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‘Block NZ’ winners Alice and Caleb complete a cottage reno in Alexandra

Full-time renovators (and past winners of The Block NZ) Alice and Caleb Pearson’s latest project is turning a century-old Alexandra cottage into a modern family home

1. Background

With nine residential renovations under their belts, Alice and Caleb Pearson – who won The Block NZ in 2013 – are no strangers to the world of home improvement. In fact, it’s their full-time job. However, their latest project has been quite literally a departure for them as it has taken the pair out of the Auckland property market and into the largely unfamiliar territory of Alexandra, Central Otago.

When the couple married in 2009, they planned to take a year off to see the world, something that had always been high on Caleb’s list of priorities. As it turned out, the overseas adventure never happened but the idea has lingered. A decade – and two children – later, Alice and Caleb have come up with a different way of incorporating a little travel into their lives.

“Jumping on a plane and doing the big OE is the way most Kiwis get their travel fix, but we couldn’t go past exploring our own backyard first,” says Alice. “It isn’t ‘suitcase living’, more like ‘tool-box travel’, as we try to find a home to renovate while exploring the local culture and activities in different places. We also love being close enough for family to still visit.” This ‘Renovation Roadshow’, as they call it, allows them to continue developing their Pearson + Projects business while enjoying quality family time with, Alek, 4, and Mika, 2.

2. The house

The couple first viewed their Alexandra project from Auckland via videos sent by their agent. Although it clearly required work, its potential was evident in every sash window and timber-lined ceiling. In short, they were enamoured of its old-world charm.

The scale of the task was another drawcard. Having been involved in several major projects, they understood the risk of overextending themselves. The fact that there was a decent heating system and the kitchen had already been extended, coupled with a relatively affordable asking price, gave them the freedom to choose the scale of the renovation. “We had the option to do tons or very little,” says Alice.

3.  The DIY

The couple decided to do a complete cosmetic makeover, eliminating the need for any consents. They also ambitiously decided to execute their plan with little to no help from tradies. So, armed with their extensive background in home renovation and spurred on by the desire to keep the budget in check, DIY became the modus operandi for Alice and Caleb.

“We did everything we could ourselves,” says Alice. “Caleb tiled the kitchen and laundry, sanded and sealed all the wooden floors, and together we did all the painting (there was a lot!).” The couple also took on the considerable task of reconfiguring and landscaping the outdoor area, and Caleb single-handedly built a TV unit, shelves and new fences and gates. He also installed the cabinetry in the laundry, which is housed in the garage.

4. The palette

Colour has played an important part in the overhaul of the Pearson home, where it has been expertly used to give each room its own personality. Alice chose earthy tones of green, soft blues and warm shades of pink for her colour scheme, and colours and materials have also been chosen to carefully complement the cottage’s heritage. Resene ‘Rivergum’ on the kitchen cabinetry enhances the room’s timber features such as the window frames and wooden detail on the kitchen island.

The antique shopping in Central Otago is just incredible.

We found so many pieces I adore

A cooler green (Resene ‘Thistle’) in the hallway creates a pleasant contrast with the pop of bright yellow (Resene ‘Good As Gold’) on the front door. “I spent hours comparing all the colours for each room, making sure it all worked together,” explains Alice. “Every room has its own look, but the fact that all the tones were chosen to complement one another creates a lovely sense of flow.”

5. Style

The home has a clear ‘heritage farmhouse’ feel, a look Alice had never tried before. “I really enjoyed the simplicity of the style and its feminine touches,” she says.

Staying true to this aesthetic, Alice has given the interior a dreamy mellowness using numerous fabrics in tonal shades, plump cushions and botanical flourishes. The dining room boasts a large, floral-wallpapered feature wall, introduced by Alice to highlight the high ceilings and add more colour. The trick to keeping this look contemporary is the white space she has used between the other colours to separate them and shape the decor.

Natural fibres and brass accents further complement the home’s colour palette. A rattan headboard, for instance, in the master bedroom creates a rustic counterpoint to the floral feature wall, and the gleam of antique brass can be glimpsed throughout the home.

In order to maintain the heritage theme, Alice and Caleb spent weekends scouring vintage shops. “The antique shopping in Central Otago is just incredible. We found so many pieces I adore,” says Alice. “The kids’ toy stove, the mirror in the lounge and the wooden kitchen table especially. My best find was the cane chaise in our bedroom, which I reupholstered myself in hemp fabric.”

6. Exterior

With just one off-street parking space and a seriously overgrown garden, the outdoors presented the biggest challenge. The couple’s solution was to design a lawn and spa area at the back, complete with bar leaner and seats. A fire pit with its own wood storage was also added, and an area fenced off to keep the clothesline and bins out of sight.

Finally, off-street parking and a more defined entry point were created at the front of the house. These additions were costly but have given the outside a cohesive flow and opened up more opportunities for socialising outdoors.

7. Greener pastures

The family have enjoyed living in the now-completed cottage. “We’ve spent many a night looking up at the sky and enjoying a slower pace of life while recovering from the day’s renovation workout,” says Alice.

But for this pair – who have built a career out of understanding how a space should look and function – staying in one place (or even one house) is out of the question. Their Alexandra home has already sold and Alice and Caleb are onto their next project – this time in the township of Richmond, south of Nelson.

Words by: Esther Gordon. Photography by: Sarah Rowlands.

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