Green Living

A major DIY project has made family living easy in this 1950s Nelson home

Sun and space for family fun were top priorities for this creative couple, who almost single-handedly overhauled their small Nelson home

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Meet and greet

Sam Williams, builder at Insideout Builders, Poppy MacPhedran, hair and makeup artist at Poppy Makeup Artist and founder of online store Yukiyo Natural Beauty, Jett, 7, and Nova, 5, plus cat Shima.

A major DIY project has made family living easy in this 1950s Nelson home

It was DIY all the way when creative couple Poppy MacPhedran and Sam Williams renovated their small Nelson home. Sam is a builder, and Poppy a hair and makeup artist with a background in design. Both grew up surrounded by designers, makers and builders.


“I lived in a family of constant DIYers – they’re the kind of people who never have a finished house,” says Poppy. The cosy home they have created in Nelson’s Washington Valley has a small environmental footprint and the couple took on nearly all the renovation work themselves, from design and demolition to insulation, construction, painting and decorating.


A big move

Poppy and Sam bought their “ramshackle” 1950s rimu house sight unseen on the day they moved from Wellington to Nelson. “We just knew that it would be sunny, it had a big yard, and that it would be made out of rimu because it was a 1950s house, so we were like, ‘Oh well, we can’t really go wrong,’” Poppy explains. “We totally loved the view, and we knew we’d be getting all-day sun, plus it had a nice big section for the kids to run around in. The two main things on our list were sun and somewhere that we could make flat for the kids so they’d have a big enough area to play outside.”


Although the site and structure ticked their boxes, the decor left a lot to be desired. “It was yellow and purple,” laughs Poppy. “It was hideous.” She didn’t like yellow back then, she explains, but somehow ended up adding a bright yellow front door and yellow bar stools. “I absolutely love that we have bright yellow in our lives now!”


Slow and steady

The couple wanted to live in the home before deciding on their renovation priorities. “That was some really good advice we were given,” Poppy says. “Everyone said, ‘Live in it and see what you think you’ll get most use from first.’ We didn’t start renovating until about a year and a half after we moved in.”

They saved up for each stage of the renovation, keeping costs low by doing most of the work themselves with the help of some generous friends and family. The key stages were the deck and landscaping, followed by the bathroom and then the kitchen. The couple tackled each of these over four years (with a year’s break to take a well-earned holiday).


Outdoor living 

The home’s small, dated patio required a rethink to offer more outdoor living space and capitalise on views over the city. Poppy and Sam designed and built a new deck together, as well as “calling in a lot of love” from helpful friends. At the same time they landscaped the backyard to make it more child-friendly, using pieces of the original patio as a barrier between the garden and driveway. The family spend a lot of time outdoors and the barbecue gets plenty of use year round. The deck adds essential living space to the home. “It’s nice to have that extension of your house,” Poppy says.

The couple opted to construct their deck with untreated eucalyptus, despite the fact that people tried to talk them out of it. “We didn’t want the wood to be treated when we had little kids crawling around on it,” says Poppy. Eucalyptus has the same guarantee as treated pine, so it was a no-brainer.


For the same reasons they used wool insulation and Eco-House floor oil for their floorboards (which Sam hand-sanded) and kitchen island benchtop, which was made from Oregon timber (Douglas fir) found in the garage when the house was purchased. Recycled materials and furniture feature throughout the home – there are chairs from the reuse shop at the dump, recycled windows found at a demo yard, and an outdoor table made by Sam from salvaged cedar. “Most of our stuff is from Trade Me or the op-shop,” Poppy says. “That’s our style.”


Kitchen designs 

“Even though it’s not brand-new any more, I still love cooking in the kitchen,” Poppy says. For two years, while the couple saved for the renovation, their stove had just one working element. The new kitchen is Poppy’s favourite part of the house – designing it was a highlight. She planned the layout down to the exact measurements, then enlisted her friend Jude, of Jude Raffills Design, to build it.

Although the renovation took up all their weekends, Poppy believes that having young children at this time worked well as they were spending a lot of time at home already. The family stayed with friends and relatives while renovating the kitchen and bathroom, which made life more manageable. Nelson has turned out to be a wonderful location for them. Sam grew up in the city so they have lots of family there. “It’s the most family-friendly place to live,” says Poppy. “It’s so easy, everything’s really close, all the schools are fantastic, the weather’s amazing – it’s a really good place to have a family.”

Arts and crafts 

Crafty details are scattered throughout the home, from wall-mounted box shelves in Jett’s room to a unique entranceway display built by Sam to house some of Poppy’s treasures. The front door was inspired by a picture Poppy found in a magazine – the handles were made by Sam. Nova’s small room required some creative thinking.

“We needed to build something that worked as an open wardrobe,” Poppy says. They ended up creating a built-in plywood wardrobe with interchangeable open cubbies which can switch from display shelves to cushioned reading nooks. “It’s really cute and functional.”

Art is an important feature in the house, with works by local artists in most rooms. “I would rather hunt for a bargain on household necessities so I can splurge on art,” says Poppy.  “I also adore my indoor plants like they’re my pets. You can feel the cleanliness of the air in a house that has plants.”


What’s next

The final project to tackle this summer is the landscaping at the front of the house. This was initially first on the list, but the couple couldn’t decide what to do. As for the finished house, Poppy says, “We absolutely love it and love our location. Even though the house is little, it’s quite nice when you’ve got little kids because they’re always close to you, so it makes it easy.

It’s definitely becoming smaller now that our kids are getting bigger, but we still have the potential to renovate downstairs.” They have a large open garage under the house, which could add another 60 square metres to the 98-square-metre home.

As much as they love their house, Poppy and Sam don’t imagine they’ll stay for ever. One day they’d like to build their own place. “I’m sure we’ll be those people that go on to the next project once they finish renovating,” Poppy says. “I can’t imagine us having a house where we didn’t have something to do.”

Total budget: $50,000


Created by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Daniel Allen.

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