Tireless renovators Alice and Caleb – past winners of The Block NZ – have just finished their seventh house, but this time they’ve done things a little differently
Meet and greet
Alice Pearson, director of Pearson + Projects), Caleb Pearson, property development manager), Alek, 4, and Mika, 2, plus Nala the dog.
Past ‘The Block NZ’ winners Alice and Caleb finish their seventh renovation
People fall into one of two camps, says Alice Pearson: you either do one house renovation and vow to never lift a hammer again, or you start looking for your next project the minute you lay down your tools on the current one. Alice and husband Caleb definitely fall into the second category. Their present home is their sixth renovation – or the seventh if you count the one they overhauled in the 2013 season of The Block NZ, which they won.
The motto of any expert renovator is: find a project where you can add value. The Pearsons – who have two young children, Alek, now 4, and Mika, now 2 – took well over a year searching for such an opportunity, eventually landing on a long section in Auckland’s Otahuhu which had a house at the front with happy long-term tenants, and plans in place to subdivide.
The pair kept the tenants, remained in their Mt Wellington house and started looking for a house they could relocate to the back of the new section. For the next five months they spent weekends trawling house-removal yards. On their checklist were: good bones, small enough to pop on the back of a truck and fit down a tight driveway, and a layout that would work with the 327-square-metre site and suit decking that would connect to the backyard. And good light.
“Light makes such a difference to houses. So much of a home is about the feel and atmosphere,” says Alice. “No matter how well you renovate a house, if it’s dark and gloomy even white walls won’t fix it. Experience has given us confidence in our ability to find houses with true potential.”
They finally unearthed what they were looking for: a 93-square-metre, three-bedroom 1950s home with wooden floors, beautiful light and a lot of potential to add value.
“It wasn’t the roughest house we’ve dealt with, but close to it,” Alice laughs. There were holes in walls, the wallpaper was in bad condition and the tiled roof needed work, plus they also had to factor in the damage that occurs when a house is relocated.
“Being on the back of a truck means that everything moves. Most old houses need work from wear and tear, but moving a house causes a whole new level of wear and tear. It means extra hours spent restoring it, but that’s okay if you’re forewarned and factor it in,” she says.
This was the couple’s second relocatable home and Alice and Caleb recommend people do their homework if they’re looking at this option as it’s not always a straightforward process. “Most relocatable houses are in pretty bad condition, which is why they’ve been taken off their original site,” says Alice. “Subdivision is hard, too; a site that’s structured and serviced for one house now has to work for two homes so you’re having to organise power and a wastewater system. As well as needing an engineering consent for services, we also had to get a building consent for the house relocation and alterations.”
Structurally, there wasn’t too much wrong with the house – the couple just decided to rejig the layout to make it work better for their family and the site. They transposed the third bedroom and the kitchen, which achieved two things: it meant that all the bedrooms were now in one half of the house, and all the living spaces were in the other. After this, they pulled down some internal walls to create an open-plan living, dining and kitchen space, which was important to Caleb.
The Pearsons also reworked certain spaces to gain more storage, something you can never have too much of with a young family. They carved out bigger wardrobes for the kids and a wardrobe running the length of one wall in the master bedroom, much to Alice’s delight.
With so many renovations under their belts, Alice and Caleb have begun to look forward to finding spatial puzzles to solve. “I used to get nervous when there were parts of a house layout that didn’t work, but the rooms we struggle with become our greatest spaces because we have to think creatively. Now those issues excite me,” says Alice.
For this house, the problem zone was the dining room. When the layout was changed to facilitate open-plan living, it put the dining room right in the entrance, with a table smack-bang in the path of visitors. A bit of creative thinking saw the couple come up with the house’s best design feature: a dining nook.
“We love that little dining room. Caleb and I will sit side by side in the booth and then turn to each other and chat after dinner,” says Alice.
For previous projects, Alice has always gone for a white scheme with black touches, but this time she wanted to add subtle colour in tones she’d never considered before. She designed the kitchen and bathroom first (“because the plumber needs to get in and do their first fix”) and found herself hankering for copper tapware and a blush-pink splashback in the kitchen. These set the tone for the rest of the house. “This time I went for a mid-century modern vibe which inspired other choices like the wallpaper, lighting and the mustard velvet.”
Alice is a big believer in setting aside money to do the lighting well. “It’s so important because not only does it add light to a room, it can become a real feature. If you spend money on gorgeous lights, you’ll create beautiful design elements and so won’t have to over-furnish your house,” she advises.
For example, the four hanging lights in the dining nook cost $756 in total. The unusual pendant in the kids’ room was a $50 end-of-line bargain. For the master bedroom, Alice opted for wall lights above the bedside tables, rather than follow the trend of hanging lights. “For me, a globe wall light gives a nice ambience but still serves as a practical reading light that doesn’t overwhelm.” They also don’t get knocked around as much as hanging lights and complement the bold wallpaper instead of competing with it.
The main bedroom
Selecting a feature wallpaper was Alice’s first design task for their bedroom and she settled on a lush, close-up floral from the Masterpiece collection by Eijffinger. “Once I had that, everything else fell into place,” she says. She loved how its traditional vibe had been combined with on-trend colours and a modern texture. But did she need to convince Caleb?
“Ha! The reason we work well together is because we know what’s really important to the other person. For me, it’s design elements and colour. For Caleb, it’s open-plan living, the deck, getting the outdoors to work. That’s how I got my floral wallpaper!” Alice laughs.
The couple hung the wallpaper themselves and swear it is easy (they’ve got a step-by-step guide on their website). The wallpaper, combined with blush full-length curtains, floor-to-ceiling mirrored wardrobe doors and beautiful linen and lighting, has given the room a modern, romantic look that Alice loves. “Our bedroom feels like a haven – not that I can keep my kids out of it, but it still feels like my space!”
So the paint is dry, the furniture is in, the family are installed – does that mean the Pearsons are eyeing up their next reno? Well, kind of, but this time it won’t be for themselves. Alice and Caleb are the stars in a new TV3 show called The Ultimate Reno, putting their extensive renovating experience to the test once again.
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Helen Bankers.