This serene Nelson home in the hills offers the ultimate connection to nature

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23 July 2021

Reading Time: 6 minutes

A couple of former Londoners found serenity in a creative home near Nelson.

It’s not often people buy a house on the strength of one photo but that’s what happened to Serena Buonaguidi-Haynes and her husband David. The former Londoners moved to New Zealand in 2004, seeking a quieter life more connected to nature.

Serena Buonaguidi-Haynes walking in a garden in Nelson

David, an IT consultant, and Serena, a make-up artist who once oiled David Beckham’s thighs for a photoshoot, initially settled in Auckland, where the work was. “We had a small garden, which we’d never had in London, so we planted some veges, which confirmed that we wanted to grow our own food,” says Serena.

They started scrolling through real estate sites, and one night spotted a promising property – a 15-year-old mud-brick house carved into a hill overlooking Glenduan, 15 minutes from Nelson’s CBD. “There was only one photo – of a sunset – but it sounded amazing,” Serena says.

A white house set in a hillside surrounded by bush and greenery

They’re not afraid of hard work, but they were at first overwhelmed by how much needed to be done to the 5.5ha section and 95sqm house. “The section was completely overgrown so we spent ages ripping out gorse and blackberry,” Serena says.

Though the house had good bones, much needed to be changed. They started by removing a step that led to the open-plan kitchen and levelling the floor, and the impressively resourceful David refashioned the step into a worktop and a larger kitchen island. He also refitted the plumbing using copper piping.

A dining room with white walls, wood ceiling and wood floor with a dark wood dining table and chairs

Most of the couple’s furniture made the move to New Zealand, including a dining table and chairs they found at an antiques fair, as well as a light above the dining table that once hung in an English snooker hall.

A kitchen with wood floors, wood ceiling panels, white walls  and a wood kitchen island

“My mother, who now lives in the South of France, is an antiques enthusiast, so we spent a lot of time visiting antiques fairs when we lived in the UK,” says Serena.

Vintage armchairs in the living room were found locally, and Serena did an upholstery course so she could re-cover them. The couple also got out the white paint to cover some of the home’s bright red, blue and yellow doors and window frames.

A room with dark wood floors, open wood doors, a chandelier, and a blue French couch

Go up a few steps and you’re in the living room, which the previous owner had turned into two bedrooms. David returned the space to its original configuration and it’s now a favourite spot for the couple and visitors, with its rust-coloured sofa, which was brought over from the UK, and vintage oak chairs, which were acquired from a friend’s bach and reupholstered by Serena.

A living room with white walls, vintage black and white hanging art, a plush red couch and an angled ceiling
The couple have mixed vintage pieces with re-covered second-hand finds and home-crafted items. The result is a cosy and rustic look with touches of old-world class. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

A console table emerged from their own land. “We needed something for the space behind the sofa, so during lockdown last year David found a slab of macrocarpa on the property that he fashioned into a table,” Serena says.

A bedroom with white walls, light wood ceiling, a ceiling light, and a colourful teal duvet and cushions

The star of the main bedroom is Serena’s antique French chandelier, a 30th birthday present from David. For years it hung in their London house, and David built a wooden crate for its journey across the oceans. A blue sofa in this room came from a local winemaker, while a striking fantastical painting above it is by British artist Jonathan McCree, whom the couple knew in London. “We paid Jonathan for this painting – and four smaller ones in the living room – with dinner, bed and breakfast.”

A bedroom with white walls, wood floors, a blue French chair and hanging chandelier

One of the most dramatic transformations occurred in the en-suite bathroom. When the couple moved in, this room was basically just a floor and walls, says Serena. “We lined the internal walls, glazed the roof, installed wooden floorboards and turned it into this relaxing space.”

Serena, who admits she’s a “bath girl”, says there were some anxious moments while installing the bath tub. “It was too big to fit through the door, so we had to hoist it up the bank and bring it in through the window.” The vanity stand is a repurposed Singer sewing machine base, a creative master stroke they’ve replicated in the second bathroom.

To take advantage of the property’s stunning sea views, the couple added extensive decking at the front of the house.

To one side of the deck is the second bedroom, where a bold blue roof adds to a Mediterranean feel. Another chandelier that made the journey from the UK adds a touch of whimsy here.

A bedroom with white walls, blue panel ceilings, a gold chandelier and a bed with a black frame
A chandelier in the spare room is one of two the couple brought back from the UK. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Serena has always painted, and when she moved to New Zealand her artistic career really took off. Her oil paintings are now sold by numerous galleries throughout the country, and one of her wishes when she moved here was to have a dedicated studio space.

Serena Buonaguidi-Haynes standing by a large blue canvas with her cat Possum
Between her home’s mud-brick walls and ample wood, artist Serena (in her studio with cat Possum) has realised her dream of a life lived closer to nature. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

She got that wish four years ago when the couple refurbished a workshop on the property. A short stroll from the house and set among native trees, the ply-lined studio provides ample room for her canvasses.

Serena Buonaguidi-Haynes sitting in her art studio surrounded by art
It was a long-held dream for Serena to have a dedicated studio, which the couple made a reality by repurposing an old workshop. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

It’s also a favourite with the couple’s many sheep and goats. “It’s not unusual for our rescued baby goats to sit at my feet while I paint,” Serena says. “Of course, I have to put nappies on them!”

Next door is David’s brewery, where he turns the land’s ample produce into liquid refreshments, including apple cider and plum and gooseberry wine.

Serena Buonaguidi-Haynes standing on top of her home in the hills and covered by succulents and grasses
The roof is covered with more than 4000 succulents and grasses, which Serena and David add to each year – a great form of insulation, she says. IMAGE VIA HELEN BANKERS

Compare this couple to the characters on British TV show The Good Life and Serena will laugh. “We are a bit like them, because we grow everything here, from macadamias and figs to squash and brassicas. We’ve succeeded in our plan to grow our own food, and you could definitely say we’re living the good life.”

A scarecrow made out of a black paint splattered jumpsuit and a straw hat

Swipe the style

Nouveau classic pot, $495 from Morris & James
Nouveau classic pot, $495 from Morris & James
Madam Stoltz lamp with tassels, $329 from Allium Interiors
Madam Stoltz lamp with tassels, $329 from Allium Interiors
Le Monde Twin Bee Eaters, $119 from Smith and Caughey’s
Le Monde Twin Bee Eaters, $119 from Smith and Caughey’s
Classic wing armchair in mist, $1099 from Freedom
Classic wing armchair in mist, $1099 from Freedom
Etienne crystal chandelier, $1999 from French Country Collections
Etienne crystal chandelier, $1999 from French Country Collections

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