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This new-build set on 440 hectares nails modern farmhouse style

A North Otago new-build which curls its arms around a protected outdoor area is everything its farmer owners wanted

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Who lives here? 

Sarah Isbister, husband Gareth (both cattle farmers), and Harriet, 3, plus border terrier Floyd and Poppy the cat.


Cattle farmers Sarah and Gareth Isbister bought their 440-hectare farm four years ago. In Five Forks, 20km inland from Oamaru, the site is rural North Otago at its finest. The views are 360 degrees with glorious vistas whichever way you look. The location was good (near their families and in an area they both grew up in) and it came with an old homestead, which the pair intended to renovate. However, after looking into what a major reno would entail, they decided building new was a better option. They lived in the old farmhouse during the build (being on site was very handy when builders had questions or problems) and it’s now farm accommodation for their staff.


The new house has all its bedrooms on one side and all the living spaces on the other, which Sarah loves. “We can put Harriet to bed in the evening and happily entertain in the living space without fear of waking her,” she says. The kitchen forms the hub of the home. Often Harriet, 3, will be reading, playing or doing a puzzle in the nearby TV room, Gareth’s sitting at the bench reading the paper and Sarah’s bustling away in the kitchen – “It means we are all together but doing our own thing. It’s really nice,” Sarah says.

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The plan

A light, open home with plenty of space was the brief and Sarah also had a few specifics on her wishlist: “High, vaulted ceilings in the living area to give a sense of space, flush sills on the doors out to the deck, and a mud room – I’d had many years of smelly gumboots and wet-weather gear at my front door so this was pretty important!” she laughs.

It took them a little while to get their heads round what it was they actually wanted to live in. “We started off looking at pictures of all these amazing super-architectural homes but, at the end of the day, they weren’t practical for us,” says Sarah. So they went to Wanaka for a weekend, drove around the new subdivisions and came back with a good idea of what they were after.

That view

It doesn’t matter which window you look out of, there’s always a wonderful view. One of Sarah’s favourites is from Harriet’s bedroom, which perfectly frames Kauru Hill. The living space and kitchen look down onto neighbouring Kakanui Valley farmland, the Kakanui River and the tiny local community of Five Forks which has just a school/playgroup and a hall. The bedrooms and bathrooms look up to the Isbisters’ farm, with the Kakanui Mountains in the distance.

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A happy accident 

The couple had wanted yellow grout in the bathroom but they couldn’t get the right shade, so their interior designer, Annabel Berry, suggested blue. It’s a striking contrast to the white tiles. The Isbisters were going to stick with white grout in their ensuite… but no one told the tiler. When they turned up, he was halfway through doing the shower and there was no going back. But it was a fortunate accident because the couple absolutely love it now.

We wanted a space that we could all use

and feel at home in


“I’ve never really thought of myself as having a certain ‘style’ but for this home we wanted to go for a modern country look,” Sarah explains. “I wanted to mirror the colours and things we see out our windows: the sky, river, animals, grass. We absolutely love living in the country and wanted our house to reflect this.” The natural tones and elements result in the home having an overall atmosphere of calm and tranquillity.

The interior is relaxed, easy to live in and unfussy. “We wanted a space that we could all use and feel at home in. I love that Harriet can ride her scooter from one end of the house to the other because of the hard flooring in the hallways and living space. She can play in this house without feeling like she’s not allowed to touch anything,” Sarah says.

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The outdoor space 

The family love the outdoors – and their outdoor area. They barbecue on the fire, eat most meals outside when the weather is fine and socialise with friends there. “Gareth and I often sit outside with the fire going in the evenings,” Sarah says. “It’s the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by.”

The next move 

There won’t be one. Sarah and Gareth built this home knowing it would be the family home for many, many years to come.

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Kate Claridge.

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