Apr 23, 2023
Meet the family living the good life in Northland's 'nirvana of nowhere'
This story is from the team at NZ House & Garden magazine. A gentle play of
This story is from the team at NZ House & Garden magazine.
A gentle play of light and shadow, textural warmth and depth, plus the utter fabulousness of flaws and wonky bits meant that the minute Kimberley Smith stepped inside this country house, she knew it was just right for her family. "It had an amazing feel," she says. "It could have been in France or Italy."
It wasn't of course. This gem was tucked away in Pakaraka, a remote part of the Bay of Islands halfway between two coasts. Backed by a stand of protected bush and overlooking a big ol’ rambling garden, it felt like freedom.
Having grown up surrounded by nature, Kimberley longed to give her children a similar experience. Pandemic lockdowns only amplified this desire.
So, two years ago, she decamped with her husband, Robert, and their four children Zeila, 17, Rosabella, 11, Harper, 9, and little Emily, 3, from their Redvale villa north of Auckland, and the family began to play out their version of the good life.
READ MORE: * Whoops, we bought a house! Couple end up with grand ex-Bollywood property * Remote and extreme climactic corner of country perfect spot to grow garden - and grandchildren * Conjuring up enchanting interiors is this Napier woman's superpower
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The Smiths lease the property from owners Ben and Kathryn Godwin, who lovingly built it themselves using the light earth method (LEM) which involves tamping a mix of clay and straw between a timber frame structure. "Ben is a true artisan," explains Kimberley, "and also milled or reclaimed most of the local timber used in the house."
Heavy wooden lintels and cob-style walls give the four-bedroom home a rustic, bohemian appeal. "I knew instantly I could do a lot with it."
Over six months, Kimberley visited flea markets and shopped the antiques stores as she began to layer up an aesthetic using earthy shades and natural fibres.
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The whitewashed walls in the living areas bring a lightness to the spaces but she added linen drapes at the windows, woven sisal rugs to the floors and furniture that keyed into the Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy of celebrating imperfection.
In the open-plan kitchen, where high ceilings and lazy fans keep the space cool during Northland summers, a macrocarpa dining table that came with the house is a central focus. Kimberley teamed this with high-backed cane chairs, their tonal variation in browns and greys tying in beautifully with the wooden floors and benchtops.
She's a real fan of open shelving, which is fortunate, for they feature prominently, with under-bench storage hidden by curtains and a trio of shelves that run the length of the dining zone.
As a born gatherer, Kimberley has assembled mustard jars full of collected and dried herbs and lined them up here with a focus that is admirable. Chunky crockery and vintage wooden boxes filled with root vegetables add to the farmhouse feel.
The generous scale of the design suits big-hearted living. In the lounge with its immense fireplace, a family-sized sofa is draped with calico, sheepskins and bobbly cushions – "I love that wintry feeling that comes with using lots of layers" – and Kimberley has crafted one of her vignettes in the adjacent corner with woven vessels and a dark wooden Indian chair. "I like to collect hard-to-find beautiful things." Rusted-iron candleholders and hewn-oak barstools are just some of her moody finds which she counters with antique lanterns and glass domes to bounce light around.
If she can't find something, she’ll adapt or upcycle. While the main bedroom was capacious enough to accommodate the couple's barley-twist four-poster bed, it lacked built-in wardrobes, so she sought out a shop rail in aged metal and reclaimed wood and used that instead. "I wear a lot of floaty linen," says Kimberley who shops online for most of the family's clothing.
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Being in the nirvana of nowhere may make it hard to frequent the fashion boutiques, but the Smiths value their seclusion. "I think it's important when your children are young to expose them to nature and give them a slower pace of life," says Kimberley. While Zeila is studying for her NCEA online, the younger children are involved in what is officially termed ‘‘unschooling’’, a way of learning that is unstructured and driven by each child's interests.
"As long as they learn how to read well, then they can take off in their own direction," explains Kimberley. For Harper that means online game Minecraft (from which he learns maths), for Rosabella it's jewellery-making and Emily, who has just been enrolled in a nearby Steiner kindy, adores being in the garden. "She’d far rather eat raw vegetables than cooked."
The great outdoors is a place of plenty with a perennial herb garden that is left to grow like topsy for flowers to feed the bees.
It's also a hub of creativity, whether that's exploring the insect world, walking among the wildflowers or bringing in produce that is ripe for the picking. That's when the kitchen transforms into a learning environment for bottling olives, dehydrating fruits or cooking up a bubbling pot of soup on top of the Aga so as not to waste the pumpkins.
Kimberley, who works in the field of natural healing, can run her therapy sessions online and has time to pursue her passion for creative arts. It's an interest that seems to be catching. Zeila, who took the move to the country hard, has discovered a love of botanical art and plans to sign up to fine arts college next year.
"Her bedroom has a balcony which overlooks the forest," says Kimberley. Rosabella and Zeila both show a talent for floristry.
Daily routines that run by a more natural rhythm mean there's time to connect with each other and the wider community. Kimberley realises that once the children get older, they may crave the city – and that's okay.
But for now, in the early mornings, when they congregate on the veranda sipping peppermint tea made from leaves plucked from the herb beds and looking forward to whatever the day may bring, she knows in her gut, this is the right place at the right time.
Q&A with Kimberley Smith
Our interiors style is: A blend of rustic, bohemian and classic French provincial.
At the top of our wish list for the home Is: I have been looking everywhere for a big Turkish rug for the lounge. But it has to be the right piece, in earthy tones.
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If we want to give the children a treat: We love to head off to the Blue River Orchard in Waipapa. It's a blueberry farm with wonderful natural yoghurt, ice cream and smoothies, open from spring to autumn.
Next on the to-do list for the garden: We’re going to plant wintergreens and I’d like to build a tunnel house for tomatoes to protect everything from this crazy weather.
Our ultimate dream: Once the children move on, we’d love to build a tiny home on a remote piece of land.This story is from the team at NZ House & Garden magazine. READ MORE: * Whoops, we bought a house! Couple end up with grand ex-Bollywood property * Remote and extreme climactic corner of country perfect spot to grow garden - and grandchildren * Conjuring up enchanting interiors is this Napier woman's superpower Q&A with Kimberley Smith Our interiors style is: At the top of our wish list for the home Is: If we want to give the children a treat: Next on the to-do list for the garden: Our ultimate dream: