Country cabin conversion

Buddy Harwood and Stephanie Saxton are living proof that hard work and determination really does pay off.

Nine months after buying a “completely unliveable” 1960s house, the young Athenree couple have turned it into a cosy Canadian-style country cabin with beautiful timber ceilings, bi-fold doors that span the front of the house and an office with “sea peeps” to the Tauranga Harbour.

Buddy met Stephanie in Canada and brought her home to Athenree where they initially lived in their 27-foot fifth wheel camper on Buddy’s parents’ property.

The landscape designer and apprentice builder was working on a house in Athenree when he spotted a house across the road he thought the couple might be able to do up themselves.

“The house needed a lot of work but we could see the potential. It wasn’t for sale but being a small town we were able to get the owner’s number and asked him if he’d be willing to sell.

“Thankfully he was happy for us to take it off his hands,” says Stephanie.
Like many couples in their early 20s, Stephanie and Buddy thought the cost of owning their own home would be beyond their reach. Because the house needed lots of work they got it for an affordable price.

“It’s almost impossible to get into the market at our age. I don’t know how people do it without doing what we have done and renovating from scratch,” says Stephanie.

Apart from the piles and the roof, which was in relatively good condition, the rest of the house was demolished.

“It was full of borer so we had to replace every single frame in the house. A lot of the rooms didn’t even have floors in them,” says Stephanie.

When the sale went unconditional, the couple celebrated by taking a sledge hammer to the walls.

“We just got straight into it, demoing for a couple of days before drawing up a floor plan. The house is only 107m2 so utilising all the space was key.”

The three-bedroom, two-bathroom house has a “woodsy” Canadian cabin effect with rusticated, double-splayed wood cladding finished with a redwood stain and copper nails and matt black joinery.

Inspired by the sarked ceilings in Buddy’s parents’ home, the couple sourced some Japanese cedar from the Tauriko sawmill and used it to create sarked ceilings in their own lounge, kitchen and office.

A unique feature in the house is the macrocarpa bathroom vanities – also sourced from the sawmill –which give the bathrooms a rustic touch.

The cost of both vanities, which they sanded and polyurethaned themselves, was less than the cost of one cheap vanity at a homeware store.

“Some of the really neat features that we have, like the ceilings and bathroom vanities, actually cost less than doing what is ‘normal’,” says Stephanie.

The couple chose a white, country-style kitchen, and plan to add an island bench with seating for six and up-lighting underneath to give it extra emphasis.

Their new chestnut wooden floor panels are about to go in and a wood burner will also be added with a rock schist surround.

Future plans for the property include building a garage and installing a mezzanine floor in the office –accessible by a wooden ladder – to provide an extra sleeping space for guests.

Buddy also wants to add a ‘secret garden’ with a fire pit and loungers, and a water feature throughout the garden that will surround a wrap-around deck.  

Stephanie is inspired to add a ‘Bali bathroom’ off the master bedroom. “I’d like stepping stones out to an outdoor shower surrounded in greenery. Our master bedroom has a ranch slider on one side and we are going to build three enclosed walls with an open ceiling.

“We want to look out to a forest, rather than our neighbour’s shed.”

The couple brought in some outside help for gib-stopping and spouting and were assisted by both their dads, but otherwise the house is largely their own work.

“We knew it was going to be a lot of work and we were going to have to put a lot of sweat into it but we didn’t think it would be that bad. It was brutal,” says Stephanie.

The experience has not only given the young couple a house of their own, it has also enabled Buddy to tick off many of the boxes on his builder’s apprenticeship.

“What we’ve done has proved to be a lot more work than building the house from scratch,” says Buddy.

Stephanie says they were flexible with the floor plan, which allowed them to make changes along the way. YouTube and Pinterest provided them with plenty of design inspiration.

During the renovating and building process, the couple thought they’d never do it again, but now that they’re living in the house they’re already looking into more projects.

“There is just such a sense of fulfilment and pride in doing something like this,” says Stephanie.

The couple have kept a journal of their renovation journey and hope to turn it into a book.
Stephanie’s advice to others tackling big renovation projects like this is to “never give up”.

 “There were a lot of times when we thought: ‘What are we doing?’, ‘Why are we doing this?’, ‘Is it worth it?’ We were also given a lot of advice. You take it all with a grain of salt, but in the end we just went with our gut.”

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