When Tharina Nel first saw the beautiful old villa on Allens Road it was love at first sight. “I phoned the real estate agent and that was it.” South African native Tharina, husband Stan and 11-year-old twins Keegan and Talitha moved to Ashburton in early 2017 and into the villa last June. The entire family have been truly captivated by the light, warmth and space in the home and for Tharina the house has stirred some very special childhood memories. “My grandmother in South African lived in an old farmhouse dating back to 1880 and this house reminds me so much of it, the high ceilings, the doors and door handles and the big old fireplaces.”

The Nels were fascinated by the history of their new home and one day at the museum with the kids they decided to do some digging. They didn’t have much luck but found a copy of the original floor plan and discovered that the house had been named Hampton House and was built prior to 1910. The original plans show a huge orchard and vegetable garden although strangely Tharina says these days there isn’t even one apple tree left in the beautiful gardens that now stand on the land.

It is a cold, rainy day when Tharina gives Spirit a tour of her home yet the light and warmth in the house is impressive. The first renovation project for the family was to upgrade the heating in the villa, putting in underfloor insulation, adding a heat transfer system and a log burner in the sitting room. Plush new carpet in the lounge and sitting room was a treat for the twins as in South Africa it’s too hot for carpet, “the perks of a colder climate” Tharina laughs.

A bright airy hallway with polished hardwood floors leads the way to a huge combined living space, consisting of a lounge/TV room and separate sitting room. Funky animal print rugs are the first glimpse of the African safari theme that is present in little touches all over the home. “We are all absolutely mad about the African bush,” Tharina confirms. Stepping from the hallway into the cosy family lounge it’s hard to say what is more eye-catching – the unusual African artwork or the stunning original fireplace with intricate detailing. Thick rugs and luxurious fur cushions combined with the dark wood fireplace gives the lounge a definite safari lodge vibe. As well as being a nod to their South African roots the artwork has a strong sentimental value for the family. The cheetah above the sofa was a wedding present from family, Tharina’s mum-in-law has done a lion tapestry and a zebra oil colour was painted by a family friend. Even twins Keegan and Thalita have made a very impressive and original addition to the décor by displaying their glass animal tiles they made themselves in Kruger Park.

The lounge is separated from the sitting room by sliding doors and this larger space has a more open plan, brighter feel than the lounge area. The separation of the spaces works well for the family as the children and friends can spend time in the lounge while the adults enjoy time in the more formal sitting room that’s always bathed in light thanks to the floor to ceiling windows and doors and has a magnificent view looking on the gardens. The décor here has more of a French country/ vintage feel with paler wood furniture and a sofa in cream tones. Candles and throws add extra touches of luxury in the room but there are also personal touches with some mini chairs on display that were made by Stan’s’ grandfather.

On the other side of the hallway lies the dining room and kitchen area. The dining room again has a French country theme with a large dining table and cream upholstered chairs with plenty of candles and a glass centrepiece. Above the old fireplace hangs a painting owned by her grandmother “The Dying Swan” which Tharina admits is one of her favourite pieces in the home. Pale curtains and cream sash windows give the room a serene and homely feel.

Off the dining room lies the kitchen. An important room in any home but for Tharina it’s a place she spends more time in than most busy mums. She’s a baker by trade and runs a catering business “The Cakelady Ashburton “from home so having a functional kitchen is key for her. For Tharina her new kitchen is perfect – they have just fitted a brand new oak kitchen and Stan laid the beautiful wooden floors and there is plenty of storage space for all her tins and tools, “it’s wonderful, this is the biggest space I’ve ever worked in.” Two gleaming mixers standing on the polished bench-top and judging by the cupcakes on the table Tharina certainly has a talent “I make everything, cakes, cheesecakes, jams, biscuits, platters.”

Despite being kept busy with her baking business Tharina still hasn’t forgotten about adding the final touches to her stunning home. The children’s’ bedrooms are next on the list and then she plans to tackle the garden in time for summer but mostly the Nels are just enjoying their wonderful warm and cosy villa “we all absolutely adore it and now we are here I can’t imagine living anywhere else, it’s perfect.”


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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.