Cape Cod-style home in Christchurch

This Christchurch family left hectic Melbourne behind for a new home, new businesses and the space and time to enjoy it all

Words Georgi Waddy  Photos Daniel Allen  Issue   ,

Pretty blue shutters and an echo of Cape Cod were enough to captivate Caroline Sleigh when she first visited the home she was soon to own in Merivale, Christchurch. On a one-day property-buying mission from her then Melbourne home, Caroline made a beeline for the central northern suburb, having seen the house for sale on the web: “I have always been attracted to Cape Cod-style houses,” she says.

Hooked also by the light and simple white interiors, which she knew would work well with their collection of modern and antique furniture, she had no problem convincing her husband, Mike Goodwin, of the house’s merits. For him the prospect of life away from the big city, with more space to enjoy with his family – including a tennis court and pool, which would be out of reach in pricey Melbourne – were prime drawcards.

After 12 years in Australia, the couple, who both grew up in New Zealand, were keen to move closer to their respective families. Both sets of Canterbury-based parents have since pitched in as helpers and grand-friends to their two children, Annabelle, eight, and Charlie, 10. For Mike, who runs his own software engineering company specialising in airport baggage-handling systems, Christchurch was the obvious choice in other ways too: “Here I can work from home, enjoy the children and even manage a day trip skiing at Porters.”

After arriving back in the country in July 2010, they had just six weeks to settle in before the first Canterbury earthquake struck on September 4. The family moved out, first to a friend’s house in the country and later to a family bach in Wanaka. And after each subsequent shake, they would up sticks again, staying away as long as the schools were closed, which in one case was more than five weeks. >

They were fortunate to have somewhere to go and work they could take with them, says Caroline, and “after each earthquake we’d return to pick up where we left off. It was very difficult for the children, especially as we’d only just moved from Melbourne, where they had friends and schools they loved. But we try to put the quakes behind us now and focus on our businesses, which we’re both determined to make a success of.”

The wooden house came through intact, though they lost their brick chimneys which were taken down laboriously and can’t be rebuilt. The heated pool was badly damaged – and is sadly missed by the children – as was the tennis court, though it’s still usable as long as the competition isn’t too serious.

Mike’s business involves extensive travel at least three or four times a year, but as soon as the jet lag wanes he’s ready for a bike ride or a game of tennis with the kids. For Caroline, being back in New Zealand has given her the chance to achieve a long-cherished goal – setting up her own cashmere business, Cashmere Affair, after 20 years in the apparel industry. Her label, she says, is “all about bright colours and timeless style”.

Neither quake-related disruptions nor the polar conditions of the last couple of winters have put them off their new home. They’re happily making the most of living close to city parks and often escape to the North Canterbury countryside, for a swim at Sumner beach or skiing at Porters – all a welcome contrast to their hectic Melbourne lifestyle.

In summer the house really comes into its own, with the entire downstairs area open to the garden. Big casement doors and windows fill the kitchen area with all-day light, reflected off white walls – ideal for entertaining, says Caroline. Once a week, Mike treats the children to a feast of home-made pizza that’s often shared by other families dropping in on their way home from nearby Merivale village.

“The house works well when we have friends around as the kids can be on the tennis court and the adults can be having a glass of wine on the terrace,” says Mike. “It is also very central;
I can ride my bike to Hagley Park or the Port Hills and the kids love scootering to school.”

Though it’s a child-friendly home, Caroline enjoys having a formal dining room. “We’ve never had a separate dining room before – it’s an intimate, grown-up space. The children never think to go in there so it’s always tidy. We both come from big entertaining families, so we love to catch up with friends over a casual dinner party. We try to have everything fairly well organised so we can sit back and enjoy the company. I love getting dressed up, often in layers of colourful cashmere. I just adore colour!”

The dining room has finally provided the right space for a wallpaper she once admired in a Parisian shop. “I googled it and eventually found it online at Cole & Son in London. It has hummingbirds on it and reminds me of a French country home – so light and pretty.” The room is linked to a separate sitting room and both were painted in cold colours, lavender and pale blue respectively, when they arrived. A warm pale grey has been chosen for the sitting room to complement the wallpaper.

The dining room’s long glass wall cabinets also made it the perfect room for Caroline’s great-grandmother’s collection of Japanese Imari stoneware and porcelain. Her grandmother was also a great collector of Georgian antiques and Caroline considers herself “honoured” to use her George IV regimental mess table, which extends to seat 24 for family gatherings and dinner parties. “I love setting the table with all the old family silver, crystal glasses and china, lots of flowers, linen napkins and a linen tablecloth.”

In time they’d like to tinker with the layout to improve the house’s flow, but for now the family is enjoying it exactly the way it is. Simplicity and tranquillity are Caroline and Mike’s guiding design principles and they’ve kept it simple here, making no big changes, thanks in part to the sound choices of previous owners. “We love all the white walls and the painted floorboards upstairs. They’re so fresh to live with,” says Caroline.

Complementing the tranquil interior, the garden features pale pink and white rhododendrons, climbing roses along the tennis court and an abundance of flowering bulbs in spring. After their years in water-conscious Melbourne, Caroline is thrilled to be growing and picking her own flowers. A potager garden with decorative vegetables and herbs is on the wish-list, but it’s a case of deciding which garden bed to give up first!

Find out about Caroline’s cashmere at cashmereaffair.co.nz.

What do you think?