With a self-described ‘granny chic’ interior style and a penchant for upcycling furniture it’s no wonder this cottage is filled with cosy charm
Meet and greet
Libby Chambers, primary school teacher and artist, Aaron Chambers, aerial and fibre optic technician, Will, 5, and Lachie, 3.
A 100-year-old country cottage is filled with colourful secondhand treasures
Provincial New Zealand towns have a reputation for their sense of community, and this was borne out when long-time Rakaia residents Chris and Sue Jackson heard their eldest daughter, Libby, and her family were looking to move back to her rural roots. “They were really excited about the prospect of having their grandsons living close by so they put the word out and started looking for a character home for us,” says Libby.
The earthquakes had dealt a fatal blow to Libby and husband Aaron’s Christchurch bungalow and the couple had spent almost two years living in a new home in the suburb of Rolleston. “Once our home was red-zoned, we headed to Rolleston, where my sister lives, as a temporary move while looking for a lifestyle block,” Libby says. In 2011, when Aaron secured a position in Ashburton it gave the couple and their boys, Will and Lachie, the opportunity to find their dream home in the country.
“Aaron grew up on an orchard in Alexandra and I grew up on a sheep and cropping farm in Rokeby. We wanted chooks, a vege garden, grass-fed beef and a country lifestyle,” Libby laughs. Fortunately, Libby’s dad, Chris, soon found them a place they could call home – “Dad knows everybody and he gets talking to everyone!” The place he spotted was a two-hectare block subdivided from a farm, complete with a 100-year-old homestead which had been relocated from Ashburton three years earlier.
“We fell in love with the home as soon as we walked in,” says Libby. “The high ceilings, wide hallway and the windows… When we got to the main bedroom with its bay window and stained glass, we both knew we wanted this house.”
The land – formerly paddocks – is bordered by a main road and, although the house is set back from the boundary, one of the first things they did was to plant over 800 trees for shelter and privacy. Fortunately, the home had already been extensively modernised with a new roof, wall linings and fixtures, so the couple were able to focus on tweaking it to fit their needs. On moving in, Libby repainted some walls to brighten up the interior and Aaron installed recycled glass doors to let in more light and enhance the flow to the wraparound veranda.
The pair also repositioned the main entrance to open into the hallway not the kitchen, and totally revamped the bathroom, adding a clawfoot tub and a unique vanity made from a vintage sideboard. “The bathroom and kitchen were modern but a bit cheap-looking and lacking in character,” explains Libby. “We wanted the fitout in both of these areas to be more our style and in keeping with the age of the house.”
Most of the renovation work has been done by the couple themselves. “Aaron does all the hard work, while my job is to paint and pretty things up. I adore colour – pretty much every colour in the rainbow – and am of the ‘mix don’t match’ school of thought. Aaron likes colour, but on a neutral background. We have to compromise at times,” says Libby.
Recycle, reinvent, reuse
Libby is an avid fossicker and collector and loves to find old treasures and give them a new lease of life and purpose, usually with a coat of colourful paint. In the lounge, a wall shelf above the couch was originally a mantelpiece. “That was Aaron’s idea. We found it sitting in the garage, unloved. We had no space to install it but Aaron suggested using it as a shelf. He’s very handy.”
Word of Libby’s soft spot for vintage pieces has got out and she frequently fields offers from locals to take their discarded furniture. Many other treasures have been found on Trade Me, in salvage yards or in unexpected places. “The bedside cabinet was in my parents’ garage, full of fertiliser, so I rescued that.”
The plate collection in the lounge started post-quake when cup, saucer and side plate trios from Libby’s grandparents were broken. Libby decided to hang the remaining porcelain on the wall. Since then the ‘plate cloud’ has grown to include contributions from friends and family.
As well as donating occasional plates, the wider family have been keen to help out in other ways. Aaron’s parents have been assisting with planting specimen trees and have started the orchard off with several plum trees. And Libby’s parents own an excavation business, which has been very handy for digging trenches, drilling holes for piles and levelling land.
More dash than cash
Libby refers to her style as “granny chic”; old-school country with a modern twist. “I am always on the lookout and I can never pass a junk shop or secondhand store without having a poke about,” she confesses. Recently friends offered her two chairs. “I can always find a space, and the sleepout is ideal for overflow furniture and guests.”
Libby’s dexterity in turning trash into treasure is driven by a combination of passion and budget. “We don’t have a huge budget. We have previously been a single-income family so a lot of the decorating is done on the cheap,” she says. Aaron and Libby are both dab hands at painting, although Libby admits they have a different style. “If I want a professional look, Aaron gets out his spray gun; otherwise it’s done by me,” she laughs.
The good life
Aside from the obvious joys of country living such as the endless supply of free-range eggs (“We have six chooks and it’s a daily ritual to collect their eggs”), the spray-free, home-grown vegetables and the vast, open spaces, the family are relishing many other benefits of their rural lifestyle.
“Will likes looking after his cows and bunnies. He started at Lauriston School this year; the roll is around 70 and the kids design and create things like go-carts for racing. They build and play in huts around the trees and have pigs, chooks and rabbits to tend to. He loves it.”
And it’s not just the boys who are embracing country life. “This place is a keeper. We love it and are happy to spend time and effort doing it up,” says Libby. “We love the land, we love the school and we love having family close by.”
Words by: Ady Shannon. Photography by: Kate Claridge.