On The Rise
For a moment the heavy machinery operating outside Tara and Daryl Hewitt’s house falls silent and it’s as if nothing has gone wrong with their world. Sun glints on the estuary and the dogs nuzzle contentedly among cushions on the floor.
Step out to the balcony and look down, however, and immediately beyond the driveway lies the Ferrymead causeway, a buckled mess busy with road workers and slow-moving traffic.
Several times since moving into this place in March, Daryl has donned his DJ Hewitt vest (he’s director of Christchurch building company DJ Hewitt Builders Ltd) and gone out there to help fill in potholes – a small gesture that hints at a larger ambition to be part of rebuilding Christchurch.
What a difference six months make. In January this year, under the headline High Glamour, NZ House & Garden profiled the Hewitts’ former house in a Redcliffs hillside subdivision that Daryl’s building company played a big role in developing. The following month’s earthquake damaged the home beyond repair. And so here they are now, living in another DJ Hewitt house that they’re renting from former clients, and remarkably upbeat about their upturned lives.
“A house is just the place where you nest, isn’t it?” says Tara. “We’ve put all our stuff in this new place and it’s been fun. You just make the best of it.”
The bulk of their treasures survived February’s quake. The 1930s photographs of Banff, in Tara’s native Canada, for example, line the stairwell in the new place. A massive canvas by Christchurch artist/designer Cameron Foggo from the old house has been transplanted to a wall behind the custom-built dining table they also rescued. Look closely and you notice a few dings in the top. “Most things have a few dents and scratches,” says Daryl.
It’s a smaller place than the one they were used to, built in a former quarry site for a semi-retired dental technician and his wife, who’d been in it only a month when the February quake hit.
Tara has converted a downstairs room used for the odd dentistry job into her new craft room, though she confesses she is now thinking of installing a home gym. (“These are times when working out your stress on a treadmill seems a little more compelling than cross stitch,” she says.)
Next to it there is a small guest bedroom and a downstairs lounge with sliding doors out to the patio, which they’re looking forward to being able to open during the summer months. Happily, says Daryl, he and Tara worked closely with the owners throughout the building of the house, which was designed by Darren O’Neil and recently won a regional ADNZ/Resene award for houses under 250sqm. The Hewitts’ design touches are everywhere, right down to the light switches.
Tara particularly enjoys the location, flooded with light and with views across the estuary. From the living room she can watch spoonbills and black swans feeding and see to the mountains. It feels like a sanctuary. “Once the road is fixed and it’s quiet it will be perfect.”
Are they finding they miss the scale of their last house? Not at all, says Tara, who finds she is much more appreciative of what she has these days. “We had an amazing house, but did we fully enjoy it? This place is a lot smaller, but I enjoy it more. And we sit down together more often, play more backgammon or whatever.”
Their changed circumstances have also been a prompt to jettison a fair bit of material clutter. Gone, for example, are the cars that sat largely unused in their former garage. The desire to cull “stuff” is symptomatic of a larger desire to simplify their lives.
“You think totally differently from how you thought six months ago,” says Daryl.
As well, like many others in Christchurch, the quakes have had the effect of forcing the Hewitts’ hand on some big decisions. They have finally established an office that’s separate from the family house. One of their former neighbours generously offered them the office space, which typifies the Christchurch response to the quakes, says Tara.
“We’re all just trying to help each other out, making sure everyone gets through this okay. We’ve been helping our clients too, making sure they are doing the right things.”
“Our team has been amazing,” adds Daryl. “We email each other a lot. It’s made us a much tighter unit. We’ve helped each other but we’ve also helped 132 people – mostly in Sumner and Redcliffs – back into their homes, helping to make their houses liveable and safe.”
The most difficult aspect is the uncertainty. Living in this house in the heart of a white zone – the neighbourhood’s future hangs on a geotechnical survey – means the Hewitts are waiting, as everyone and everything is waiting, even the building business.
Which is not to say that they are sitting on their hands. Long-term, says Daryl, “we are builders and we want to help rebuild Canterbury”. In the meantime, “We’re already thinking about how we can build houses that still look great but make them even safer. Lightweight is going to be the name of the game, I think.”
As for their own future, it’s hard to imagine living anywhere else. “We were over on the other side of town the other day and it just didn’t feel right. We’ve lived in the east since 1998. This is where we feel at home.”
The machinery down on the street kicks rowdily back into gear and the brief respite is over. But it’s not an unwelcome noise – at least it signals some kind of progress.
The most frustrating thing since the earthquake: The waiting and the uncertainty. Even being in the know, it’s tough. (Daryl)
In five years’ time Christchurch will be: A better place. A place with a new face. (Daryl)
A well-kept secret about this area is: Sumner’s Cornershop Bistro – it’s been a haven for locals. They did so well to keep it open. (Daryl)
A favourite local shop: Morgan & Page clothing and jewellery in Sumner – treasures for any fashionista. (Tara)
I love this part of New Zealand because: I’m one-eyed, but Christchurch is still beautiful and will be even better. (Daryl)
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|Story: Matt Philp|
Photographer: Jane Ussher