A major renovation project led to a much-needed change of pace and a new line of work for this pair of young Greytown creatives
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Alex Hutchings, Matt Calder, India, 2, and Sienna, 9 months, plus Ollie the Hungarian vizsla. Alex and Matt own design and media agency Alex & Matt Creative.
A young family’s renovation project inspires a lifestyle change
After moving home to Greytown in the Wairarapa, Matt Calder and Alex Hutchings planned to settle into the 1950s house they had relocated to their section (their first foray into the property market). However, events did not unfold quite as they’d expected.
The pair had been living in Wellington before their move and both their jobs were still in the capital. A pregnant Alex was working in advertising and Matt was running a car dealership, while a nanny looked after their little daughter, India.
The challenge of commuting an hour and a half to Wellington six days a week, and nights spent renovating, meant that family time was almost non-existent. The stress and exhaustion nearly broke them.“It was horrible – really full-on,” says Matt. “I’d go four weeks without seeing India.”
Eventually, Alex left her job in Wellington and began working part-time from home as a graphic designer. When her workload increased, Matt helped out with a few client meetings.
Realising he enjoyed the work, and desperate to change his commuting lifestyle, Matt left his job to help set up Alex & Matt Creative, an agency focused on graphic and digital design and media strategy. To come up with the capital to start the business, the couple decided to finish renovating their house and sell it for a profit.
Unsightly additions to the house over the years had resulted in poky rooms that weren’t oriented to maximise sunlight. The pair reworked the design, opening up one wing to use as a living space, and cutting the bedroom count from four to three.
They replaced cheap, aluminium windows and doors with fittings that were more in keeping with the home’s character. Matt spent many late nights painting, with the help of workmates. He made the bathroom vanity, trestle desk and dining table and chairs. The pair even built a deck, erected fencing and landscaped outdoor areas.
They learned a number of financial lessons during the renovation process, including the importance of not scrimping on fundamentals. Cheap tapware proved to be a disaster, and opting for a builder who charged less but was less available caused significant delays.
Matt and Alex are now applying the lessons they learned to their next project: a dream home being built this year which will incorporate many favourite aspects from their first renovation. These include full insulation to ensure a warm, dry home, and split outdoor living zones, with a front yard for the kids to play in and an entertaining space out the back for the grown-ups.
The renovation process also taught the couple about project management and working with contractors – a few beers on a Friday go a long way, says Matt. This proved useful when the couple were fitting out the studio they leased when the business outgrew their home. They now have three permanent employees and a number of local clients.
Their lifestyle has gone from nose-to-the-grindstone to leisurely walking, cycling and winery meetings. They now work less than a minute from home and can spend more time as a family – their second daughter, Sienna, was born nine months ago.
Matt and Alex aren’t content to sit still, though. They will be moving the ever-growing business to larger premises later this year, and launching a brewery on the side. And, when they finally decide to take a breather, they might just book their dream wedding in Bali.
Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.