My partner and I went on a journey to find this place. We like the idea of infusing heritage buildings with an architectural palette, so we were looking at homes all over New Zealand, with a reasonably long list of criteria. I’d always liked gold-mining history, those old pioneer towns, some long forgotten, so we homed in on the West Coast, and Reefton in particular. I’d been there as a kid and had fond memories; it has all of those qualities of a slower pace of life and embodies a romantic vision of a time in New Zealand’s story.
The cottage has a pretty interesting story. It was built in 1878 for Stuart Monteith [of Monteith’s beer fame], who took over Reefton’s Phoenix Brewery in the late 1860s. You can still find relics of old Phoenix beer bottles about, and his original hops still grow wild along the riverbank here – we took some cuttings and replanted them in the cottage garden. Once we discovered its backstory, we moved pretty quickly and really leaned into the place’s authenticity and narrative.
There was a couple living here before we took over, but the place was in rough shape. We had a vision of what we wanted and began by peeling back layers of horrific wall coverings until we got to the original, hand-cut rimu that lines the walls. There’s no plastic, nothing white (except a tablecloth), and all the cabinetry is bespoke, made from excess timber we reclaimed when removing the old false ceiling. Everything else is brass, copper, concrete or cast iron – it makes for a tactile and engaging experience.
I wanted a critical first impression. I had memories of walking through those metal curtains in the fish and chip shop as a kid and the sound it would make when you pushed your head through it, so we recreated that in the entrance with this hanging copper chain. I love how you have to part it with your hands… maybe it was a bit of a selfish indulgence. But I guess the wow moment is in the bathroom – it’s entirely over the top. We wanted to create a Japanese bathhouse vibe, so we lined it with shou sugi ban [Japanese charred larch] and copper nails with a concrete vanity and a two-metre concrete tub. Without sounding too crass or crude, the house is designed for couples to do couple things, so you need a good bath.
Designing something specifically for short-term stays frees up your thinking around how you present a property. Because it will never be used for more than a couple of nights, you can let things go – like the gaps in the sarking, the newspapers we found stuck to the walls from the late 1800s, or the louvred windows. Would you want them in your home? Probably not. But here, it works.
The Brewer’s Night Inn