words & images: Judy McAuliffe

That’s the question that artist Tina Yeatman and her contractor husband Nick faced ten years ago when they first decided to build their dream home. Nobody could decide on the answer, and consequently nobody really wanted to take on the build. They’ve been living in their ‘hybrid home’ now for two years and share the tale of the house that no one wanted to build.

The Yeatmans’ home, at Hinds, is much like the bookshelves that line their walls – full of colourful stories. Every room, every door, every nut, bolt and latch has a story attached.

Mostly, the story of this home is one of sheer determination and hard work. The original drawings for the house were sketched by Nick almost 10 years ago, and then ‘tidied up’ by an architect. “We knew exactly what we wanted. Our problem all the way through, was that no-one else got it. They all thought we were mad,” Tina says.

Mad indeed. Several builders looked at the plans and declared it a commercial building, so not within their scope. Commercial builders then looked at the plans and declared it a house, so not their forte either. Finally, after several false starts, a builder friend, Barney McBride, offered to “give it a go.” You get the picture. It’s not your average home.  

Set back from the State Highway, the two storied, double-gabled structure clad in white Glendeck iron is eye-catching, to say the least.  The design uses four enormous steel portals.  “The heart of the house is these big steel beams,” Nick says. “When they first went up people thought we were building a cathedral.”

Tina will never forget the day the crane came to lift the beams into place. “I was so excited I rushed out to watch them being installed, and I fell over and broke my nose,” she laughs. 

At first glance, the home appears to comprise two distinct wings, with a central ‘corridor’ connecting them. Through the doorway, past Tina’s beautifully hand-painted glass panels, one large open space encircles a central staircase. As you walk around, the kitchen, living room, lounge and reading nook are all separate, yet woven together.

“This ground floor is basically all one room, with a toilet. All the walls, upstairs and down, are movable, says Nick. “There are no supporting walls. If we wanted to, there’s nothing stopping us from taking a wall out. The portals support the self-supporting structure. Every architect we talked to wanted to put poles in rather than put the integral strength into the building. I said to one fellow, “I want to live in a house, not under a wharf!”  he laughs. “They all said that steel beams were not viable, but when the concrete was down and the portals were standing, we tallied up the cost for labour, steel, everything. That’s when we knew it would come in under budget quite easily.”

Many more stories flow: how, while the building was in the planning stages, they’d lived in a hastily built office block/pole shed. “That was supposed to be for three months, but we ended up living there for seven years,” Tina says. They also built the pond and wharf. “We have fish to feed, ducks to watch and our kids swam and sailed here. It feels like a holiday every day.”

Ten years of gardening also went in, including 1200 natives, an orchard and raised vege gardens, all protected from the weather by a massive wall of tyres, built entirely by Nick.

The interior walls are a combination of rustic beams, boards and panelling, and more of that white Geldeck iron. Nick laughs about how he ‘accidentally’ discovered the Oregon for the upstairs floors. “The salesman worked his way through every possible option, until finally he found a sample of some commercial grade. He just looked at me and said, “You wouldn’t, would you?”  Right throughout, we wanted, rough, rustic, full of character. People aren’t used to working that way.”

There’s a story about the concrete flooring too; another about the Pacific kauri panelling and T&G walls, the handles for the kitchen cupboards and drawers, and the toilet roll holder are pieces of pipe Nick shaped, and had powder coated, and all the doors are stable doors, made onsite from off-cuts. “You wouldn’t believe that we couldn’t get anyone to make stable doors with big rustic hinges and Suffolk latches. That’s what a door used to look like. They are beautiful doors.”  Nick and good friend Dave Allan from Allanway Engineering, also built the stunning staircase – another story.

Dave was also the overseer of the whole building project and it is the first and only house he has ever built! He builds milking sheds!

Tina’s artistic touches are visible everywhere, although Nick is quick to point out that he found the fabulous light fitting over the dining table on TradeMe. “It’s modelled on a ships light, with a gimbal.”

After years of sticking to their guns, the Yeatmans have achieved their perfect home. “The beauty of building your dream home is that every single thing is as you want it.” Tina says.  “I hear people talking about building affordable houses,” Nick adds. “They’re half-million-dollar homes! This house cost half that. It just takes innovation and thought. If you think about materials and put some effort in, you can achieve amazing things, without going crazy.”  

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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.