Waikanae bach simplicity
Thanks for the memories
In april 2008, Wellington lawyer Dean Oppenhuis got a perplexing phone call from his wife Kate. "I've found a bach in Waikanae!" she cried. "A bach?" he replied. "We're not looking for a bach. And where's Waikanae?"
That last part was a joke - they did know where Waikanae was - but the parents of three young children had never even thought about, let alone talked about, buying a bach. However, earlier that day Kate, an interior stylist who loves her home magazines, had been flicking through a property paper when a photo in an ad caught her eye.
"A little dark bach. Tiny and cute, with lots of old trees and a big front lawn. It reminded me of carefree summer days, of a crib in Arrowtown that my dad built, where so many of my childhood memories were formed." Kate wanted to give her sons and daughter those experiences - those memories - of golden days at a bach by the beach, paddling in the sea and playing swingball. "I really wanted that for them - that real Kiwi-kid stuff that they might not otherwise get."
But back to that unexpected phone call. Dean, perhaps still in shock, gave Kate the go-ahead to take a look.
So Kate drove little Fred, then nine months, the 50 minutes from their Wellington home to the bach in Waikanae Beach, the old part of town. And the next day Dean and daughter Maddy, then four, followed suit and wandered the 200m from the bach to the long, wide stretch of beach. Says Kate: "He saw Maddy cartwheeling so happily and he came home and said, "Yip, let's put an offer on it'. Within three days we owned a bach. It was just one of those random, meant-to-be moments."
They didn't do a lot to the place at first - stripping out carpets and curtains, painting the chipboard floor white - but by 2010 cabin fever had set in and they decided that 80sqm wasn't quite enough space. "We only wanted a little more room, not a lot," says Kate. "Being small and cute is part of the charm of this place."
Apart from a new exterior coat of grey paint, the bach would show the same face to the world. Out back, however, a rectangular extension of two small bedrooms and a verandah went up. Inside, two walls were demolished to create a lounge, whitewashed oak floorboards replaced the chipboard, tiles replaced the bathroom lino and a simple new kitchen went in. Throughout the renovation, simplicity was the guiding principle. In Maddy's room, for instance, there's literally only a bunk bed, a chair and some clothes hooks - no drawers, no wardrobe.
The family comes up regularly for a few weeks in January, most school holidays and a weekend about once a month.
Often it's more than a party of five. Aptly enough, given their surname, the Oppenhuis home is an open house. Family, friends and their children often come up for the day or to stay in the sleepout with its double bed, bunk beds and own bathroom. The Oppenhuis kids often invite school friends up too. "They're all outside, doing the things you want them to do growing up."
You might find Willem, 10, Maddy, eight, and Fred, five, climbing trees, playing backyard cricket, rugby or swingball, jumping on the tramp or water slide, biking down the quiet streets for an ice cream or boogie boarding in the river. Dean likes to hang out with the kids, kicking a ball in the front yard or leading an expedition to the beach: "He loves the water," says Kate.
While they do their thing, Kate likes to read magazines on the sunny deck or in a hammock strung between two of the old trees that border the fence line. "To be honest, being here is the only time I chill out."
Inside, the adults and kids each have their own little lounge - the latter a casual, fun space with splashes of colour in the coat hooks, the vintage sign, the meter box with its first-aid cross.
"I wanted this room more colourful for the kids, while the rest of the house is more Scandinavian-inspired," says Kate.
Two years in the UK, and regular trips back, have fuelled Kate's fancy for the minimalist Scandinavian design style, "with lots of white, open spaces and vintage touches". Accent colours - particularly red and yellow - pop against muted black and white backgrounds.
But for this family the indoors is mainly just for the evenings and rainy days. Otherwise they're outdoors, savouring the sights, sounds and smells of summer. The crimson burst of flowering pohutukawa. The aroma of pineapple sun block. The crunch of hokey-pokey ice cream. The hum of cicadas and squelch of sand between your toes... memories that will last a lifetime.
For more images click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Story: Sarah Lang
Photographs: Paul McCredie