We catch up with all the previous winners of The Block NZ to find out how the show changed their lives, what they’re doing now – and if they’ve lifted a paintbrush since!
Libby and Ben Crawford, 2012
Entering The Block NZ competition in 2012 can’t have been an easy decision. Given that it hadn’t aired in New Zealand before, contestants had little idea of what to expect. But for some who took part, it was a life-changing decision.
Siblings Libby and Ben Crawford won that year. Libby was initially hesitant about taking part, but looking back now, she wouldn’t change a thing. “I reflect on that moment when I said ‘yes’ as one of those pivotal moments in life.”
“The Block NZ confirmed just how much we could achieve when we pushed ourselves and how hard-working Ben and I can be,” she says. “It proved how well we work together, and solidified our wish to go into business together.”
Libby and Ben’s first move after the show was to do just that. They set up their own advertising agency, Libby & Ben, which now has six staff, with studios in Auckland, where Ben is based, and Christchurch, where Libby lives. “I’ve always been ambitious and wanted to run my own business,” Ben says. “Libby and I actually had a business plan in place months before we even knew The Block NZ was coming to New Zealand. Being on the show enabled us to bring that forward faster, and really go for it.”
The business has established itself in the highly competitive advertising industry and is growing rapidly, which makes you wonder how the pair have had time to do anything else. But they’ve been just as busy outside the office.
Having had a regular column for the New Zealand Herald, and written a book on cafe fit-outs, Ben, along with wife Kylie, somehow found time to design their dream home. The Auckland abode was built on an unwanted section which had been on the market for six years because of the challenges it presented. Ben and Kylie had a vision to create a unique home that worked with the land (and a creek), not against it. They moved in last year.
After her TV win, Libby did up a villa and then moved on to a more modern home which she and fiancé Matt have been renovating for the past two years. “I haven’t really had a break from renovations since The Block NZ,” she laughs.
The siblings found a studio for their agency in Christchurch’s CBD three years ago and have watched the rebuild happen around them. “It’s a dynamic place to be and we’re passionate about helping shape the future of the city,” Libby says. Their agency has just rebranded the city’s Arts Centre along with Regenerate Christchurch.
“Our time on The Block NZ created opportunities for us and opened doors,” Libby says. “It didn’t do the work for us, but allowed us to throw all our cards in the air and chase our dreams.”
Alice and Caleb Pearson, 2013
Only a fortnight after giving birth to daughter Mika in May, and mum-of-two Alice Pearson was already hard at work on another home-staging job. She attributes such multi-tasking to the time she and husband Caleb spent on the 2013 season of The Block NZ. Alice and Caleb won that year and say that two of the most notable things they gained from the competition were a strong work ethic and the capacity to do more.
“Being on The Block NZ increases your threshold,” Alice says. “After pushing yourself to such mental and physical limits, it impacts the limits you set yourself in life generally.”
These days, the couple, son Alek, 23 months, and Mika, 1 month, live in a three-bedroom home in Auckland’s Mount Wellington, which they renovated in an astonishing three weeks, moving in just before Christmas last year.
Since appearing on The Block NZ, the pair have renovated two houses and Alice has set up her home-staging business, styling empty homes before they go on the market.
“My confidence and skill in staging came from The Block NZ,” Alice says. “Ultimately, that’s what you do on the show: you style each room ready for sale.” Caleb works as a project manager, while their Pearson and Projects blog details their projects in the hope they can help others with their renovations.
The couple are adamant that they will never take the experience of being on The Block NZ for granted. “We really enjoy renovating together and we are getting better with each project we take on,” says Alice.
“It is so much part of who we are – we realised that while we were on The Block NZ, exhausted beyond belief, juggling problems and challenges from every angle. It was crazy and we loved it! That truth just hasn’t changed.”
Alex and Corban Walls, 2014
After Alex and Corban Walls won The Block NZ in 2014 the couple’s living situation changed drastically. “We went from living on The Block NZ to moving into my parents’ house while we planned the next stage of our lives,” Alex says.
This next phase saw Alex create the online homeware store alexandcorban.co.nz. Here she sells homeware and furniture and creates interior styling solutions for online followers through monthly ‘room reveal’ packages. In the packages, Alex styles a room and then sells everything in it as a job lot or individually, even suggesting paint colours. This way, clients can recreate an entire look at home. “It’s just like The Block, but with a nicer deadline,” says Alex.
Corban also heads up a business, called Special Projects. “I offer specially engineered, designed and built projects for companies who want something unique,” Corban says. He is currently working on a special build of 20 floating ‘boat houses’ for a new development called The Boat Sheds in Gulf Harbour.
A huge step for the couple was buying a 600-square-metre piece of land debt-free in Auckland’s Birkenhead. “It is a real treat that we don’t take for granted,” Alex says. “But it has taken a very long time to get anything designed or signed off to get into the build process.” It’s taken a year of battling but they finally have consent to build on this tricky site.
With their architect friend Fraser Horton, the pair have designed a house made of cross-laminated timber panels, which will significantly save on labour costs and time on site. Corban will project-manage the build.
“The site, with beautiful views of the Waitemata Harbour, is very small, steep and limited with height restrictions,” Corban says. “It is on the edge of a 400-acre native reserve in a significant ecological area. We’ve already faced many difficulties, with a public sewer running right through the middle of the site, tending to neighbours’ requests, and the house requiring 32 concrete piles (from six to nine-and-a-half metres long) to be drilled into the ground. It’s going to be tough, but worth it.”
Alex will plan the home’s interior. “It’s daunting, knowing that this will be our family home. I feel that there is almost more pressure than in The Block to get it right.”
The duo also took on the lease of what was a Korean karaoke bar in Takapuna, to run their businesses from. “We got straight into a full renovation of the space so that it reflects who we are and what we do,” Alex says. It includes a studio where Alex does her ‘room reveals’.
“Apart from the winnings, the show changed our personal life,” Alex says. “We found that it brought us closer; we were working more as a team and understanding how to support each other through the tough times. We also had the time of our lives meeting people who supported us through our journey. It was such a unique experience that we’ll never be able to repeat.”
With a baby due in September, the couple are looking forward to settling into their new home and enjoying what they’ve been working so hard to achieve.
Brooke Thompson and Mitch Davies, 2015
If there’s one thing that rings true about winning The Block NZ, it’s that it can help you reach your dreams faster.
Originally from Christchurch, couple Brooke Thompson and Mitch Davies fell in love with Queenstown about five years ago. “We were quite young at the time, so it wasn’t the right time to settle there as we were both about to go travelling,” Brooke says. “We wanted to come back, start a family there and make it our home further down the line.”
During their time on The Block NZ in 2015, Brooke was offered a banking role in Queenstown. But she wasn’t prepared to commit until they’d finished The Block NZ and knew the result. “When the auction finished, I flew to Queenstown to take up the job, and then Mitch followed. Straight away we stumbled across this piece of land and got in at the right time.”
The energetic duo hit the ground running and jumped into the house build. They designed the house and Mitch then project-managed the construction while working full time as a plumber. “It was almost like The Block NZ all over again,” Mitch laughs.
“It was great, actually. The Block experience helped us with the design ideas and to remember that, while making the house our home, it was important to remember the resale perspective. It made that run as smooth as possible,” he says.
“Everything we went on The Block NZ to achieve, we achieved,” Brooke says. “When we went on the show, we had the goal of using the money to buy our first home in Queenstown – and we have.”
Both are working full time, Mitch as a plumber and Brooke as a banker. Looking ahead, the couple are keen to get further up the property ladder by building a rental property. “Ideally, we want that as our income,” Brooke says.
“But for now, we want to take the chance to recuperate and enjoy what we’ve worked towards,” says Mitch.
Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Jae Frew, Scott McAulay and Tom Hollow.