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City chef Marc Weir has moved from his dream job to his dream home. He talks to Sarah Catherall about the move.
Marc Weir thinks it was his destiny to own an 1875 former boutique hotel on Greytown’s main street. Last year, he was the owner of Loretta and cooking in its kitchen during the day. Home was a villa in Brooklyn which he shared with his husband, Ash Brocklebank. Last September, he stumbled upon an online real estate advertisement for Briarwood. He had always noticed the hotel when he visited Greytown. Ten days later, the couple were the new owners, and they have lived there permanently since Christmas. In early September this year, Marc sold Loretta and moved to Greytown permanently. When Capital visited in early October, he hadn’t been back to Wellington.
“I feel very calm here. It feels like home. It wasn’t like that when we first moved in. I thought, ‘What have I done? Why have I left Wellington?’” Marc pulls up the ensuite bathroom window, revealing Greytown’s main street lined with lush trees. Trucks and cars motor past. “I’ve seen that view my whole life. In my head. I’m obviously meant to be here. It’s a deep feeling I can’t explain.’’
For now, he has no intention of opening the house to paying guests, although they welcome them into a one-bedroom apartment above the garage. The couple are enjoying their beautiful home, which is filled with art, objects, and furniture they’ve collected over the years. Marc has always loved design and collected. A visiting tradesperson has already asked if the house is a museum. Says Marc: “It’s just home now but I know it’s not a normal home. I’ve always wanted a house full of chairs and furniture. I’m not sure why,’’ he laughs. “It’s been a progression of working hard, and being able to buy nice things, and travel well. Now I’ve done all that, and I can just relax here and enjoy it.’’
Briarwood is a heritage building which has had many uses in its 150 years. It was the first commercial building in Greytown, and then a town house. The wide tongue and groove weatherboards were intended to replicate stone. Over the years it fell into a state of disrepair. It was rescued and restored in the 1960s, first as the Turkey Red art gallery (named after the owner’s favourite paint colour), then the Turkey Red restaurant and café. As Briarwood, it was converted into luxury accommodation in 2004.
Now the entrance door on the ground floor opens into one of two former guest suites; the previous owners lived upstairs. Marc and Ash have converted both suites into living areas. A den and a parlour are filled with leather furniture, French chairs, art works depicting animals and landscapes, and taxidermy. Ash’s framed collection of graphite wildlife illustrations pack the parlour walls. They are by Gary Hodges, a highly collectable UK pencil artist, whose work Ash has been collecting for years. Marc’s taxidermy, much of which he has purchased in Wellington, sits on sideboards, and a mountain tahr gazes out from one wall. The parlour is filled with French furniture which Marc has had reupholstered since they moved in.
Like the outside of the house, the interior is full of colour and interest. A bust on the entrance table was on display at Floriditas, and Marc has kept it as a memento of his time there.
Marc and Ash spend most of their time upstairs during the day, in the dining room and kitchen. The French chairs in the dining/living area have been re-covered three times. A peacock presides over one end of the dining table, and more taxidermy works are arranged along a dresser. Marc collects pottery – Laurie Steer bowls are arranged on shelves flanking the upstairs fireplace, while the kitchen displays his set of Paul Melser plates.
The self-taught chef and perfectionist is the principal cook in the household. He is critical of his Greytown kitchen, though to a casual visitor it looks perfect. He wants to replace the marble benches with stainless steel, but, having been through kitchen renovations before “I won’t do it again,’’ he says.
A set of red kitchen scales, which Marc bought on a trip to San Francisco, pop on the bench. His cookbooks, collected over 20 years, are colour coded on shelves. The kitchen opens on to a deck which overlooks the back garden and is blistering hot in the summer. The garden is filled with buxus hedges and topiary, while an antique fountain bubbles soothingly.
So far, Briarwood doesn’t have a vegetable garden – the couple had a huge potager garden in their Brooklyn home, which took time to tend. “It seems silly to spend $3.50 on a punnet of herbs. I miss growing everything but it’s nice to have a low maintenance garden.’’
The master bedroom is also upstairs. It has been repainted a gunmetal grey (Resene Masala) and is filled with artworks. A vintage bus sign – one of two in the house – hangs on a wall. A portrait of Tora, the couple’s late tabby cat, was painted by Wairarapa artist Stephen Allwood. “I gave him six photos. He did an amazing job, as it looks just like her.’’ Many of the paintings in the house feature animals or landscapes and most are by Allwood or Joanna Braithwaite. He can’t explain his preferences, but all his art and objects make him feel at home.
Marc has been working in restaurants for more than three decades. He was 18 when he began his career working for Lois Daish at Brooklyn Cafe and Grill. He started out as a waiter, learned to be a baker, and then became the maitre d’. “I went there to dine one night and thought this is where I want to be.’’
After that job, he managed Clark’s Cafe in Palmerston North, the beginning of a long business relationship with James and Julie Clark. They set up Floriditas together, then opened Loretta, and eventually took one restaurant each, when Marc owned Loretta. The Clarks are now co-owners of Loretta with new business partners.
Marc says fate intervened when he got an offer for Loretta. He talks about a year of struggling to find staff, so he was relieved to get out. “I truly think someone has looked after me. Loretta was my dream restaurant but it was time to move on.’’ Marc jokes that Greytown is famous for luring former Wellington restaurateurs: Marcus Daly, Martin Bosley, and Rusty Domworth all live there now. But he had no intention of going there – it was the house that captured him. He also likes the friendliness of the locals. “You walk along and we say hi to each other.’’
For now, he plans to focus on food and recipe writing, while enjoying his beautiful home. “People think I’m going to open up a new restaurant in Greytown. No. Why would I? Why would I sell my dream restaurant to open up a new place?’’