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This Manawatū home is geared up for natural and easy living

This Manawatū home embraces slow living and a bond with the natural world

A modern kitchen and living room

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Meet & greet: Michelle (interior designer), Brad Webb (construction project manager) and their children Lachlan, Oliver, and Ruby.

The property: Rural family home in Awahuri with four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a spacious living area.

Manawatū new-build owners Michelle and Brad with their children on their front door step

Michelle Webb loves to stand in her kitchen looking across the countryside in Awahuri, Manawatū, to catch the sun rising above the Ruahine Range. It reminds her how thankful she and her family are. “I’ve never been privy to such incredible sunrises and sunsets in one spot; we’re lucky as the Manawatū is so flat, so you can see them.”

Such special moments were a prominent feature in the home’s design for her, husband Brad and their three children. It’s a dwelling that suits the couple’s love of rural life and also their journey towards a slower pace in life.

The view of a modern living room from over the kitchen island The easy chairs have been reupholstered in Warwick Fabric and the built-in seat also features a squab made by a good friend and covered in Misa Paris fabric. The walls are painted Resene Sea Fog and the dining table is from Homeward Interiors.

Country life resonates deeply for the couple – Brad grew up on a farm a short drive from their house and Michelle was raised on a farm in the King Country. “We’re both from rural backgrounds, so we wanted to live rurally,” Michelle says. While they were renting in Palmerston North in 2018, Brad decided he wanted to put his knowledge and skills to use and purchased 1.7ha of land off his parents to build on.

“We were drawn to the site’s rural outlook,” Brad says. “It’s a special site due to its elevation, a rarity in the Manawatū given it is so flat. We are fortunate enough to look across farmland to the Ruahine and Tararua ranges. We’re also at the end of a no-exit road, it’s very peaceful.”

A white armchair in the corner of the living room, beside a wallpapered fireplaceThe fireplace surround is made of Cassero tiles from Quantum Tiles, Hayman Oak Aquaplank laminate flooring from Signature Floors and the carpet square is Bremworth Samurai in Misuto.

Crafting a dream home

With the site in place, Brad, a construction project manager, and Michelle, an interior designer, crafted the concept design. Then, architectural designer Russell Petersen from Tensixtythree fine-tuned the details.

The 12-month build was a busy time, coinciding with their wedding and son Lachlan’s birth. “It was a chaotic, but lovely period,” says Michelle.

While juggling another build, Brad built their home on evenings and weekends for the first six months. During the second six months, Brad worked full-time to complete the build, with the help of an apprentice and his father Neville Webb who lives nearby. “It’s special for us and the kids to have family close by.”

The kitchen island with two large glass pendant lights over the sinkThe kitchen island is Cloudburst Concrete Caesarstone, the cedar underbench and shelves are stained platinum Dryden WoodOil. The cabinetry is Dezignatek, Zellige white gloss tiles from Quantum Tiles, pendants from Mr Ralph and stools from Hawthorne Collections.

Two days before Christmas 2019, Brad, Michelle and Lachlan moved into their new home, just in time to host festivities for the wider family.

Building and designing their own home came with the chance to embrace slower living and to connect with the natural environment. “We wanted a home that blended in with the rural landscape in terms of colour and also style,” Michelle says. “It’s about looking at how we can slow down to appreciate the small things more mindfully, and create space for connection when life is chaotic and busy. That was an over-arching vision for us as a family.”

The shelves inside the skullery have neatly arranged glassware above a benchtopThe benchtop in the scullery is Laminex Formica in Zincworks Natural.

Designing their home interiors was focused on how they wanted to feel and live in the space, ensuring it was true to their loves and stories as a family rather than following trends. “Living with Crohn’s disease for most of my life has led me on a recent path to prioritise wellness and slower living within our home,” says Michelle. “We wanted to create an interior where you walked through the door and felt like you were ‘home’ with a sense of calm and warmth.

“We’ve always loved barn-style architectures, so the design of the house had to have elements of a farmhouse design but with modern variations.”

Michelle arranging flowers in a vase on the kitchen island

The H-shaped house meets in a central open-plan living area with two connecting wings. One wing is Ruby’s bedroom and also the main bedroom with ensuite. The other wing includes the guest bedroom, main bathroom, boys’ bedroom, guest toilet and laundry.

Glass sliders foster a connection with the outdoors to capture sunrises and sunsets. “We get amazing sunrises over the ranges, the whole sky becomes orange and the sunsets on the other side are also incredible,” says Brad. Depending on the wind direction, they open one side or the other.

“It’s lovely having the doors open in summer, while in winter the glazing helps warm the home naturally,” Michelle says. The house functions well for the family, with its small playroom off one side of the kitchen where Michelle also likes to play the piano.

The main bedroom’s bed linen is from Wallace Cotton and the bedside table is from Homeward Interiors

“Our laundry space works perfectly for the amount of washing I have to do,” she says. “It’s functional with plenty of storage, but equally, it’s such a beautiful space with the mix of wood and the handmade tiles. When you’ve got kids running around paddocks, a good laundry is a must.”

“Another must-have was a large open-plan area that encompassed living, kitchen and dining. We love to entertain, and both have large families that visit regularly, so needed good indoor and outdoor flow.”

The living area’s 4.5-metre pitched ceiling with timber rafters is the highest point in the home. “The barn-style vision was important,” Michelle says. “When you enter this space, the large glass sliders on either side and pitched ceiling ascending creates a beautiful feature.”

A single bed in the corner of the room with stuffed animals sitting by the pillow, a framed poster of the solar system overhead and some shelving on the other wall over the bed

A gentle palette

Subtle colours throughout evoke a calming feel with the use of Resene Sea Fog, balancing beautifully with the warm wood, soft grey carpet and chimney tiles. The playroom uses the soft neutral Dulux Midhurst Quarter, while the brown-tinted lilac Dulux Mechanics Bay is on the feature wall in Ruby’s room.

Natural textures were layered from here. Handmade tiles create a focal point on the kitchen splashback, while cedar accents under the island, entrance and front door, add warmth. The fireplace, built with stone tiles, anchor the space, and the matte timber floorboards ground the entire design.

A cot in the nursery with a feature pink wall opposite, and a wooden chest of drawers against the wallIn Ruby’s room, the bunting and quilt is from Little Whimsy, Brad made the bookshelves from oak, cot bed linen from Foxtrot Linen and mushroom light from Little Belle Nightlights.

“When you walk through the front door on a sunny afternoon the light bounces on the cedar wall in the entrance,” Michelle says. “It creates a calming connection with the outdoors, one of my favourite spots in the afternoon. We’ve embraced materials further by utilising weatherboard for a timeless exterior cladding to achieve the farmhouse vibe, then elevated the exterior look with cedar on the gables adding warmth and softness against the black.”

A self-confessed minimalist, Michelle says the important way to bring a simple space to life is with a curated collection of objects or decor pieces that tell your family story: “In Ruby’s bedroom, a framed crochet artwork by her great-grandmother Marie Johns, who recently passed, sits on the drawers, and a framed picture of our wedding venue, instead of art, greets you as you walk into our bedroom. It’s minimalism that feels like home.”

Michelle sitting on a bench against some cushions with her kids

Heart of the home

Of all the spaces in the house, the kitchen is their favourite. It is the heart of their home that reflects the slower living aspect in aesthetics and functionality. The kitchen and open-plan living also foster connection. The island doubles as a dining table, a workspace for Michelle and a place for the kids to colour while she preps food. Its large size means it’s a gathering point for visitors. “Everyone congregates around the kitchen island and the spacious scullery means we can fit lots of people in the kitchen at Christmas,” says Brad.

An oval shaped bath under a window in the bathroom The main bathroom has a Bath Co vanity and basin from Plumbing World, bath from Plumbline and the splashback tiles are Stoneage Mosaic Stack Carrara Polished from Quantum Tiles.

Creating a kitchen that looked like it had always been there was Michelle’s inspiration. “I love the beautiful handmade gloss-tile splashback and also the organic brass tap that I have let patina over time; these subtle features add character to the kitchen. It’s easy to stand in the kitchen and see the morning sun come up or go down in the evening. It helps us feel grateful for what we have achieved together. It’s been a journey and busy, but it is nice to stop and appreciate where we have come from.”

“We’ve created a home for us that we always wanted. We wanted to slow down when we can and savour the simple moments together. We’ve been here close to four years, so the house is starting to feel lived in, and a lived-in space is a loved space.”

The washing machine and dryer under a bench, beside a sink in the laundryFez wall tiles in matte white from Quantum Tiles, Formica benchtop, tapware from Plumbing World and cabinetry from DMac Joinery.

Michelle’s tips

  • Embrace easy maintenance flooring We opted for laminate flooring, which is easy to maintain and clean. It’s also durable enough to withstand the little trikes racing around inside. Engineered hardwood, laminate, or even well-sealed concrete are great options that can handle spills, high traffic and the occasional dropped heavy toy.
  • Playroom/office If you are building a large, open-plan space like we did, consider adding a small playroom in your design; this can be where you store the majority of the kids’ toys. The bonus is you can just shut it off if you don’t have time to clean up one day, leaving the rest of the living space tidy. Our vision is also to turn this into an office as the kids get older – spaces that grow with the family.
    Durable and easy-clean materials Select furniture materials and fabrics with easy cleaning and durability in mind. Our bar stools are durable wood and leather seats, a wipe with a wet cloth cleans spills or sticky finger marks.
  • Mindful storage solutions Consider built-in shelves, cosy bench seats with hidden cubbies, or ottomans that double as toy chests. We love our bench seat – it offers great storage underneath for toys and also provides a functional space for extra seating. Woven baskets are another simple solution for putting away toys.

A tiled wall leading to a glass door going outside, with a bench and sink on the wallThe ensuite features Maxstone Lime tiles on the walls and floor from Quantum Tiles, Bath Co vanity and basin, and Felton tapware all from Plumbing World.

Michelle’s storage hacks

  • Wardrobe essentials Wardrobes with built-in shelving in each bedroom was also a must-have for storing the kids’ clothes and belongings. Add baskets or containers for popping dress-ups or kids’ artwork in.
  • Accessible attic If you’re fortunate to have, or add to your new-build, an easily accessible attic, utilise it. We use ours regularly, it has a pull-down ladder and is perfect for storing out-of-season clothes, toys the kids are not ready to part with just yet, and out-of-season sports equipment.
  • Shelving solutions Wooden shelves are a functional yet also beautiful way to display books, Lego creations, or little treasures. I gave Brad an idea of how I would like them to look and he built them for the kids’ rooms.
  • Beautiful baskets Add a touch of fun to your playroom by using a variety of baskets for organised toy storage, I opted for different baskets to create some visual interest in the space.

A round mirror above the sink in a bathroomThe tongue and groove on the wall is by James Hardie, mirror from Freedom and concrete basin handmade in Feilding.

Home truths

Any saves or Splurges?

We saved on labour costs because Brad built the house. We were fortunate to have built our home just prior to Covid, after which there was a huge increase in the price of building materials.

The main areas we splurged on were the kitchen, this truly is the heart of our home. The large stone benchtop is not only functional but is like a piece of art within our home; the pitched ceiling also required a lot of structural steelwork; and the cedar on the exterior and interior.

Lessons learned?

Engage a great architect and builder who both understand your overall vision for your site and home from the start. This helps hugely throughout the build. Always go with your intuition on what you truly love for your home. I believe when you are confident in the things you love, everything works together from materials to decor pieces.

The view of the exterior of the house from the frontThe house is clad in vertical weatherboards with cedar on the gables.

Never do again?

While it was incredible to have Brad build our home, the hours he put in were huge, with late nights working under lights to meet deadlines.

Any renovation or DIY disasters?

Our cedar turned up with the wrong colour stain. Brad and I had to re-stain every single cedar board with the new colour. It was a labour of love.

The most memorable experience you’ve had in your home?

Our first Christmas in our home – we were hosting and it was also our deadline. Bringing Oliver and Ruby home when they were first born was incredibly special.

Text Catherine Steel Photography Bernadette Peters


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