A dejected Waikato cottage has been lovingly and painstakingly transformed into a modern family home built to stand the test of time
Meet and greet
Wendy Keir, graphic designer, Alex Keir, builder, and Indigo, 1.
The rebuild of this Waikato home was a DIY labour of love
Back in 2011, Wendy and Alex Keir had been looking to purchase a lifestyle block for some time, but their search had proved fruitless until a friend suggested they check out a little house in Te Poi, near Matamata.
“We took one look at the tiny and dated two-bedroom, one-bathroom 1960s brick cottage and didn’t say much; then we turned around and saw the spectacular views and said, ‘Sold!’” recalls Wendy. “The house certainly wasn’t much to look at but it had soul and a great vibe.” Despite their new home’s modest size, it was all the couple needed at the time, plus they could see it had the potential to become a wonderful family home.
The original site
When the Keirs bought their house it was in a sorry state with peeling floral wallpaper, tatty green carpet and an outhouse with a shower and loo which hadn’t been used in what looked like decades. The main bathroom had once been a bedroom and the original bathroom had been repurposed as a storeroom off the kitchen.
There was an additional room tacked onto the back of the garage which Wendy decided to use as a temporary design studio for her stationery business, Fox and the Hare. But what the modest cottage lacked in beauty it made up for in good bones, a north-facing aspect and stunning views of the Kaimai Ranges. However, it would be a further three years before the home’s transformation could begin.
The couple planned a complete rebuild which included adding a new wing to the house to turn it into a four-bedroom, two-bathroom home. Builder Alex took time away from his job to work full time on the house and landscaping. “The only existing elements that remain from the old cottage are parts of the floor and two external walls – everything else is new,” says Wendy. The couple lived on site for the first year before moving in with Alex’s mum, Claziena, for another year until their home was complete.
Alex did almost all of the work himself. “He couldn’t bear the thought of someone helping him on site and not doing it perfectly,” says Wendy. “He had to get creative with how to get things done with only one pair of hands.” Occasionally Wendy would get called in to hold a truss or flick a chalk line, but it was the demolition she particularly enjoyed. “There’s nothing quite like putting a sledgehammer through a wall for a bit of stress relief,” she says.
One of the tradies the couple did choose to employ was Greg Goodwin, of Matamata, who painted the entire interior and exterior of the house. “Alex went the extra mile with the structure, making sure everything was super strong, so there was no point doing an average paint job on top,” explains Wendy. Alex had inside knowledge about the best tradies for specialised jobs such as tiling, plastering, electrical work and roofing, which meant the couple had a dream team for their project.
“The tradies all knew what a picky project manager Alex was,” says Wendy. “Nothing got past him, but he was as generous as he was demanding and always shouted beers at the end of the day.”
Wendy’s role was to style and decorate the home’s interior. “I found it hugely satisfying and I learned a great deal,” she says. Having never been one for colourful paint or wallpaper, Wendy opted for an earthy, minimal palette and introduced colour in the form of indoor plants.
In 2015, the couple took a road trip across America and came home with heads full of inspiration from the desert landscapes, as well as a suitcase of antiques and a pair of old wooden skis that now adorn their house. But by far Wendy’s favourite decor elements are the objects made by Alex.
“He designed and crafted the dining table, coffee tables, the tripod floor lamp in our sitting room, the curtain rods, kitchen feature lights, the wooden bathroom benchtops and the scullery shelving,” says Wendy. “I look around at what Alex has achieved and I just couldn’t be any prouder. He is the most humble, genuine, hard-working man I know.”
Wendy and Alex planned and built this home to see what they were made of and to stretch their creative abilities. “We have grown as individuals and as husband and wife. There were some tough times and we proved we could get through them all,” says Wendy.
The honest, genuine love that went into this home is what makes it so special. Wendy and Alex haven’t created a whizz-bang house full of high-tech sound systems and iPad-controlled coffee machines, but a home that was built to last, with heart and soul and no corners cut, ensuring that in 100 years it will still be standing as strong as it does today.
Their Te Poi house was intended to be Wendy and Alex’s forever home. Selling it was never the plan. However, when daughter Indigo arrived last year, it became clear to the couple how important it was to have their families nearby. “We felt a great pull to be closer to our families, but we will leave here knowing that we have built an incredibly beautiful home for one special family,” says Wendy.
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Helen Bankers and Vanessa Lewis.