Over the hill and on the ladder

By Sarah Catherall
Photographed by Josiah Nevall

Featured in Capital #81
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Katie and Carl Rosati have found their feet in Featherston with a property dressed in the most fashionable colour of them all. Sarah Catherall talks to the couple.

Down a suburban street in Featherston, Katie and Carl Rosati’s black house sits behind a giant macrocarpa tree. Low-slung, with a sloping roof and a bright pink front door, it looks to be a stylish new build.

It’s hard to believe that the house was built in the 1970s, and cost the young, single-income couple just $350,000 when they bought it three years ago.

The couple returned from the UK nine years ago after Katie’s father became ill. Carl, a lead designer at Catch agency, and Katie, a florist, had their daughter, Ida, who is now four, and moved around three rentals in Wellington. Like many couples, they struggled to get on the property ladder.

Recalls Katie: “We looked at houses to buy but they were out of our budget. Wellington was really competitive. We had friends who had placed bids on something like 10 houses and missed out.”

They had friends who had moved over the hill to Featherston – single-income couples like them, who were drawn to the artsy, low-key community which still had relatively cheap property.

They fell in love with the house they eventually bought, and their daughter, Soren, now two, was born there. While the house was in a good state, they immediately painted the exterior a modern black, hiding the spots of lime green and beige popping through the old paint. Carl laughs. “The house is pretty rough around the edges. Don’t look too close. When you squint you notice things.”

It’s small, at just 90 square metres, but the living room has a high, sloping ceiling, giving the semblance of more space and making the room feel light and airy. Most of their furniture was from the 1970s, and it fits in perfectly. The open-plan living and dining area is the hub of the home. A pot plant sits in the corner near a sideboard and the walls are still the original soft grey hue, though the light fittings are new. They sanded and waxed the dining room table. Most items in the living area were bought from thrift shops or Trade Me. The 1970s kitchen is original and in good shape.

Off the hallway, Ida’s bedroom has a teepee in one corner and an original 1970s glass door patterned with yachts. Next door, Carl and Katie’s bedroom is simple, with a view of the garden and trees.

Soren sleeps in a cute bedroom at the back of the house which doubles as Carl’s office. Carl grew up in Norfolk, in the UK, where he found a passion for collecting things and foraging at car boot sales. When Katie met him in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where she worked as a nanny, Carl was an artist and designer, and his hobby was collecting cameras.

A bookshelf in Soren’s room is full of Carl’s current obsessions: the Lego cars he bought and built sit in front of his collection of lime green “Fighting Fantasy’’ books.

Says Carl: “I’ve always had to collect something. It’s the surprise of looking for something you want to find. You get a little buzz when you do.”

On that note, the junk shops lining Featherston’s main street were among the things that lured him over the hill. “I also liked the fact that Featherston was a bit grungy. I expect it will become a bit gentrified and when it does I’ll probably look for the next grungy town,’’ he laughs.

While the house was in good condition when they bought it, the 1000-square-metre land it sat on was another story. Carl points to the back garden, which is now alive with colour: mandarins and grapefruit hang on trees, near lemons like drops of sunshine. The back is now covered with grass, replacing rubbish, weeds, and thick bush. “It was trashed,” laughs Carl. “The back third of the property had dirt up to the height of the fence. You couldn’t get within five feet of the fence.”

They got a digger in and took months to clear it. Katie dragged a box around and filled it with rubbish. “It was like a forest in there. We were like goblins chipping away
out there,’’ says Carl.

“I found some big bones in there. There was a bone graveyard behind the garage. Twenty years ago, people would warn ‘You shouldn’t go into Brandon Street after dark’.”

Katie says: “Over the years, I think the owners buried a lot of rubbish in the ground. We found that lemon tree near the chicken hutch, but it was lost in the mess until we cleared it.’’ She describes the overgrown yard as “the opposite of an enchanted forest.”

Carl loves tinkering in the back yard. He’s building a treehouse for the children which is getting bigger. “I’m working towards a space in my head that I imagine the kids having fun and playing safely. I want to build interesting areas that stimulate them.”

Katie grew up on a sheep farm in Kimbolton, in the Manawatū, and likes the familiar sense of space for her children. Chickens run around in a pen with a hutch inside it, and she has built a flower garden behind the shed. Tulips are bursts of red and white, and Lady’s Mantle blooms along the fence line.

Carl loves his home and garden. He reflects that if they hadn’t made that decision to move they’d still be renting. “I can’t fathom what it must be like trying to buy now,” he says.

There are many things they love about the Wairarapa, including the junk shops. Katie drives along the highway to her part-time job glazing for Wundaire, a ceramics studio in Greytown, and she also works as a self-employed designer and web developer from her dining room table. Says Katie: “The community is amazing, full of creatives, and we are still only an hour away from the city via train or car.”

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