People told Warren Smith he was mad when, 20 years ago, he bought the little house and surrounding overgrown section overlooking Sunkist Bay, Beachlands. It had been lived in as a family home since it was built in 1912 and "they had had a couple of goes at it," he says.
The house was extended, including a sun porch added on to the front and a lean-to kitchen at the back. The bones of the house consisted of the original kauri milled locally – scrim walls, tongue and groove floors and sarked ceilings. There were no hallways. The rooms led randomly from one to another.
The kitchen, "a typical south-facing lean-to", consisted of an old coal range and a pre-refrigeration meat safe. The surrounding grass was like a hay paddock and the house was hidden from the road by boxthorn hedges.
Undaunted, Warren set to turning the cottage into a comfortable home but endeavouring to retain as many of the original features as possible, such as the kauri floors, "I’ve tried not to get too modern and have used every ounce to gain space".
The lean-to remains but the coal range and its chimney had to go. In its place is a modern streamlined kitchen, including timber finished roller doors on the cupboards to match the kauri floors, and the lean-to was opened up to the living room with a sweeping breakfast bar.
The old sunroom was incorporated back into the house as a dining area and a new deck extended from it. Warren reworked the living room fireplace with schist, but kept the original brass plinth and guard.
|AFTER: The finished product. Photo supplied. |
Originally the kitchen led straight into the bathroom. Now a small hallway has been created with doors leading off to the bathroom and two bedrooms. The original exterior kauri door has been re-invented for one of the bedrooms.
|STREAMLINED: The kitchen lean-to transformed. |
When Warren bought the house, the toilet was still located in the laundry across an outside porch, so the bathroom was redesigned to include a toilet, shower, bath and vanity.
While he has installed new french doors off the main bedroom and the living room, he has retained a hotchpotch of window styles, which adds rather than detracts from the charm.
They include original bifolds, push-out (eye-poker) and sash models, a lead-paned window in the bathroom and early ‘90s aluminium sliding windows in the kitchen because "it was all I could afford in those days".
In contrast with the sarked ceilings throughout, a plasterboard and timber version in one of the more recently added bedrooms has been retained. And panels of the original sarking remain as a feature in the hallway and around the kitchen bench.
Original pohutukawa trees have not been sacrificed and, from the sweeping lawn overlooking Sunkist Reserve and the bay, a vista of the Waitemata harbour opens up.
"The house is tight, you wouldn’t want two or three kids in it," Warren says.
"But at the end of the day you can sling the doors open or in winter have the fire going. Through the night you can hear the lap of the water, and in the daytime people swimming and the sound of boats going by."
Warren’s partner Kath McLeod says: "We love it. It’s a tight
fit space-wise but you get used to it."
The classic bach from pioneer times
|LIVING COMFORT: Original kauri floors have been retained. |
AN ICONIC part of New Zealand’s housing history is the bach. It’s a place Kiwis beat a retreat to from the suburbs – where they can kick back, free from the stifling rules of everyday life.
The terms "to bach" and "baching" come from the bachelor, an unmarried man who traditionally lived in fairly basic conditions and had few housekeeping or cooking skills.
The bachelor of the 21st century may not appreciate this description, but many early pioneering men made do at a time when traditional houses and women to run them were in short supply.
The term increasingly became used for modest permanent, holiday or beach houses, and started to become popular in the 1950s as better roads and more available cars allowed for family beach holidays and permanent settlement.
Baches were usually small and built from recycled material such as fibrolite, now outlawed asbestos sheets, corrugated iron or used timber. They were often furnished with second-hand pieces and the early versions were rarely serviced with running water, electricity or indoor toilets.
Nowhere is this heritage more visible than in the seaside settlements of Howick, Beachlands and Maraetai. Some local baches are more than 100 years old but most have been altered and modernised, according to local historian Alan La Roche.
In the early 1900s, miners’ cottages were transported on scows to Howick Beach. Shaws, a Howick contracting business, pushed them onto small-wheeled wagons and they were resited in Masefield Street as houses or baches.
Suburbia has since surrounded the bach-dotted beaches, while the modern holiday house bears no resemblance to the originals.
These days it’s likely to be a well-appointed sumptuous home. And, in contrast with the DIY Kiwi gung-ho approach of the past, it’s likely to comply with stricter building codes.