A new home’s rural setting is just right for a couple who aim to live off the land while running their business from home.
The couple moved into a caravan on the land two years ago while their house was being built, and then into a shed that later morphed into part of the stable block. Those days were both busy and heady, as they run their fitness based business from home, have horses to exercise and did all the landscaping themselves. They used a humble wheelbarrow to move a monumental amount of soil, put in 3000 plants and dug holes for fence posts. Ben even did all the fencing. It was very “artisan”, he says modestly. Getting the landscaping finished was a priority, particularly as they were keen to be eating their own produce – from three raised potager beds and numerous fruit trees. Growing their own food is part of a wider vision, as the couple aspire to live off the land and off the grid.
Solar panel installation is part of their long-term plans, but they already collect rainwater, have a sustainable sewerage and plumbing system, and water their trees with piped grey water. Words like sustainable and energy-efficient were dotted through the design brief the couple gave to architectural designer Adam Taylor. He suggested cladding their home in polystyrene sheets filled with concrete, creating a solid concrete mass that’s excellent for heat retention, as well as using argon gas insulation in the home’s stacker doors. He also orientated the house to the north. “It’s like having a house wrapped in cotton wool,” Nicola says. “It’s thermally wrapped, and the sun heats the concrete floors.” Covenants decreed their house needed to be at least 175sqm, and theirs is a smidge bigger.
Designed with two pavilions feeding off the entrance area, it has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two offices and has been designed so it can easily be extended in the future. There are thoughts of a bigger dining space, double garaging and maybe a guest wing. In the interim, the frequently used outdoor seating area – with pizza oven, outdoor fridge and built-in gas barbecue – provides another living space. Come summertime this area will be warmed by an outdoor fireplace – perfect for a couple who revel in rural life. Their new home base fulfils dreams that filled Nicola’s head when, as a teenager, she rode her horse on Golden Bay’s beaches. Nicola says it was a “dream come true” when Ben had finished the fencing and her horse Lucy could join them, along with her new horse Leo.
We’re enjoying: Our home-brew kombucha. And any chance to crank up the pizza oven and I’ll take it. If it’s a crisp and clear morning, I cook my breakfast on the barbecue. (Ben)
My favourite part of the property: I love our tree-lined driveway, looking down to our house and the timber front door. It makes me smile every time. (Nicola) Our pergola area [opposite]. There was huge satisfaction in learning how to do something on YouTube, planning it, enlisting Dad’s help, and getting the result we got. (Ben)
Best budget tip: Only do what you can afford, do it right the first time and don’t rush decisions. (Nicola) Patience. We waited two years until we had the money to asphalt our driveway. (Ben)
Best advice for a new build: Get advice and opinions from those who do it as a profession – landscapers, architects, interior designers. (Nicola) Get a landscape plan done at the beginning. It gives you direction. And then plant as soon as you can! (Ben)
Running their business from home means roomy and fresh offices (one each) were a must in their new home. Nicola and Ben own Foreverfit.tv, which streams workouts into your living room, and includes a horse-rider fitness programme. That these university sweethearts ended up with a fitness business is no surprise, as Nicola studied sport science and Ben marketing. He also made a name for himself on the rugby field, playing in the same rugby team as the other Ben Smith (the All Black) at Otago University. He was a member of the Steamers and went on to play professionally for Calvisano in Italy. During their four years in Italy, Nicola and Ben started their business, although things were a little more rudimentary back then. “I remember tacking up a white sheet on our apartment wall as a backdrop for our filmed workout sessions,” Nicola says. Mementos of those Italian days hang on the walls of the spare bedroom – black and white photographs that Nicola bought during ambles through markets.
Ben and Nicola’s decor style is big on the natural elements. There are cowhide and sisal mats, sheepskin throws, linen furnishings, and both the living and media rooms feature teak tree stumps used as coffee tables. There’s no need to go far for firewood as it’s stored under the black steel bench the fire sits on. Handy, plus it adds to the rustic ambience. It’s that combination of rural appeal, as well as not being too far from the city, that’s part of this home’s magic. Ben recalls their first night at the property. Up until then they had only visited during the day, so the view of both stars and city lights “blew us away. It was a very cool surprise.”
As featured in NZ House & Garden September 2018.
Words by Monique Balvert-O’Connor.
Photographs by Jane Ussher.