The Sumner home of Jacqui and Dean Anderson was a monumental task that sits amongst the clouds
Undaunted by the pitfalls presented by a perilously steep slope, this Christchurch couple forged ahead anyway, seeing potential in the site — and that view.
Words: Sarah Templeton Photos: Dennis Radermacher & Kirsten Middleton
It’s an exciting Monday at Jacqui and Dean Anderson’s house. Their youngest son, Harry (21), has officially entered the world of post-graduation employment. He’s the last of three sons still to live at home — if only part-time. Jacqui and Dean are teetering on the cusp of becoming empty nesters.
“The older two are off and sorted, so now we are down to half a son at home,” Jacqui laughs. “We feel like most of the hard work is done.”
She and Dean are keen to celebrate Harry’s new role but might not see him this evening. He spends half the week at his girlfriend’s flat in Christchurch’s city centre, close to where his older brothers live.
The empty nest in question is Béton Brut, a three-storey architectural marvel high on Scarborough Hill, from which occupants peer down on the village of Sumner.
Like a hilltop view of a sprawling suburb, sometimes the scale of fortuity is only evident with a little perspective. If a lawyer’s appointment hadn’t coincided with news of an unwell child, the Andersons might not be gazing out over Sumner’s rooftops.
“I got a phone call from a very good friend who had a meeting, and her daughter was sick. She said, ‘I can’t take her with me. Can you come and look after her?’”
Jacqui, who owned a convertible but had only a 10-metre daily commute, was only too happy to help. “I hadn’t had my car very long and thought, ‘Wow, how cool is that? I can go for a decent run with the hood down.’ So off I went.”
After bidding her friend goodbye, and with the sick child settled, Jacqui had time to soak in the extraordinary view from the Mount Pleasant property, high above the interlocked grid of streets where Jacqui lived. It was an OMG moment.
For 40 years, Jacqui had lived on the site of the family business, Christchurch’s former TOP 10 Holiday Park (now Meadow Park). She also worked there and had never thought about living anywhere else.
“I took a photo, sent it to Dean and said, ‘This is where I want to live.’ He replied: ‘What? Where did this come from?’”
Dean had a right to be confused. The pair had bolt-like roots in the Papanui holiday park. They had worked at the park together for about 20 years, and their children had spent most of their lives there. Yet Jacqui couldn’t shake the notion. When Dean left for a weekend, Jacqui and the dog jumped in the car to scout hillside properties.
“I found a plot and sent a photo to Dean: ‘This is it.’ It was funny: I remember walking up this hill as a teenager but hadn’t since, yet it felt like I’d come home.”
The views, stretching along the coastline and over the fretting sea, reminded Jacqui of visits to her father’s childhood home in Dunedin’s St Claire. To build on this volcanic cliffside plot would be a monumental task.
Jacqui and Dean are no strangers to hard work. They met when Dean moved to Christchurch from Darfield after leaving school about as “soon as possible”. Farm work saw him through to his early 20s before he landed a job at Government Life in Cathedral Square.
He and Jacqui were introduced by a female friend who asked Jacqui to keep an eye on Dean while she moved to the North Island to study. Jacqui took her assigned role very seriously. She’s been married to Dean for almost 31 years.
They bucked tradition shortly after marrying, leaving desk work to purchase a Caltex service station. “Dean left a job where he got to play golf about three times a week — we were probably mad,” Jacqui reflects.
“We learned a lot, but it was very tough work. We were the youngest dealers Caltex had ever had.”
She was 22, and Dean was 25. The fact they were younger than their oldest son is now is something they find slightly staggering. “I don’t know how we ever managed to do it. We had a customer complain and say, ‘I want to talk to the boss,’ and I had to say, ‘Well, that’s me,’” says Dean.
Adds Jacqui: “A customer told me on the forecourt, ‘Isn’t it nice that you’ve been given such a good job after school?’
“It was an interesting time, and it was such a male-dominated industry. We were there pouring petrol and oil, serving people from all walks of life and running a mechanical workshop behind the forecourt. But it taught us customer service and how to grow a business.”
Almost 30 years later, they took on another chaotic venture described as mad: building a home perched on the 35-degree slope of a dormant volcano.
“I said to the architect Greg Young, who we’ve used for years, ‘You need to meet us up the hill and tell my wife this is not going to be easy, or the cheapest of builds,’” says Dean.
“Greg repeated all of that, but Jacqui wouldn’t listen. She kept saying, ‘It’ll be fine!’ So that was the beginning.”
But the build was not fine. It was, as Jacqui puts it, terrible. “It was death by a thousand cuts,” she says. The estimated 18-month build took 30 months to complete, with curveballs — including a massive variation to retain the road on the lane — coming at them from all angles. “It was awful. We kept looking at each other and saying, ‘Oh god, what have we done?’”
Friends and family could see it was tough going, says Dean. “They probably all talked about it behind our backs, saying, ‘Those guys are nuts,’” says Jacqui.
Every inch of the process made running a service station look easy. Nothing could be brought in by crane, so the shutter concrete walls for which the property is named (béton brut is French for raw concrete) were constructed entirely on-site and poured one by one. While one was hardening, another would be started. The walls alone took 18 months; the front foundations required 20 trucks’ worth of concrete.
“We had this concrete expert called Dan — who was incredible — and he said he’d never do it again.”
Scale wasn’t their only adversity. Along with building a home, they were throwing effort and dollars into upgrading the Hammer Springs TOP 10 Holiday Park, which they had taken over ownership of some nine years previously. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were going into new luxury cabins, bathrooms and planting native trees.
The fly in the ointment for both was, of course, the 2020 pandemic, which saw tourist numbers dry up and a freeze on building projects. The house wasn’t finished, visitor numbers were dwindling, and the couple had to hurry to move into their new home. “We were starting to catch up on our home’s timeline, and we got a feeling something might happen with the country.”
They made it in by the skin of their teeth on the unexpectedly lucky Friday, 13 March — a week before the country went into its first lockdown. “I had this very romantic idea that the day we moved in, it would all be pristine, and there would be a lovely bouquet of flowers on the kitchen bench — but it wasn’t exactly like that,” says Jacqui.
Half the deck was missing, meaning dramatic two-storey falls were prevented by a makeshift balustrade from builders’ offcuts and an old cyclone farm gate Dean found and screwed directly into the wood.
Their favourite feature is an outdoor lounge with louvred ceilings and a wood fireplace, so friends and family can gather year-round. For a pair so experienced in holidays, it’s no surprise this touch was inspired by one of their own — a decidedly un-OSH-approved venture at Lake Brunner with other families more than 20 years ago.
“We all used to stay in this old house called the Mill House, which had bedrooms with bunks three high. It slept 30 people, so you’d have two families to a room,” says Jacqui. With the children tucked up inside, the parents would gather on the old semi-enclosed sunporch. A duvet tent created a makeshift wind barrier; the barbeque was a make-do heater.
Instead of blankets over barbeques, now it’s pizza nights and al fresco gatherings. But the same friends still get together. “Everyone loves coming to stay. We have friends who offer to come over each weekend. It gets to a point where Dean and I think, ‘Actually, we’d quite like to go out… but usually, you just don’t feel the need to leave.’”
Now and then, they manage to wrangle all three sons — Rob (26), Josh (24) and Harry — in the house at one time, along with their accompanying girlfriends.
Jacqui and Dean take it all in their stride, whether the house is packed to the rafters or the only other occupants are a small menagerie of animals. They pound the scenic local walking routes with Zoe, the airedale terrier, at their feet. Scarborough clifftops, Flowers Track and back along the beach — they can do the Godley Head walk in four hours’ return.
Much like their parenting of their three now-adult sons, the hard work is now done. On this hilltop perch, which once threatened death by 1000 cuts, Jacqui and Dean find calm and shelter from the howling easterly that terrorises the rest of the city. “We love the views, the walks… and the quiet. We feel like we’re out of town even though we can see it all,” says Jacqui.
“We lived on the other side of town in the northwest where it’s congested and is bumper-to-bumper traffic. When I go back there and do something, I think, ‘How did I manage to deal with this all the time?’ There was constant traffic noise where I used to live, even when out walking our dog. Now, all we can hear are the waves.”
Jacqui Anderson’s top tips for the perfect holiday.
– Always book in advance to avoid disappointment. “If you do, not only do you avoid missing out, but you’ll also get the right type of space for you and your group. Whether that’s a unit for a couple or a nicer tent site.”
– Ask the team at your accommodation for recommendations on exploring the area. “They love talking to people daily about things to do in the area and hidden local treasures. The best eating spots in town, best cycle tracks; things that will make a holiday better.”
– If you’re making a long road trip, consider staying more than one night at stops along the way. “Then you can relax and enjoy the area, rather than having to unpack, then pack again and leave the next day.”
A FAMILY BUSINESS
Jacqui’s family legacy is holidaying: she was “basically born” in Christchurch’s Meadow Park. Her parents were some of the founders of New Zealand’s TOP 10 Holiday Park chain. In 2010 — months before the Christchurch earthquake — she and Dean took on a “labour of love” by taking over the lease of Hamner’s TOP 10.
“It needed a bit of love and attention,” says Jacqui.
They’ve been chipping away on it ever since, using the same landscaper, architect, interior designer and lighting expert who collaborated on Béton Brut.
For Jacqui, it’s about giving other families memories for life. “When our kids were younger, and we used to travel to conferences, they would come with us — because that’s what I did when I was a child,” she says.
“And we had amazing trips with fun times on the way. I’d be thinking about our guests, and what they’d want.”
Over the years, they’ve built luxe new cabins with wood-fired hot tubs, planted native fauna and installed pizza ovens and a giant jumping pillow for the kids.
The park won the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Hospitality New Zealand Awards — beating hotel chains, five-star resorts, beloved restaurants and bars.
Not expecting to win and thrilled to be at the event, Jacqui and Dean were talking to people at their table when the winner was announced.
“We were talking and suddenly realised they’d said our name,” says Dean. “It was good to beat the big boys and put our industry into the arena for the first time ever.”