The owner of a reconstructed farm cabin is determined to keep the spirit alive

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The jury is still out on whether Julie McDade’s reworked rural home is a major renovation or rebuild.

It started out as a 1950s wooden bungalow in the green hills of the Scotsman Valley between Morrinsville and Hamilton, perfectly positioned for views of Mount Te Aroha and the Kaimai Range. If you look closely at the house, you can still see its old bones, but it’s been extended and refreshed, and clad in stained cedar – all while retaining its plush charm.

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“I fell in love with this place,” says Julie. “I can still smell the old house. If you play in one place, the spirit is gone.

She says that at one point during the “renovation”, her builder, Mark Wallbank of MW Builders, told her, “This is not a renovation; you have only kept one original wall. He was referring to the mudroom wall at the entrance to the house. Julie confirms that her builder was right: it’s the only wall that hasn’t been moved or altered in some way.

Julie's favorite view of her home shows the entire living room, dining room, and kitchen;  the walls are painted in Resene Quarter Bianca, and the fireplace and hearth were built by Waikato stonemason Paul (Taffy) Williams, using fieldstone from the neighboring farm;  the fireplace is an old tÅ tara pole, the horned sheep print is by Cavit & Co, the Artwood wicker basket was purchased from Notting Hill Interiors in TÄ«rau, the leather sofa is by Freedom and the Kina pendant light is by David Trubridge.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

Julie’s favorite view of her home shows the entire living room, dining room, and kitchen; the walls are painted in Resene Quarter Bianca, and the fireplace and hearth were built by Waikato stonemason Paul (Taffy) Williams, using fieldstone from the neighboring farm; the fireplace is an old tÅ tara pole, the horned sheep print is by Cavit & Co, the Artwood wicker basket was purchased from Notting Hill Interiors in TÄ«rau, the leather sofa is by Freedom and the Kina pendant light is by David Trubridge.

She clung to her vision of blending old and new and is proud that many materials were able to be preserved and reused, including matai flooring, rimu planks, light switches and doors. She says recycling as much as she could from the original house was her boldest decision.

“It takes longer and the builders sometimes want to kill you, but you retain so much of the original character and the materials – the rimu coverings and the matai flooring for example – were so beautiful and still perfectly functional.”

In the garden she also kept mature trees such as oaks, beeches, a palm, camellias, loquats and kauris, as well as old clumps of ‘Erlicheer’ daffodils and naked women (belladonna lilies) in the enclosures. They are all part of the history of the property.

Julie is from the city of Athens in the US state of Georgia. She trained as a veterinarian, moved to New Zealand in 2005 with a container of stuff she couldn’t bear to part with, and for the past 10 years has been the business development manager for Greenlea Premier. Meats, based in Waikato.

Set on 1ha of land, the house was the original home of the adjoining sheep and beef farm which is now owned by Julie’s former husband, Alec Jorgensen, who worked with her on the early stages of the renovation. They bought the house in 2007, made some minor changes, and started most of the work around 2014.

“At the start, there was no insulation, no double glazing, no heat pump, we just froze,” says Julie. “When you got up in the morning, you could see your breath.”

It has completely transformed into a beautifully cozy home for her, her 12-year-old son Ben, beloved rescue dogs Dixie and Ziggy, and horses Texas and Tucker who watch things over the garden fence. .

Hamilton architect Peter Chibnall drew up the plans for the renovation/reconstruction and Julie says there were no revisions due to the very detailed brief she had provided. “I spent so much time there.”

The key was to open up several small rooms to create a generous living room that integrates the kitchen and dining table. A massive steel beam was installed on the ceiling in place of the load-bearing walls that were removed.

The main living area opens onto a north facing terrace bordered by a large walnut and oak tree. In the summer, Julie says it’s like living in a treehouse. In winter, the trees shed their leaves to let the sun filter through.

The rustic fireplace and hearth were constructed from fieldstones found on the farm, painstakingly dug up and brought home in an old Toyota Rav that groaned under the weight.

A wing was developed for Ben’s bedroom, a guest bedroom and a bathroom. Ben also enjoys his “man cave”, a cozy room with an extra television, created in the attic once accessed by a ladder but now with its own staircase. Salvaged rimu siding boards were milled and laid as flooring in this room.

Julie’s bedroom, bathroom and office are in another extension, accessible from a hallway leading down from the living room. Her bedroom faces east over verdant farmland and opens onto a sheltered terrace that catches the morning sun.

Her furnishings include old favorites such as a dresser, desk, and prints she brought from Georgia, and her southern roots are evident in the plantation-style white shutters used extensively throughout the home. .

A double-hung Dutch door also references southern architecture; it opens from the spacious kitchen onto an outdoor terrace and an adjacent swimming pool. A convenient self-contained cottage in the front yard is a peaceful retreat for visitors.

The bungalow, reconfigured and clad in dyed cedar, nestles amidst mature trees and topiary.  The pergola at the entrance to the rebuilt house is an original structure, replanted with four grape varieties.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

The bungalow, reconfigured and clad in dyed cedar, nestles amidst mature trees and topiary. The pergola at the entrance to the rebuilt house is an original structure, replanted with four grape varieties.

Julie shopped locally for new items at favorite stores around Cambridge, Morrinsville, Hamilton and Tīrau. Many of his works feature images of animals, in one form or another, reflecting his background as a veterinarian.

The image of a stuffed rabbit holding a gun is a quirky symbol of his love-hate relationship with the countless rabbit families who dug a maze of burrows on his property. “There are generations here.”

And humanly, several generations of people have enjoyed Julie’s old charmer on the hill, reinvented for the 21st century but with its spirit still very much intact.

Julie brought her animals to the right place at the right time for this photo: Tucker, left, and Texas, are both pedigree horses, and Dixie and Ziggy are rescue dogs (and best friends).

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

Julie brought her animals to the right place at the right time for this photo: Tucker, left, and Texas, are both pedigree horses, and Dixie and Ziggy are rescue dogs (and best friends).

Q&A with Julie McDade

Favorite time of year: Certainly in the summer. We can open all folding doors and windows and the pool is our favorite place. The house and the exterior seem to merge into one large room.

I would have liked to know that: Dog nails on soft wood floors don’t mix!

Low point of the renovation: It took a lot longer than expected, but in fairness to the builders, nothing was square, so everything was a mission.

And highlight: Because we moved for renovation, it was quite fun to visit at the end of each day and see what the builders had accomplished. Every milestone, like the roof being done or the windows being done, was a celebration.

Best budget find: The bedroom curtains. A friend had recently renovated her house and they were surplus to requirements. She tastes amazing and everything is always done to a high standard. Beautiful and well made fabric.

Favorite local design store: Sunday society at the old Matangi dairy factory.

Best coffee: Punnet Eatery in Tamahere.

On weekends you will find me: In Cambridge, or stroll in the garden, or stroll with my horses (who think they own the place).

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