Eric Murray

Meet the couple behind My New Home: Follow The Reno

Meet double Olympic gold medallist Eric Murray, the dynamo behind our new series tracking the transformation of a grand old villa in Cambridge

Meet & greet

Eric Murray (sports coach and business development manager) and partner Thea Lyle (teacher).

The property

Four-bedroom 1912 villa in Cambridge.

Double Olympic gold medallist Eric Murray knows a thing or two about setting goals and working hard to achieve them. Now he’s applying the same attitude and focus that won him countless international rowing regattas to a mammoth DIY renovation – and we’re following in his wake with a comprehensive series of articles tracking his progress.

It hasn’t been long since Eric took ownership of the run-down four-bedroom villa not far from the centre of Cambridge. Built in 1912, the house had changed hands only twice in 110 years, and was desperately in need of a major makeover.

“It was in a very original state,” Eric says. “Apart from the Gib going on the walls in the ’90s, nothing much else had been done in more than 100 years. It was in dire need of some work.”

But Eric was able to see past the peeling wallpaper, sagging ceilings and even the outdoor toilet and laundry, and imagine a better future for the grand old lady. “I’ve always been a person who had a vision,” he says.

Although he has renovated kitchens and bathrooms in other homes, this is his first big reconfiguration renovation. “My last house was a ’50s house so it was very easy to work with,” he says.

“By contrast, this one needs a full rejuvenation, from levelling the floors to replacing the roof.”

He believes it was his intention to renovate rather than bowl the house, which is on a prime piece of developable real estate, that helped him win his bid to buy it from the previous owners, who had lived there since the ’60s. “Maybe that swung them to sell it to me,” he says. “Someday I’d love to bring them back through so they can see what I’ve done.”

Just months into the project, Eric has already achieved a lot. He works four days a week in business development and coaching, and spends every other moment working on the house, with help and encouragement from his schoolteacher partner, Thea Lyle.

Although he’s not a trained builder, Eric is handy with the tools and willing to give most tasks a go. “I’m just making it up as I go along,” he laughs. “That’s what the internet’s for.”

He steers clear of anything that needs to be checked off by council, calling in his builder to tackle the big jobs.

The couple’s first move was to clean up the villa’s large, level garden, knocking down various ramshackle lean-tos and shelters and building a new shed, studio and fences. “We demoed the whole site,” says Eric.

They also rerouted the front path using demolition bricks, built a new parking zone at the front, replanted the garden and relaid the grass.

Their plan was to tackle the outdoors first while they worked with a local architect to draw up plans for the interior and waited for council consent – because they thought summer would be a sensible time to be working outdoors.

What they didn’t foresee was one of the wettest summers on record. “The place was a mud pit,” Eric says. “We had to hustle to get the grass down.”

They also replaced the roof, rebuilt the rotten return veranda and added lacework trim to up the elegance ante. “We want it to be classy,” says Eric.

The exterior was treated to a new coat of paint, with Resene Lumbersider Low Sheen in Resene Quarter Rakaia on the weatherboards, Resene Lumbersider Low Sheen in Resene Half Rakaia on the base boards, Resene Walk-on in Resene Rakaia on the decking and Resene Alabaster on the balustrade and trims.

The delay in council consent also gave Eric and Thea time to plan the design elements of their new home, including working with Resene Colour Expert Christine Hodges to create an interior colour scheme that will enhance the character features of the home, and their local Tile Space store to choose feature tiles for the bathroom, ensuite and kitchen splashback. They also drew up detailed plans for the kitchen and laundry, so they could go ahead and order the cabinetry, tapware and a new suite of Haier appliances ready for installation.

Now the couple have turned their attention indoors and have installed a temporary kitchen, toilet and shower to make the place semi-liveable while the renovation continues. “The air fryer has been getting a hammering,” says Eric. “We’ve been living rough, but our relationship is still good – probably because Thea has been staying with a friend.”

It has been a marathon effort already, even for a man used to the kind of punishing training schedule it takes to get to the top of a sport and stay there for years, winning seven successive world championships along the way. In 2021, Eric and his rowing partner Hamish Bond received the top honour of Decade Champions in a special category of the Halberg Awards set up to recognise the best New Zealand athletes of the previous 10 years.

He says his rowing training has given him the ability to visualise a result, and the stamina and discipline needed to see the project through. “When we were training we had a plan and benchmarks to hit, and this is much the same,” he says. “It also taught me discipline. No matter how late I finish, I always clean up before I knock off for the day. I have to be organised or it would be an absolute cluster.”

Eric says the project has already been both bigger and harder than he originally envisaged, but that hasn’t dented his enthusiasm. “I’m really enjoying it,” he says. “It’s good for my mental health to have a challenge – something to keep me busy.”

His advice to would-be renovators is to make sure your friends and family are on board before you commit to a project. “I’ve been blessed and pleased to have so many people want to be part of the journey – especially Thea and her mum. You can’t do it as a one-man band.”

NEXT MONTH: The walls come down.

Special thanks to

Photography by: Babiche Martens.

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