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A Wellington family transformed a DIY disaster into a stylish, inviting abode

The first summer this Wellington family spent at their Waikanae bach was a disaster. Luckily their creativity and can-do attitude created a place of joy


A Wellington family transformed a DIY disaster into a stylish abode

The first summer Rach Annett spent in her Waikanae bach was a tad overwhelming. “We kind of moved in and thought, ‘Oh God, what have we done?’” Rach recalls. “The ceilings were leaking, the walls bulged with water and the whole place was pretty basic. I thought we’d made a huge mistake.”

Fortunately, the positives outweighed the negatives: Rach and husband Tristan could see the potential of the two-bedroom holiday home they’d bought in November 2013, plus they loved its location, close to the beach and a 45-minute drive from their Wellington apartment.


“Being near the sea is important to us. I spent lots of time on my father’s boat in the Marlborough Sounds, and as a child Tristan spent time at his grandmother’s Waikanae home and their family bach at Port Underwood,” says Rach. Ironically, Tristan’s grandmother’s house is a surfboard’s throw from the bach, something that clinched their decision to buy it.

“We also loved the layout and the huge garden,” says Tristan of the 871-square-metre site. “So many of the beach houses we looked at weren’t able to be changed, but we knew this one could be added to without losing that essential Kiwi bach feeling.”


Although they’d previously redecorated homes in Christchurch and Wellington, the couple had never tackled a transformation of this scale. Which is why they decided to do it in two stages. The first included replacing the leaking roof, rewiring, adding wrap-around decks and swapping the dated mustard exterior for a chic charcoal shade.


The addition of a much-needed toilet was also part of phase one. Previously, the sole bathroom was only accessible via the master bedroom. Not surprisingly, Rach and Tristan didn’t exactly relish guests traipsing through their room to use the facilities.

“So we added a toilet next to the kitchen and then set about turning the old bathroom into a relaxing, white-washed ensuite,” says Rach. Out went the canary yellow bath and in came sleek fittings and subway tiles, while the space that previously housed the laundry was turned into a linen cupboard.


Another major addition was a 20-square-metre cottage, largely constructed from materials discarded in the bach renovation (including the windows taken from the master bedroom when French doors were installed).

Although the cottage is a compact space, Rach has managed to fit in a double bed and bathroom and it’s now a firm favourite with both her parents and in-laws when they come to stay.


Kitchen capers

Rach loves to cook, so the tiny, ill-equipped kitchen was never going to work for her. Builder Mike Stewart lined the walls and ceiling in ply. The ply theme is continued on the cupboards under the sink, which replaced the former open shelves.

A tiny window and corrugated-iron splashback above the kitchen sink were removed and replaced with a larger window and a pretty, white-tiled ledge. The couple also installed a freestanding stove, a dishwasher and a stainless-steel fridge which was so large Mike had to cut the door frame in order to get it into the kitchen.

Rach designed the tile pattern behind the stove and although her tiler was initially sceptical, he now loves it. “It’s art but it’s also functional,” says Rach, who loves being creative so much she left early childhood teaching to retrain as a floral stylist.



The second stage of the transformation included turning a tiny, dilapidated garage into a 55-square-metre family room, which doubles as accommodation for overflow guests. The roofline was designed to align with the existing bach and so seamless is the transition, this room looks as though it’s always been there.

Rach opted for concrete floors, which make sweeping up all the sand tracked in from the beach a breeze. A shower and laundry were also added and feature similar fittings and subway tiles to the master ensuite. Rach insisted the outdoor shower should be plumbed into hot water. “Who wants to come back from the beach and have a cold shower?”


The man cave

The final piece in the renovation jigsaw was the double garage and workshop, which Tristan had always hankered after. Now he’s got a dedicated space where he can painstakingly restore his grandfather’s 1950s mahogany boat. Although the sea at Waikanae is too rough to sail it, he often takes it out on Wellington Harbour.


When it came to decorating, Rach was in her element. With a belief that beach houses don’t have to feature nautical themes, Rach mixed it up, including feature walls of black-and-white stripes (vertical in the living room, horizontal in the family room), and an elegant chandelier and gorgeous bold wallpaper in the master bedroom.


But while on holiday in Bali in early 2015, she really struck pay dirt. A friend introduced her to Michael Nalder, an antiques dealer and interior designer formerly based in the Wairarapa, who now lives in Bali.

“Michael drove me around on his motorbike and we picked out enough tables, chairs, mats and lampshades to fill a container,” she says.


The spoils of that shopping trip now fill both the family’s Wellington apartment and their bach and include the vintage daybed in the family room, which is perfectly positioned to catch the afternoon sun, as well as the three-metre-long outdoor table which can seat 14 people.

One of Rach’s best Balinese finds were the three large straw lampshades which now take pride of place in the family room. Almost everyone who visits asks her where she got them. “I could have sold those lights many times over,” she laughs.



Wellington landscaper Todd Wagner, of Groundbreakers Landscaping, was called in to help tidy up the mess created by the building process. He laid lawns and removed a large macrocarpa hedge which blocked light to the property. Olive trees were planted along the new fence and Todd was also tasked with creating raised gardens bordered by railway sleepers.

The end

This is the first Christmas the family will be able to enjoy their bach without the noise and disruption of renovations, although Rach says she will miss the creative process.

“We’re still renting an apartment in the capital while we decide where to buy, and of course you can’t do anything to change rented accommodation. So being able to put my stamp on this beach house has been lovely. It really is my happy place.”

Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.

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