Falling in love with a farmhouse

Top New Zealand author Susan Brocker’s Kauri farmhouse sits at the top of a rather narrow 200 metre driveway, with a very steep slope, on Keenan Rd, Pyes Pa. And no, it wasn’t built on-site.

“It was built in the 1890s near Morrinsville, and moved here about 20 years ago.”

The moving of the 300m2 house was challenging.

“They split it in half, and got the first half up, but couldn’t get the second half up, so they sat it down the road by a kiwifruit orchard for a few months while they built another road up.”

Susan and husband Lionel Crawley bought the house 16 years ago, and have done a lot of refurbishing.

“A lot of these old farmhouses have big areas in the roof. The original farmhouse had a fire in the attic, so the people who owned it before us had to replace the roof, and rebuild the entire roof line. We were lucky; they added all the rooms upstairs, so we didn’t have any major renovation work to do.”

The new build matched the style of the damaged house, thanks to an older carpenter who was fastidious about sourcing old wood. The lower half of the house is still original, although the previous owners opened it up a lot – and Susan and Lionel have now put their own stamp on it.

“We were just titivating, while keeping the house in character. We used old-fashioned wallpaper, big old friezes, and so on. We didn’t try to modernise it.”

The large four-poster Balinese bed came from The Importer on Devonport Rd, while much of the other furniture came from overseas.

“When we lived in Holland we bought a lot of old, old Belgian furniture. The big oak cabinet in the lounge is a Mechelen piece, about 150 years old.”

While most of the refurbishing went smoothly, Susan did have one small disaster, thanks to some sharp-clawed fluffballs. Just after one of the upstairs rooms was completed, Susan started fostering SPCA kittens, and “foolishly” put a litter of the ferocious little beasts in that room.

“They ripped all the wallpaper, shredded a chair, and slashed the curtains. So I moved them out of that bedroom and put them in the outdoor laundry, and they absolutely destroyed it. It’s staying like that as the SPCA kitten room.”

Lionel was overseas at the time, and when he surveyed the damage on his return, he simply rolled his eyes.

“He’s very tolerant,” says Susan. The couple already have a medium-sized menagerie, including 29 Angora goats, named after desserts, such as Cheesecake and Pavlova, or fruit, such as Strawberry. Each goat has a starting letter on its ear tag, and Susan uses that as the starting letter for their name, which can be challenging.

“It was a battle for X. Lionel found Xigua, the Chinese name for watermelon, by which it is commonly called in Africa. We also have Zab, which is from the Italian dessert Zabaglione.”

The rest of the menagerie has equally inventive names. “We have two cats, Lili Marlene and our little devil Lucifer, horses Al Capone and Xena, and white Swiss shepherd Loki.”
Susan didn’t have a theme in her head for the design, but a walk through the house suggests ‘rustic country chic’. Some of her ideas came from magazines, others from observing.

“Over the years I’ve collected ideas I like. I’ve always loved old homes. When we lived in Auckland I used to walk around Herne Bay and look at all the old villas.”

Susan’s top suggestion for others considering a renovation project is to visit similar styled homes they love and see what works for them.

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