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This renovated 1950s railway cottage reconnects with the past

Article by Home Magazine

Ben Daly turns a plain 1950s railway cottage into something personal and magical, without losing its original spirit

Q&A with architect Ben Daly

What’s the attraction to refitting humble buildings like this?
I’m very keen on the idea of memory, the life and the stories of everyday buildings, things we are drawn to and react to. It’s almost a way to try to reconnect with the past and a simple way of living. I’m interested in seeing how much of that I can squeeze out and to show that architecture has a place here too.

What’s your favourite thing about the house?
It’s a very tricky one for me as this railway cottage is so much about making it very personal. Everywhere I look I see myself, my thoughts, my moods, my crafting of spaces and things. If I had to, though, I’d say it would be a tie between the window and kitchen joinery. In both cases I worked with what I had and treated them as the heroes of the space. I love the simplicity of the windows and also the fact that the timber for the kitchen joinery was from
old structural beams, timber framing and the original
1950s joinery.

Tell us about your new project.
I’ve swapped rural Hawke’s Bay for rural Canterbury. It’s an old sheep shearing shed and is exactly the same size as the railway cottage. The challenge I love is trying to keep the shed still looking like a shearing shed by constantly having a conversation with it as I go to make sure I haven’t done too much. The space and light are amazing and the textures of the old timbers and marks of a previous working life get me really excited about the project.

What’s the end game – will you end up with a collection of beautifully crafted houses around the country?
Again, that’s a tricky one. I’ve approached each project one at a time, almost as if it was an artwork and have given everything my love and consideration. In that way I know that I am happy with the outcomes. What excites me is the idea of how these projects will age – will they become autobiographical or will they just relax with time? I’m interested in exploring where this may end up and hopefully I won’t have a small collection of them around the countryside!

Words by: Simon Farrell-Green. Photography by: Sam Hartnett.

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