A Wairarapa wilderness

By Sarah Catherall
Photography by Elizabeth Goodall

Featured in Capital #61
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Cec and Andy Buchanan’s new Wairarapa home is crammed with treasures they have acquired and made over the years, a changeable gallery showcasing their lives and interests.

At the end of a long, gravel driveway in Gladstone, the single-level house resembles a modern barn or contemporary farmhouse, clad with dark metal with pops of red aluminium joinery.

 It’s fitting that the home looks out on a stand of old native trees. For 16 years, the couple planted and developed the Assisi Gardens − rambling gardens of national significance − a couple of kilometres along the road. The 11 hectares of gardens consumed their lives, until Andy turned to Cec one day as they were tending the olives and asked: “What do you think about selling this house and garden?”

Cec recalls: “It was like music to my ears. It was such a big job to run it.”

An artist, she has always loved a project or a challenge. Helping design and overseeing the new house project consumed her, and she has now turned her attention to the stand of natives on her new 4.9 hectare property, cutting a track through the forest.

Andy designed the 310msq house in three separate wings: a living zone, their bedroom wing, and a guest bedroom wing and office. They then hired a draughtsman and a builder to turn their ideas into reality.

After traipsing up and down two flights of stairs in their home for 16 years, they decided their new home needed to be on a single level. Cec also hoped for an open plan kitchen and living area. “Cec wanted a big room, which is a bugger to heat,” Andy laughs.

The kitchen and living room are filled with furniture, art, and concrete sculptures that Cec made in her workshop up the hill at Assisi. It cleverly looks out on two separate vistas through large windows and sliders − towards the Tararuas and a manicured lawn in one direction, and out the other side at their vegetable garden and the magnificent backdrop of native trees.

Cec was happy to leave Assisi, but, after living among gardens high on the hill with sweeping views of the Tararua ranges, she didn’t want to be “dropped in a paddock.”

Cec wanted the main room, with its peaked roof and exposed metal beams, to be a statement. She also wanted metalwork to be a feature. She designed the lights hanging over the dining table, and found a local engineer and craftsman, Peter Milne, who specialises in metalwork, to make them. Peter, who has done metalwork for Peter Jackson’s films, also made the metal mantlepiece and fire surround. “We always wanted metal and we found him. It was wonderful workmanship that he did for us. It was incredibly heavy work for him.”

The home reflects Cec’s love of art, sculpture and family heirlooms. A talented artist and crafter, Cec has made many of the concrete sculptures and knick-knacks scattered around their new home: two concrete elephants on the mantlepiece, concrete and painted ducks in the kitchen, and red plates on the wall above the kitchen stove. Her knitted cushions grace the windowsills and couch.

“I hate something too clinical. I don’t want white walls. It’s a home, not a showhome,” says Cec.

From their bedroom, they can spot the homestead where Andy grew up. Andy was just 18 months old when his father died in the war, leaving his mother Patsy Buchanan to raise Andy and his brother Hamish on the property. The whole area was family land, which explains why a road off Te Kopi Road is called Buchanan Road.

Cec and Andy have been together since 2000. Cec is at home in the country, having grown up in a rambling Greta Valley homestead in Canterbury. Photographs of her on horseback are on the bedroom wall, near photographs of their shared six children.

Many of the pieces of furniture and art in the house have a story behind them. Two huge outdoor tables were made from salvaged timber. Cec brought many of the pots from Assisi down the hill, including antique French grape bins used as planters. Cec’s sister Sarah made lamps out of an old oak tree from their family homestead in Canterbury.

Andy was a former racing driver who raced cars between tending stock. His automobile magazines and books are stacked on shelves in the open plan living room. Antlers from stags he raised are arranged on the entrance table. “I’ve lived in the area for 76 years. All my mates are here,” he smiles.

Cec’s daughter Amie, founder of Merino Kids, is also a talented artist—her paintings and art works are hung around the bedroom and bathroom walls, along with her mother’s. Many of the paintings and photographs are heirlooms from Cec’s family home in Canterbury.

To furnish their new home, they brought many items from their former home at Assisi Gardens. Cec recovered the Queen Anne chairs dotted around the house. There’s not a sign of Marie Kondo in the home, which pleases Cec immensely. Andy laughs, calling his wife “Mrs Clutter.”

The kitchen splashback blazes red. Cec is a keen cook, who turned her mother’s muesli recipe into a popular muesli brand, Cecile’s, the Hawkes Bay company now run by her stepson, Alister.

Cec pulls a few peppers and a large marrow out of her vege garden and throws a bone to her black labs, Serena and Venus.

Her garden today is easy care, and her new home is an artistic statement. “It’s also relaxed enough that I can keep my boots on when I go inside,” she smiles.


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