Old School, New Home

Five years ago, the Dowling family bought ten acres on Matakana Road. It had river frontage and a random collection of buildings. There was a little bungalow (very old, very cold), a nice little B&B cottage, a rented minor dwelling and a dilapidated school house. “I fell in love with the school house,” says Haidee. “Craig fell in love with the river.” 

Haidee had plans for that cute little building; around 120 years old, it had been the original school in Schollum Road, Matakana. Craig had plans for the river, specifically lying in a hammock under a palm. “Good luck with that,” says Haidee. “He hasn’t had a day off since we bought the place.”

The schoolhouse was renovated into a vintage store and opened as ‘Old School Inc.’, stocking industrial furniture and homewares. Meanwhile the couple, with teenage twins Texas and Coco, made the best of the bungalow, and collected their ideas and their energy to build their dream home. 

It began in late 2016. Inspired by friends, Haidee and Craig drew up some plans using free software and lots of advice. “It helped that we had the best builder in the world,” she says. Tom Balzat and son Jackson worked tirelessly with Haidee to realise her wildest ideas. 

They were used to the character of villas and were terrified that their new home would be a stark, soulless box. “But Tom helped us recycle most of the old kauri and rimu from the bungalow. That old wood has given the house the warmth and soul that’s crucial for any new build,” Haidee says.

She speaks of her builder’s skills with reverence. “I’d show Tom a picture of a sliding door I liked and go out for a couple of hours. When I got back, he’d go ‘Like this?’ It would be done – and perfect.” The doors, the concrete sinks and enormous benches (boxed and poured nerve-wrackingly in situ), the shelving, wardrobes and more were handmade by Tom and Jackson.

Haidee did a lot of the painting herself, and stalked the internet for bargain treasures – the black and brass vintage ceiling fans ($150 the lot on TradeMe) were a major score and so too was the black Belling range (discounted heavily after being on MasterChef).

The kitchen cabinetry is made from floorboards; the weatherboards were painstakingly de-nailed and put through a thicknesser machine by Haidee for the back wall of the deck. “Best thing I’ve ever used,” she says. “You can take off as much or as little from each board as you like.” 

The master bedroom and the cute patchwork wall in the den both utilise weatherboards and heart rimu left exactly as-is. Haidee is rather fond of the patina of age, and this fact is obvious also in her fabulous collections of vintage signage, furniture and bric-a-brac.

The house is uncompromisingly private from outside, with just one thin vertical window by the door. But enter through the boot-room (whose polycarbonate walls light up at night like a lantern), and beautiful, full-length stacking sliders showcase subtropical gardens and sunshine.

The brick fireplace outside is all that remains of the bungalow. Looking rather forlorn now, it’ll soon be repurposed as a barbecue and pizza oven. And like the old home which was deconstructed around it, it will enjoy a happy new lease of life. 

Old School Inc - 745 Matakana Road, Matakana


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