A rustic farmhouse with dramatic aspirations Words by Kathy Hunter, Photos by Louise M Photography
Up a quiet country lane past a well-loved pub lies an oasis of taste and decorum – with a fine twist of eccentricity. Puhoi House is the newest passion of Bob Gilhooly and John McClenaghan, collectors and purveyors of antiquities.
The couple has been involved in the antiques trade in London, in Warkworth (Mrs Jones) and in Herne Bay (Hawkins & Scuffell). They've now opened a new business in leafy Puhoi Valley – a rather extraordinary bed and breakfast.
So why here? Bob says, "We moved here three years ago because it reminded us of NZ before it got bowled over with development. Luckily the village has some historic protection, as it really is a very special place."
Puhoi House is tucked away in a sheltered valley with abundant bush and birdlife and within easy reach of the many offerings of the Matakana Coast. It's a gentle stroll down to the pub and village shops. And it's nice to know that time has caught up with Puhoi Village in one respect: you can get a damned good coffee at the local shop. Not to mention most excellent local oysters and chips.
The house itself was built around 1900. It's like a traditional English country house –welcoming, comfortable, with a solid sense of history. There are collections to die for: every corner and side table hosts a still life. Weird then, how nothing seems cluttered, just calm and tasteful. A guest was heard to say “It's not a symphony in beige, but a rustic farmhouse with dramatic aspirations!”
Puhoi House has four ensuite bedrooms to accommodate a maximum of eight people. It can be rented room by room, but for a bigger group you can take over the whole house. The big country kitchen has everything you'd need. There's a gentlemanly buttoned-leather lounge area with a fire, and huge sunny terrace overlooking a bush-fringed stream (complete with eels).
Best of all, the rooms are themed and named. There's Shanghai Queen, whose ornate marquetry and gold chinoiserie toile de jouy curtains hints at ex-pat intrigue. The Tartan Twin speaks of heather and porridge; King offers the full four-poster bed splendour of any number of period dramas. But The Suite is the jaw-dropper: a magnificent chandelier (English, c.1850, converted from gas) lords it over a super-king bed, a striped three-piece suite and tiny staircase to the cutest attic bathroom imaginable. And all the rooms are linked by little stairways and passages which are art installations in themselves. From taxidermy to tallboys, this couple has it covered.
Bob says, "The rooms themed themselves really. After all our own travels and collecting, we seem to have fallen into the tradition of the classic Grand Tour of a couple of hundred years ago: bringing back exotic souvenirs to give a little bit of excitement within the house. Each room was loosely based on what objects we were most excited about; then it was just a matter of filling them out to fit the vibe."
The best advice for the antique-hungry? "The most interesting aspect of decorating is not to trap yourself in any one period. Buy the best design regardless of age; mix it up and create your own individual style. Experimenting with a Georgian piece of furniture and a contemporary painting is what gets the motor running!"
Bob and John still trade through their Hawkins and Scuffle website, and also sell a fine selection of pieces through the Vivian Gallery in Matakana.