greg are especially fond of a number of colourful, highly textured folk art works by Tokoroa artist Kerry Warrander.
Another prized piece is by Jean Varda, an early practitioner of cubism, who worked with the likes of Picasso in France in the 1920s. This Varda is a dark-toned, semi-abstract picnic scene, executed in paint and collage. It was given in 1922 as a wedding present to the English aunt of its previous owner; Greg bought it from him three years ago.
Greg has a quirky collection of what he calls “night school pottery” from the 1940s and 50s and he is also proud of a quaint 50s wooden chair made and hand-painted by his late cousin Eunice Chick, well known as an Auckland interior designer in the middle of last century. Tapa cloth and ikat weaving are among the ethnic textiles used throughout the home; the ikat is from Indonesia where the Waites have a much-loved holiday home.
Greg built the tall wooden cupboard in the kitchen from demolition pieces and Katy hand-painted the door panels. The result is redolent of the arts and crafts decorative style of the early 1900s.
Two dressers built by Greg – one in the bathroom, the other in the sitting room – also demonstrate his confidence with form and interesting materials. These are in native timbers, enhanced with deep turquoise-painted ceiling boards from an 1880s house in Norsewood once owned by Norwegian settlers.
The turquoise is an original Scandinavian paint, Greg says, still wonderfully fresh and vibrant today.
The kitchen has been made over with mainly recycled materials. The wooden bench was built from a piece of kauri left behind by owners of the gold refinery and some of the kitchen drawers are shop fittings from Smith & Caughey’s. “It’s the spare parts department,” quips Greg. When the flat was finally up to scratch, Greg and Katy started work on the big building and moved Antiques on Main – previously in a shop on Paeroa’s main street – into the premises last December.
Their painstaking makeover is nearly complete and Paeroa’s old gold refinery looks very refined indeed. Her good, strong bones are now dressed with a thick, rustling layer of Virginia creeper and she’s ready for many more years as the Queen of Willoughby Street.
For web exclusive images see the Photo Gallery attached to this story.
Story: Denise Irvine
Photographs: Kevin Emirali