The Marseille tiled roof was taken apart and reassembled when the top of the house was removed in 1952; the floor from that upper storey still exists in the ceiling.
For 50 years, Poukawa Homestead stood tall on its stately Hawke’s Bay property. Built in 1902, the two-storey house with wraparound verandahs was headquarters for a station with 20,000 sheep and had nine bedrooms and servants’ quarters. But in 1952, the owners inexplicably lopped off the top storey.
These days, the truncated version of Poukawa Homestead is the home of Alexandra Tylee and Chris Morris (owners of the dazzlingly pink and personality-packed Pipi cafe in Havelock North) and their sons, Henry, 23, Harry, 10, and Louis, eight.
Alexandra and Chris have often wondered why those early owners took such a dramatic step to reduce their home’s size. Was it because they didn’t need the space? Perhaps they couldn’t afford to keep it well maintained?
Alexandra Tylee and Chris Morris bought Poukawa, a 1.6ha Hawke’s Bay property, so younger sons Louis, left, and Harry could enjoy a rural upbringing.
Although there are no plans to restore the demolished top storey, the couple cherish the homestead’s heritage.
Alexandra Tylee and Chris Morris and their boys on the well-used verandah; the trestle table and benches are from Vitrine in Auckland.
Alexandra, who is also the author of two cookbooks and a children’s book, has planted old flowers like daphne and wintersweet. They’ve hung onto the old orange trees that are dotted around the property, planted in the early days for marmalade, along with other mature trees including an original sequoia.
Inside, they’ve respected the home’s turn of the century heritage. In the ensuite bathroom, for example, they removed a false ceiling, returning the room to its original 2m stud and discovering a polished wooden ceiling in the process.
The couple weren’t always planning to live in such a venerable old homestead. When it came on the market they’d already bought a section on the banks of the Tukituki River and had plans drawn up by an architect.
lexandra felt the house needed some of the colours used in Pipi, so the Pipi Food Truck manager painted the laundry last winter during the off-season.
But Alexandra grew up on a farm an hour south of Poukawa, and the possibility of taking over the homestead made her realise her heart wasn’t in a new build. She always hoped to give her sons the same rural upbringing she had enjoyed and now delights in the way the kids can roam the paddocks on the 1.6ha property.
Pipi cafe is well known for its colour-soaked, eclectic decor and Chris and Alexandra’s home is full of intriguing touches too. The laundry is painted pink and red, a colour scheme used at the cafe. “Alex is in charge of the aesthetic,” says Chris.
Alexandra’s first big decision was to knock down a wall between the living room and kitchen. The expansive area is now the hub of the house, dominated by a long, wooden dining table flanked by a dozen mismatched chairs.
An old French bed from Blue Moon is in the master bedroom.
Perhaps surprisingly for a chef, Alexandra hasn’t done too much to the kitchen, apart from adding granite benchtops. “I love kitchens that are not fitted and are made up with different pieces of furniture,” she says.
A bohemian, relaxed feeling extends throughout – a large wooden cupboard with leadlight doors holds Alexandra’s crockery and glass collection.
Red velvet cushions embroidered with the Pipi crown sit on leather chairs collected over the years. Blankets, striped sheets and eiderdowns are scattered throughout the bedrooms. “Eiderdowns remind me of my grandmother. Everyone has their own idea of what’s beautiful. I love getting things fixed, like old leather suitcases.”
The basin and bath are original, and the Sanderson wallpaper has also been used in Pipi.
For now the homestead is a retreat from their busy working lives. Alexandra and Chris often work and hang out at home until early afternoon when they head into the restaurant.
Living in the country is a new experience for Chris, who has embraced rural living and all its adventures. One night recently, the couple were about to head out to Pipi when they encountered an escaped bull standing in front of their car. “Living in the country is not like living in town,” he says.
Returning home each night from their busy cafe, the country quiet wraps around the pair. Says Alexandra: “There’s just time for a scotch by the fire or outside on the verandah and straight to bed.”
The painting of the Haast river mouth by Peter James Smith was bought at auction 10 years ago when Air New Zealand cleared some art from its Auckland offices.
My favourite kitchen tool: A huge old antique knife I got in Sydney years ago. I use it to cut everything from garlic to roast chicken.
My favourite part of the house: The verandah. It becomes like another room where we eat, congregate and sleep.
Louis and Harry on Harry’s bed, which was bought from Kauri House Auctions in Havelock North.
My best moments in the garden: Just before it gets dark, when for about half an hour everything is filled with a magic light.
I love this part of New Zealand because: I was born and grew up here. I love the way the land feels. When I look at the trees I am reminded of my grandparents.
In the kitchen are 1960s French high school science lab stools, from Vitrine, with names still carved into them.
Alexandra in her studio, the old payroll office of the original farm.
The front door came from Blue Moon and was also once in Pipi Bar.
Alexandra inherited a number of artworks by her great-aunt Marion Tylee.
The apple core painting in the living room is by Martin Poppelwell and the painting on the other side of the mirror of Te Mata Peak is by Dick Frizzell; the mirror is from Blue Moon and used to hang in Pipi Bar, a pop-up over the road from the Alexandra and Chris’ restaurant, Pipi.
Alexandra planted the lavender to attract bees from hives in the paddock.
The day bed is from Blue Moon in Havelock North; an upholsterer friend of Alexandra’s made the mattress, along with most of the curtains and cushions in the house.
– NZ House Garden
Next nz-house-garden story:
House of the week: Tiny Auckland home where the grandchildren can play
life style Homepage