This cottage-style build in Matamata was based on a 500-year-old Welsh home design

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29 June 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

From Northern Wales to Haast Pass, an innovative couple has sought inspiration from far and wide to create their dream house.

This is the house that Wales built.

A wood cottage with an orange roof and large pile of cut firewood
The roof tiles on the shed have been upcycled from houses in Auckland. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Well, that Welshman Dewi Roberts and his wife Jen built according to traditional Welsh building methods – which meant using no nails and cutting each piece of timber by hand!

But Jen, a former nurse and child psychotherapist, and Dewi, an animal-breeding technician, aren’t afraid of a challenge. They met in London while Jen was on her OE, and returned to the Waikato where she’d grown up on a dairy farm.

“We always wanted to live rurally so when this quarter-acre section, 10 minutes from Matamata, came up, we jumped at the opportunity to build our dream home,” says Jen.

A triangular window facing farmland
Situated on the outskirts of Matamata, the house was constructed using methods from the 10th century. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

It was also Dewi’s chance to build a three-storey timber-framed house based on the 500-year-old home in which he’d once lived in North Wales.

Approximately 25sqm of felled timber was acquired courtesy of Cyclone Bola in 1988, then Dewi painstakingly built the frame, culminating in a barn-raising day in 1992 where family and friends helped them put together the structure with hand-hewn oak pegs, called treenails.

The floor is also made from leftover timber Dewi hand-milled and laid in a parquet pattern, while the walls are lime plaster.

A green sitting area with an angled roof, a ceiling light and a black hanging candelabra
Jen (pictured) and Dewi designed the candelabra and had them made by a local ironmonger. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

“I saw an English interior designer use limewash in a magazine. Back then it was quite new, so I wrote to her and she sent me the recipe!” says Jen.

A bedroom with limewashed green walls, a large bed with a black bedboard and arched wooden ceilings
Jen wrote away to an English magazine to get the recipe for the limewash for the interior walls. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

After bringing up their four now-adult children in the 300sqm barn, the couple decided to travel again and spent 10 years doing a second OE in the UK where Jen worked as a nurse for celebrities including motor racing driver Stirling Moss. “We came back in 2017 when our kids told us to stop being gypsies!” she says.

Since then they’ve opened their house up to overnight guests and introduced events such as candlelit dinners and concerts that Jen, a self-taught cook, caters for.

A dining room with limewashed green walls and ceiling beams in a traditional Welsh style cottage
After raising four children in their unique three-storey home, Jen and Dewi Roberts have converted it into accommodation as well as a venue for candlelit dinners and concerts. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Enter though a heavy oak door Dewi milled from a nearby tree and you’re in the open-plan living, dining and kitchen space. Here, as with the rest of the house, the furniture has either been built by Dewi, gifted to the couple, or found in an op shop or on Trade Me. “I love finding objects with a story. They add real character to a home.”

A wood shelving unit with shelves holding assorted bowls, hanging cups and plates

Dewi used local stone to build an inglenook fireplace.

An industrial-style oven from the UK fills the space and also helps to heat the house. A copper sink came from a nearby cowshed, and Dewi made the sturdy concrete benchtops and the large Welsh dresser that holds the crockery Jen uses for her culinary events.

A cottage style kitchen with grey brick walls, polished wood floors and hanging flowers
Dewi built the inglenook fireplace in the kitchen, which contains an oven that also doubles as heating for the house. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

A large white armoire in the living space came from friends who brought it back from South Africa when they immigrated to Matamata. “It was mahogany but we applied white chalk paint, then rubbed it to give it a shabby chic look.”

A living room area in a cottage with limewashed green walls, polished wood floors and a vintage whitewashed standing armoire

On the second floor are three guest bedrooms, all decorated with vintage buckets filled with dried flowers, which Jen forages for whenever she can.

The bucket in one bedroom, for example, was once a hospital placenta bucket. “I found it in a second-hand shop in Ashburton and loved its shape,” she says, “then when the owner told me about its background, I had to have it!”

A bedroom in a cottage home with wood beams, a bed with a white duvet and limewashed green walls

Jen chanced upon the claw-foot bath in a paddock where it was being used as a cow trough. She knocked on the farmer’s door to ask if she could have it. “He said, ‘I’ll give you the bath for a box of beer.’ Of course I ended up spending quite a bit resurfacing it!”

A bathroom with yellow walls, grey floors, a claw foot tub, angled ceiling and a ceiling night
Jen found the claw-foot bath in a nearby paddock and acquired it from its owner for a box of beer. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Because it was designed as a wet room, the bathroom needed good flooring, so Jen and Dewi used concrete inlaid with stones from Haast Pass, which they lugged home after a holiday.

A woman walking through an upper level of a Welsh style cottage with limewashed green walls

Go up a few steps and you’re in the loft area, which contains a separate living space and the main bedroom, as well as the separate wing above the garage, which offers another two bedrooms, including the main suite where a cathedral ceiling and green glass chandelier from Trade Me, add a cosy but luxurious touch.

Outside, the couple grow veges in raised beds and there’s a shed to house bikes for guests who are riding the nearby Hauraki Rail Trail.

Although the couple are happy enjoying the fruits of their labours, and sharing it with guests, Jen says one day she’d love to build a stone cottage in a remote part of Central Otago.

“Sadly, Dewi isn’t keen because he had enough of the cold in Wales! But who knows, one day I might be able to talk him around!”

A rustic outdoor pavilion with a grey rock floor, marble dining table and large dried floral hanging arrangement
A chandelier of dried flowers adorns a rustic pavilion. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Swipe the style

Round copper saucepan with a long handle
Mauviel copper saucepan, $324.95 from Milly’s
A black velvet folded quilt
Kingdom velvet quilt, $339.90 from Wallace Cotton
A black iron candelabra with 5 handlestick holders
Raine iron candelabra, $192 from French Country Collections
A wood oak buffer and hutch
Orchard oak buffet and hutch, $2999 from Early Settler
A bone white round table lamp with a curved top
Moon table lamp, $340 from Paper Plane

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