A couple of years ago, we purchased a little house in urban Mt Maunganui. You might remember it from this journal post.
Inspired by high country ski lodges and backcountry huts, the 'cabin' as we fondly call it, is now the home base for George, his wife Hannah and new puppy Frida.
Built-in 1991, the cabin was once non-descript, and pretty uninspiring. The high country vision we had led to us transforming every aspect of the house, from the exterior to the interior and almost every detail. We asked George a couple of questions about the project, and the finished product.
How would you describe the house when you first bought it?
I think the majority of people definitely would have bowled it down, it would have been a lot easier to start from scratch. There was a plaque on the side which had the name of the building company who built it and their slogan was 'quality for less.' It was a poorly built house. But not that old. It was built in 1992 but had just not been maintained at all and had a cheap plaster cladding, no insulation and thin walls. It was very mouldy and was filled with junk. The bathroom had carpet in it and it was all just a bit weird.
But we liked the simplicity of the shape and the roofline, no wings or anything tricky, which in our head made the whole thing a lot more manageable. It reminded us of a monopoly house.
How long did the remodelling take before you moved in?
When we started the remodelling we only had a vague idea of what we were doing. We had always built things, but nothing like this before so it took us a while. There was five of us from work who spent 6 weeks initially doing the inside of the house before moving in. It was the middle of Winter and was a rather cold 6 weeks but was also pretty fun for us all to get out of the workshop. Then we moved in and the exterior and landscaping have been done over the 2 years since.
What was your biggest coup with the project?
The luckiest we got was with the Lawson timber that is used throughout the house. I called the sawmill 10 days before we started doing the inside of the house to order the timber and he told me that it was an eight week lead time which left us with quite a problem. While I was pondering what to do I got a call from the sawmill saying that they had a pile of seconds timber that we could have for a quarter the price. So we ended up getting and using that which was great.
You have a few rounds of renovations for this house what did you do each round and how long did it take you?
The first round was doing the inside, which was a bit backward. We really should have started with the recladding, but we needed council consent for that. We spent about 6 weeks doing the inside which was basically starting everything from scratch, we lined it with Lawson Cypress and the floor is now Lawson too. We built the kitchen ourselves too with a concrete benchtop which was an interesting process to build and rather heavy.
The second stage was the reclad which we did with our mate Pablo who is a proper builder. We learned a lot from him and did the reclad in Macrocarpa which is a nice timber to work with. We also put all new joinery in and insulation which has made quite a difference to the house.
It took us far longer than it would have taken any builder as we were trying to work out everything as we went. We chipped away at the house as we were running George & Willy on the side.
I dont think it will ever be finished but we have had to ban ourselves from working on it anymore as we have spent so much time on it and we would much rather be spending time at George & Willy!
What were the biggest changes structurally?
In terms of remodelling the structure, the main thing that we did was change the garage into a bedroom as it was a small garage but made a big bedroom. When we put the bifold doors in we were initially going to push that wall of the house out so that the font of the house was on the same line the entire way across, but in the end we decided to leave the doorway inset as it enabled us to have a tidy front to the house whilst still having a bit of cover over the door for when it is raining.
What benefits do you think there was in doing the house in stages?
You would probably be better to do it all at once, as if you do it in stages you end up living in a building site, but it wasn't too bad. I guess you get to see what you did badly and what you did well on one stage so you don't repeat the same mistakes for stage two.
What else did you change that you love?
The initial house did not have any landscaping, was just grass and was hopeless, so one of the biggest changes we did was the exterior with the deck and the landscaping. We added in the deck, planter boxes and doors that opened out into the garden.
The wooden walkway is just an extension of the deck, but we like the feel it gives the entranceway to the house as it gives the feel of being on a bushwalk every time you enter the house.
The planters are made from 50mm x 150mm Macrocarpa and were made as a present for my wife Hannah who loves veggies.
If you were to do this again, what would you do differently?
One of the rooms we learnt a lot from was the bathroom.
We were so excited we wanted to do everything. We built the vanity and lined the shower in marine plywood and coated it in epoxy. We made the shower curtain from spinnaker cloth (yacht sail). The whole thing was a bit of a disaster and didn't stand up to the water as well as planned. We ended up having to re-do the whole bathroom recently - with tiles this time haha
Secondly, we would get a builder to help us from the start. We sort of know what we are doing, but having Pablo just helped so much as he just knows what to do where we were trying to work it out as we went along. We also would probably have removed all the plasterboard and just started fresh as trying to tidy up old plasterboard is a bit tricky. The other thing is just finishing it. The jobs that you nearly finish and leave for ages are the worst and you are better to just fully finish them and that be that.
Is the living room furniture all hand made by George and Willy too?
Yes, we made all the living room furniture. The coffee table was made to match the sofas which are an integral built-in part of the living room. We had heaps of plywood offcuts from our project desks that we used to make and so we put them to use by making the built-in sofa. In huts and cabins, there is always bench seats that can hold lots of people and that is where the inspiration came from. They tie in using the same timber from the walls and floor for the cladding of them. The cushions are made from a dark denim material which is nice and hard-wearing. They also have lots of storage under them and double as beds when lots of guests come to stay.
The Kitchen bench is made from concrete and was poured by us at work then transported to the house. It is actually rather rough as it is the first one we have ever made, but it gives it lots of character. People always comment on the bench and seem to love it.
Why an outdoor shower?
The last house I lived in before moving into the cabin only had an outdoor shower. I lived in the house for 3 years and didn’t have one indoor shower as the indoor shower was broken and the landlord didn’t fix it. To be fair though I did not ask them to fix it as I loved the outdoor shower, so when I moved into the cabin one of the first things I wanted was an outdoor shower. It is best when it is raining. The fixings are just the most simple black ones we could find and you can never go wrong with a bit of exposed copper pipe.
What are your favourite aspects of the cabin?
My favourite aspects are the timber and cabin feel. The smell is great - it smells like Lawson Cypress and still does years later, every visitor who comes into the house absolutely loves the smell. It is also a pretty small house, so in winter you definitely feel as though you are in a cabin. Plasterboard just doesn't quite have the same warm feeling as timber. I have a tiny office that is fully lined in Lawson and it is probably my favourite room in the house.
What was your favourite stage of renovations and why?
Doing the reclad. It made such a noticeable difference and we had a good crew doing it with us. It was a new house after the reclad and it was very rewarding seeing the changes to the place.
The details are always the most fun - The whole time we were building the inside we were always talking about the details - the light switches and door handles etc. But then when we got to the end of the build we were so keen to finish it a lot of the fun little details got pushed to the side.
Some of the fun details that we had fun with were the curtains which we have custom made and welded up. The bathroom sink which was made from an enamel lasagne dish. The swing.
What did you do the exterior with?
Pablo (who is an actual builder) helped us with the outside as you need to get it ticked off with the council and you need to get it perfect. We used vertical shiplap Macrocarpa. Which should grey off over time. We actually used an oil on the outside to protect the timber which ended up being faulty and mould started growing so we had to strip it back off. It should grey off over time.
What else do you love about the house now?
The Warmington stove. It was bought on an online second-hand website from a Pizza place called Pipi’s pizza. We found out after that this is where it had come from which makes it a way cooler fireplace as Pipi’s Pizza is an amazing pizza place that is a bit of an institution. This has been used in a few of our Firestarter images.
What inspired the landscaping?
The landscaping came from the Tongariro crossing which is an alpine walk in the central North Island of New Zealand with a subalpine influence. We always wanted the house to feel like a cabin in the woods and that is where the landscaping came into it. The living room is based around a small fireplace with bench seating. The landscaping is all NZ native apart from the creeper on the fence. We built a dec from 50mm thick Macrocarpa which is more than twice as thick as a normal deck. The deck is raised with a boardwalk, similar to the boardwalks on New Zealand hikes.