An animal-loving artist and vet have carved out an idyllic lifestyle for themselves on once-bare land in Hawke’s Bay
Who lives here?
Rae West (artist), and husband Martin Hamer (vet and owner of EmbryoCo), plus Sol the white Swiss shepherd dog, cats Sushi and Molly Moo, horses Otis and Neo, Boer goats, chickens and sheep.
Driving down the tree-lined road, it’s hard to believe we’re only minutes from city life. The world slows down ever so slightly at the home of artist Rae West and her husband, Martin Hamer, and that suits them fine. In 2008, the couple made the decision to uproot their life in Kaiapoi, just north of Christchurch, and replant themselves and their collection of animals in Hawke’s Bay. With friends and family in the region, it seemed the perfect place to call home, and as they were both self-employed, the move seemed fairly simple.
After a fruitless search for the right piece of land, Rae’s brother-in-law suggested the small town of Clive, halfway between Napier and Hastings, and it was there that they found a bare 1.6-hectare lot. The property was in an idyllic rural setting yet only a hop, skip and a jump to each city, and you could smell the salt air of the ocean. “It was perfect,” says Rae.
On the hunt for a good architect, the couple clicked immediately with Pierre du Toit of Fat Parrot Architecture. “We gave Pierre a ‘brief’ brief and then let him go for it,” laughs Rae. Their only requests were that the house fit comfortably into the rural landscape, accommodate them both working from home, and factor in a planned dressage arena.
We gave Pierre a ‘brief’ briefand then let him go for it
Pierre designed a simple lean-to structure with large sliding doors along the front to completely open it up. Behind this, a long building – reminiscent of shearers’ quarters with numerous doors opening out to a long, covered walkway – would house Rae’s art studio, Martin’s office/lab, two spare rooms, a guest bathroom and a small wine cellar. An aggregate pathway running the length of the buildings would link the house to the work area and the garage and stables at the rear.
Throughout the build, the couple remained in the South Island. “Martin made several trips up but I only went once,” says Rae. This took a lot of the stress out of the process, and they felt they were in capable hands with builder Trevor Mossman and architect Pierre at the helm. Once it was all over, it was time for the big move. “Two pregnant goats came up in one (smelly) car and our great big dog was driven up by me in my 1966 Hillman Imp,” recalls Rae. “The two horses came by transporter and the cats by plane.”
Inspired by their trips to Mexico, the pair decided to turn a sheltered paddock by the work building into the perfect entertainment spot. But they were a little stumped when it came to plants. “I wanted it to have that lush, tropical feel, but didn’t know what plants would survive the frosts,” says Rae. So they called in landscaper Yolande Kjestrup, who provided a planting plan and some sound advice. Martin followed it to the letter, and the result is a beautiful, low-maintenance garden.
“Because we were not living in the Hawke’s Bay at the time, we weren’t able to micro-manage the build,” says Rae. “There were some things that may have got a bit lost in translation between me, my husband, the architect and the builder, but in the end they didn’t matter. And I certainly didn’t spend hours deciding what white to paint the doors!”
However, there is one aspect of the home where she and Martin had a lot of input, and that’s the stained-ply walls in the living room and master bedroom. “A couple of the restaurants in Christchurch (The Bicycle Thief, in particular) had used stained ply on the walls, and Martin and I really loved the warmth it gave the space,” Rae recalls. They spent some time visiting these restaurants with samples so they could recreate the look in their home.
“The first thing I do most mornings is scoot over to the studio to check on the results of the last day’s work,” says Rae. “Some strange but exciting things can happen overnight, so it’s always a thrill to pull up the protective covers – but not such a thrill when a dog hair’s embedded itself in a new work!”
The large, practical space has lots of windows, storage and an office corner. One wall is set up for showcasing Rae’s work and there are often visits from people following the region’s art-and-wine trails. The concrete floor is heavily splattered with paint. “Some people are a bit horrified at the state of it, but it’s my working environment and I’ve never been described as tidy,” says Rae with a grin.
For the past year, she’s been experimenting with acrylic inks and resin and has been thrilled at how her painting has developed “from the subjective to more abstract expressions of colour and texture”. It’s been a huge learning curve. “But that’s what makes it exciting. The results are starting to show through.”
The couple have a number of animals including Neo, the black horse Rae rides when she “dabbles in dressage” (he has his own art prints, too, at raewest.co.nz), and the herd of Boer goats Rae breeds as a hobby. “It’s so lovely every spring to have little kids skipping around,” she says. “We also have five fat sheep lawnmowers and six chickens. The house was definitely built with animals in mind and the studio and house look over the paddocks.”
Small is good
The lean-to house was meant to become guest quarters later on, with the couple intending to build a big home at the front of the block. But they had a change of heart. “After living in the 75-square-metre ‘guest house’ for a while, we realised how unnecessary it was to build a big house for two people,” says Rae. “We love our wee home.” Surrounded by their animals, the work they love, and with friends flocking to visit, this lucky couple truly have it all.
Words by: Vic Bibby. Styling by: Bibby + Brady. Photography by: Sarah Horn.