Grand designs in tiny spaces: Inside a creative couple’s bach and matching tiny house at Waikawa Beach
Life in Aotearoa is celebrated in a bach and matching tiny house on the Horowhenua coast.
Words: Emma Rawson Photos: Nicola Edmonds
The taniwha lurking in the Waikawa River is flexing its muscles and wriggling its way to the beach. Legend says the river’s twisting and turning is the taniwha flapping its tail.
In 2018, Cyclone Gita battered the Horowhenua coastline with wild winds and sea surges and the river did an about-turn, heading north to south and gobbling a chunk of the coast on its new course.
Before Gita, a wall of dunes had sheltered the family bach of Rodney Inteman and Shirley Cameron. But within months of the cyclone, the dunes and six metres of land were gone, leaving the property on the edge of high tide.
The wind, sea and the river are merciless, but Rodney and Shirley adore this place, even the taniwha. Prevailing nor’-west winds drive shoreline trees into a permanently crooked stance. A local recently measured wind speeds of 65 knots (or 122 kilometres an hour) twice in two months. In stormy weather, dead seals and all manner of flotsam and jetsam have washed up on the shore.
Rodney and Shirley, who live in Palmerston North, are no fairweather visitors and when the epic sunsets paint the land with a tangerine glow, there’s no place they’d rather be.
On fine days, to borrow words from songwriter Neil Finn, even Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire couldn’t conquer their optimism under this blue sky. “Waikawa has a life of its own. It can be wild here in winter, but when the fire is going it’s perfect,” says Rodney.
They bought the bach three years ago using an inheritance from Rodney’s father, who also passed on his love of the sea. As a teenager, Rodney’s dad had worked on fishing trawlers off the coast of Taranaki and later, in World War II, served on the HMS King George V.
“Dad loved Foxton Beach, even on rough days, but he never got around to buying himself a bach. He’d have loved it here so, in a way, it is his legacy.”
Was it sailor’s luck that helped them land the Waikawa Beach bach? Shirley and Rodney were looking for a holiday house on the Horowhenua Coast somewhere between Te Horo and Waitarere Beach. They left fliers in letterboxes asking: “Are you interested in selling?”
One little lime-green bach, with grass growing from its gutters, caught their eye. It was in Waikawa Beach, a tiny hamlet that usually sees more horses and dogs than humans. They called back several times, but the bach always had its curtains drawn, and there was no letterbox for a flier. Nearly a year later, they drove by once more and the curtains were open.
Shirley leapt out of the car with Rodney cautioning: “You can’t just bolt up and ask them to sell their house out of the blue.”
“I ignored him, and it turned out the owner did want to sell. It pays to be bold,” says Shirley.
The former fashion designer (Shirley) and commercial interior and graphic designer (Rodney) wasted no time and none of their artistic skills redecorating the bach. “This house is about celebrating New Zealand,” says Shirley.
“Sometimes we take our freedom, lifestyle and what we can achieve in this country for granted. We get a lot of overseas people who come to stay here, and they love the Kiwi touches.”
The bach, called Interville after Rodney’s father’s former antique business, features several of his father’s collector items including a ship’s clock nicked from HMS King George V. There are also Wee Willie Winkie candle-holders from his father’s collection — for an unfathomable reason he had 350 of them. From Shirley’s Dutch grandmother come pieces of Delft pottery, including a bean salting pot.
“I’m New Zealand-born, but both my parents were Dutch immigrants. My parents told us that in Holland during the war, they had to eat tulip bulbs. My sister and I were born here, and we were both chubby babies because my parents were so proud to be able to feed their children well.
“They loved their bouncy, bonnie New Zealand babies.”
Shirley’s father was a truck driver, and her parents scrimped and saved to provide holidays for the family at the beach.
“When he got his pay packet, he used to line up several little envelopes on the table. There was an envelope for power, food — and the envelope right at the end was for the annual summer holiday where we’d drive around New Zealand for three weeks in a caravan. Waikawa reminds me of the simplicity of those wonderful summers.”
The two-bedroom bach wasn’t big enough to accommodate their blended family of Shirley’s two children, Chanel and Christian, and Rodney’s kids Joel and Jessica, who live in Australia.
Local bylaws dictated the house couldn’t be extended and the land erosion meant building a second house on the section next door was too risky. The solution was a tiny house on wheels.
Designing a small house requires many nips and tucks, a bit like constructing a well-fitted dress, says Shirley, who won the Fashion in the Field prize several times for her race-day gowns and fascinator designs.
Working with tiny-house company Build Tiny of Katikati, Shirley and Rodney emailed their ideas back and forth, finally signing off version 13 of the plans. The final 7.2-metre-by-2.4-metre house has two mezzanines with a queen bed in one and a separate lounge in the other. They called the house TinyVille.
“A tiny house is a real challenge to build. A bigger test is working out if a couple can cohabit in a small space,” says Rodney. “We rent out our tiny house sometimes, and often people who are considering living in a tiny house come to stay so they can see what it’s like. It is not for everyone.
“A very small house gives an experience that is closer to the elements, and many people love that simplicity. To enjoy the New Zealand environment, you don’t need much.”
HOT TO TROT
Shirley’s fashion design house Studio Astoria used to specialize in evening and race-day outfits. “There aren’t many occasions that require dressing up for these days, or wearing a hat, so why not have a bit of fun?”
She clocked up 32 best-dressed awards for her gown and race-day designs (including winning Fashion in the Field at the Melbourne Cup), but was forced to give up her fashion career 10 years ago when she was suddenly hit by the stinging pain of RSI (repetitive strain injury) using sewing scissors.
“Fashion design was a big part of my identity, but you adapt, and it made me realize I’m more than just what I do.” She’s since made the switch to menswear, managing the Palmerston North retail store of New Zealand company Rembrandt.
“Men take a lot more risks with fashion these days. Even suits are a lot more interesting than they used to be, with patterns and bold colours.”
A PALACE ON WHEELS
The devil is in the details when it comes to building a tiny house, says Rodney. A tiny house on wheels (known as a THOW) is classed as a vehicle. Even with his design background, Rodney advises using a specialist tiny-house building company.
“The thing to remember with a tiny house on wheels is the weight; they have to be under 3.5 tonnes, so it’s important to consider things like cabinets or flooring.”
Tiny-house builders have scales on which to weigh materials. Shirley and Rodney’s tiny house is completely transportable and has four ground attachments to stop it rocking in a storm.
TinyVille is available for rent on AirBnb here.
Learn more about reducing waste and sustainability in our special edition, In Your Backyard: Living Lightly.
This practical guide is filled with advice on how to take small steps towards a lighter footprint, including how to go plastic-free, upcycling and recycling.
PLUS ideas for tiny-house living, root-to-leaf recipes, green-energy generation, organic gardening, and how to raise chickens and keep bees in the city.
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