Real Homes

This enchanting cottage charms all who come to visit

Tucked in between towering trees is Five Acre Farm, a renovated cottage open to visitors

It’s not hard to understand why Ben Phillips and Brie Thomas fell in love with the property on the outskirts of Christchurch they now own. With a large established cottage garden, rambling green paddocks and an early 1900s cottage with high ceilings, it was pretty as a picture before they even started work on it. But some work was definitely needed.

“The cottage and surrounding land and gardens were in good condition thanks to the previous owner, but the cottage had suffered some earthquake damage and required a partial foundation replacement,” explains Brie. The decor of the cottage also needed a revamp, but a gentle one: Brie and Ben were adamant they wanted to keep the colonial feel of the cottage.

“It’s so easy to want to make everything modern and open plan, but that’s not in keeping with the cottage style, which we wanted to retain,” she says. “We love the cute, cosy feel that comes from having separate rooms so we didn’t make any major modifications to the layout, other than moving the toilet into the bathroom.”

The couple didn’t have to look too far to find help for the renovation – both Brie’s brothers are builders and were more than happy to work on the project, which she project managed. With Ben and Brie’s families living in Christchurch, just 10 minutes down the road, it was easy to get them to pitch in and lend a hand at various times, especially when it came to tackling the garden.

Brie and Ben have done a few previous renos over the years, which has meant they’ve built up good relationships with a team of tradies – some of them close mates. Their experience also meant they knew exactly what they wanted to do: renovate the bathroom and edit the layout, update the kitchen, and add a set of bifold doors to open from the master bedroom onto a wee sitting area, as well as touching up other parts of the century-old cottage that needed a little TLC.

The couple ripped into the project, doing all the work at once, rather than in dribs and drabs, making the most of the property being empty and neither of them having to work elsewhere. Being on site each day meant they could make quick decisions on finishes without holding up the builders. That, plus the fact they kept their fit-out simple, meant the eight-month renovation was
a relatively stress-free process.

The couple had planned to use the house as an Airbnb property so they wanted to create a relaxed, luxury holiday feel. “I went for a neutral colour scheme and used Resene Black White throughout, which removed all of the dated colours and freshened up the whole house in one go,” says Brie.

“It was the most simple but most effective change we made to the house.” She kept the colour palette of the cottage decor to a minimum, using neutral colours and natural finishes: timber flooring, concrete benchtops and concrete-look tiles in the bathroom. The flooring wasn’t in great condition and had patches of plywood sheets, so the couple laid solid rustic oak timber laminate from Flooring Xtra throughout the home, which immediately added that country cottage vibe while unifying each area.

Furnishings in the house were kept natural, too – there is a lot of wood, linen and cotton, and billowing floor-to-ceiling white sheer curtains that soften each room they’re in. The linen couches were bought especially for the house, to fit in with Brie’s planned colour scheme and style – she found them at Asko Design in Christchurch.

The dining table was also a specific purchase for this house – “I needed a dining table to fit in the dining room without dominating it,” Brie explains. She found the table scrolling through Trade Me – a bargain buy for the space. The couple carted back the gorgeous Moroccan rugs and cushions from a mid-renovation holiday they took to North Africa. As a result of all these understated tones and finishes, the feel of the house is serene and calm – except for one anomaly. The back door is tomato red and your eyes are immediately drawn by the patterned tiles on the underside
of the stairs heading into the house.

“Laundries can be so boring,” Brie laughs. “I wanted to create some interest to an area that was otherwise a pretty dull space.”

Although the couple don’t live at the house – it’s set it up as an Airbnb – they love having land just a five-minute drive away. They renovated one of the workshop sheds on the property and Ben now uses it as his work office, heading down most days.

They say the landscaping is a work in progress. As with gorgeous expansive country gardens, there’s a lot of work involved in maintaining it. Hours have been spent pruning trees and clearing the property of weeds. Brie and Ben found a pile of old railway sleepers and hardwood in one of the paddocks, which they were excited to salvage, towing them across to use as edging for the driveway before spreading white lime chip.

A new deck was also built, which most visitors use as a soothing place to sit with a cool drink and survey the countryside. Ben and Brie extended it on one side to add more deck space as well as stairs for easier access to the surrounding paths and land. The deck, which comes off the dining room and kitchen, is adorned with fairy lights and – unsurprisingly – is a hit with guests for summer barbecues and entertaining.

It’s the perfect deck to while away an afternoon, with a platter, good company, and possibly a rocking chair or two. “We just love this place and plan on keeping it long-term – maybe even retiring here,” Brie laughs.

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Sarah Rowlands

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