Sarah Hensley lives in a house of two halves. The front section of her artistic Martinborough cottage was designed for a couple to live there, or in Sarah’s case, âa woman, her cat and her dogâ.
The back half is for guests, with a separate entrance, ‘so when friends are staying or the kids are here, as they were in [the 2020] confinement is spreading. And then when it’s just me, it becomes comfortable and manageable again.
* Former Otago post office now a super cute house
* Uninterrupted views make this Otago home something special
* It was written in the stars for this Dunedin family’s house building dreams
This is not the only smart feature of the house. Although it is 40m long, it is only one piece (6m) wide. The rooms are connected by a long hallway on the side, which Sarah uses as a family photo and art gallery.
It’s a bit like living in a railroad car, she admits. âIt’s like a house that’s been hot washed, really. Everything is here. Tiny little laundry, tiny little toilets. Everything you need, but probably half the size of an older house.
Clinical psychologist Sarah spent 20 years in Sydney, raising her family (she has three children – Jono, Alex and Juliet) in a large Federation villa. She returned to New Zealand two years ago, choosing Martinborough because her father and two sisters live there, so it is “the place where you feel most at home”.
Finding accommodation from Sydney proved to be a challenge. Sarah had looked at a few places before the realtor mentioned a new listing yet to hit the market. “I think this might be what you are looking for.” Built in 2006, the house was designed by Bonnifait + Giesen Atelierworkshop Architects.
Sarah only had an hour to look around before returning to Sydney, but she knew it was the one. âIt was really the light that struck me. It was a sunny November day and all those doors were open to the garden and that quality of New Zealand lightâ¦ âIt was golden and warm, open and calm, she said. “I knew when I saw him that I could live here and that it would work.”
Time – and confinement – proved him right. âEverything I have discovered about this house since then has delighted me. How beautifully things have been done; with what care they have been thought out. Each bedroom has its own view of a corresponding garden room; each space has its own architectural interest.
âThere’s nowhere you’re standing chopping or washing dishes where you can’t look at something. Although every now and then, that’s not such a good thing. In the morning, Sarah says sadly, she can lie down in her bed and “unfortunately you can see the rabbits eating my roses.”
The steeply sloped ceilings in the living space and hallway, with their sharp angles reminiscent of heavily folded origami, ensure that you never feel locked in. They did, however, cause builder David Borman more than a few problems. Constructed from French poplar, each piece had to be cut exactly to size and carefully inserted. âApparently, it almost made their minds,â says Sarah.
And, like origami, the intelligence of the house continues to unfold. The kitchen, for example. âI can stay here and empty the dishwasher and hardly have to move. It’s perfectly easy to make cheese on toast just for me and then if it’s 15 people for Christmas dinner, that does too.
This proved rather useful in 2020 when her two youngest children, Alex, in Sydney, and Juliet, a student at the University of Otago, returned home for the lockdown. “The house magically grew to allow a 19-year-old and a 22-year-old to do all of their Zoom lessons and tutorials.”
Sarah found the original bright yellow kitchen “a bit Lego-ish” so now it’s a serene white. She added a promenade and a veranda and modified the entrance to create transitional spaces between the interior and the exterior.
âYou were either outside in the pouring rain or you were inside. There was nowhere to put his things and take off his coat and rubber boots.
She also added a gypsy-style trailer to the garden and built a swimming pool, much to the delight of the neighborhood children. âWith my kids who have grown up, it’s just nice to have kids around. “
Even some of Sydney’s much loved furniture has moved into the new space – âthe paintings and my dining room table and a few piecesâ all luckily found the right place.
The work, too, fell into place. âI opened a practice in Greytown, so I finally have this nice balance between home and work. I have the most beautiful roads to work, see the snow on the Tararuas in winter, and the flowers, the lambs and the green grass in the spring, then, as summer approaches, things dry up and turn golden .
âI hope I don’t sound ridiculously happy with Pollyanna,â Sarah says, âbut it’s amazing how well it worked. This house has really been on my side.
Q&A with Sarah Hensley
Best thing about coming home to New Zealand: As the Maori saying goes, it’s the people – my family and old friends. The wonderful, kind and knowledgeable people of Martinborough and New Zealanders in general. It’s inspiring to be in a place where people are so innovative and practical.
Best neighborhood attraction: The Putangirua Pinnacles walk is breathtaking – the limestone cliffs were the location of the Lord of the Rings movies. And the Rapaki Walk offers beautiful views of the Wairarapa Valley.
One thing you must do: From Martinborough Square, take a stroll, visiting the shops, bars and cafes. Maybe have lunch in the sun and watch the world and its incredible array of dogs go by.
Best place for coffee: If you want to go where the locals go, try Kitcheners.
Favorite local businesses: The Martinborough Bookstore has one of the smartest and most extensive selections of books you can find. The shop is charming and the service is excellent. Schmid Gallery has beautiful jewelry and will also gladly collaborate so that you can create your own design.
Best time to visit: Autumn. Hot days and cool nights, the trees change color, the vintage arrives and the city buzzes.