The ultimate work-from-home for the owners of this gorgeous Gisborne reno

The ultimate work-from-home for the owners of this gorgeous Gisborne reno


This story is from the team at NZ House & Garden magazine and ran in our March issue, which went to print before Cyclone Gabrielle. We have since checked in with the Kemp family and their home is fine.

With a view out to the fertile plains of Poverty Bay, this 1900s kauri villa could speak a thousand stories of the early settlement of Gisborne. Its latest chapter, however, involves an entrepreneurial family and a renovation “that will be the first and last,” say owners Sandy and Bron Kemp. It did, however, deliver everything they wanted.

The house sits on 6ha of prime growing land, at the apex of a citrus orchard and landscaped garden, with a view to the hills and vineyards that border the district.

The house and property are not only home to the Kemps but also their children Hattie, 19, Joe, 17, and Stella, 15 – and Ziggy the jack russell who greets everybody coming down the tree-lined drive.

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Well maintained hedges line the garden and citrus orchard that surround the Gisborne villa restored by Bron and Sandy Kemp to be a respite from their busy work lives. Daughters Hattie, left, and Stella relax on the veranda with Ziggy the jack russell.

Sam Hartnett/NZ House & Garden

Well maintained hedges line the garden and citrus orchard that surround the Gisborne villa restored by Bron and Sandy Kemp to be a respite from their busy work lives. Daughters Hattie, left, and Stella relax on the veranda with Ziggy the jack russell.

The large, charming building has had many facelifts since the kauri and rimu sarking was put in place all those decades ago. Says Sandy: “It came from town many years ago, in two or three parts, and was put back together by the previous owner.”

Sandy and Bron bought the property 19 years ago to establish a now thriving citrus orchard that includes navel and seville oranges and bearss limes, and to re-graft the surrounding kiwifruit vines. But they were to become more than just growers. A packhouse was created and an online business, Twisted Citrus, developed to sell the biggest and best juicy “Gissy” oranges to customers nationwide.

A jute and wool rug from The Ivy House offers the perfect balance for summer and winter; the custom-made sofas are from Profile Furniture and covered in Haven linen from Warwick, the armchairs are from Little & Fox, the cushions are by Baya and Weave and the coffee table is from Cuchi.

Sam Hartnett/NZ House & Garden

A jute and wool rug from The Ivy House offers the perfect balance for summer and winter; the custom-made sofas are from Profile Furniture and covered in Haven linen from Warwick, the armchairs are from Little & Fox, the cushions are by Baya and Weave and the coffee table is from Cuchi.

Product lines have expanded to include gift boxes, added-value citrus products and more varieties of locally grown fruit. Bron manages the business, Sandy works the orchard.

Their very busy lives make downtime important, which is where the renovated house comes into play. It has become a place of calm, is easy to maintain and is where friends and family can gather with ease.

Auckland-based interior designer Abbey Lang guided the couple through the planning and renovation and Bron credits its success to Abbey’s attention to detail and astute insights into how the house would be used each day – where the right zones, doorways and central focus should be.

New french doors lead to the deck from the kitchen, which was designed by Abbey Lang Home and made by Cherrywood Joinery in Gisborne; the island base is in Resene Foundry, the benchtop is honed Carrara marble and the stools are from local store Fenns.

Sam Hartnett/NZ House & Garden

New french doors lead to the deck from the kitchen, which was designed by Abbey Lang Home and made by Cherrywood Joinery in Gisborne; the island base is in Resene Foundry, the benchtop is honed Carrara marble and the stools are from local store Fenns.

The renovation took four months under the meticulous guidance of Dave Wallace Building. Says Bron: “Dave was all about retaining and putting the character back into the loved old country home,” carefully detailing the ceiling battens, scotia and trims to match the original style of house. Special care was taken to include large new sash windows made by local company Awapuni Joinery to match the existing windows.

Another challenge was the flooring; the couple wanted to replicate the wide kauri floorboards of the original house in the newly reconfigured rooms. Luckily, a local timber merchant had boards the right width and gauge.

The new kitchen area has been invigorated by a huge skylight and large french doors that open on to the deck, swimming pool and tennis court.

It’s not that the interior becomes irrelevant, but with scenery this idyllic, your eye is drawn fairly and squarely away from the house and into the green of the land it sits on.

While Bron laments that the marble benches need careful cleaning, she loves how the stone’s classic beauty crowns the kitchen. She uses the kitchen every day, not just for preparing family meals but as a backdrop to the cooking videos she creates for the business’s social media. It is a work tool, not just a work room.

While the Kemps appreciate the quiet country life, they also like to entertain. At a recent significant birthday for Sandy, it was an easy fit for 50 to 60 people around the kitchen and on the deck. For the first time they worked out what inside and outside flow meant to them.

Bron describes her style as minimalist yet classic, with modern comforts. Sandy’s input was to agree with Bron, as he said he always “trusts her design decisions”.

Apart from a few family treasures and a collection of framed artwork from the children’s time at school, the furnishings are all new.

“We had a big cull,” says Bron, which was a therapy in itself, paring back the clutter which she says can be quite stressful. “If it is not needed, get rid of it. It helps for a calmer space.”

The couple say their renovation has given the house better flow and form. “Who knew taking out a couple of walls could be so transformational,” says Bron. The living room creeps into the kitchen and the kitchen overflows into the dining room, yet the three spaces are still clearly defined.

The garden is a combined passion borne of the couple’s organised natures. Bron designed most of the garden herself, bit by bit, having once run a landscaping business. Sandy was the labourer and his precisely trimmed hedges are something to behold. “It’s a workout,” he says, and advises having the right equipment for the job.

“He won’t do the weeding,” says Bron, “but is pretty particular about straight hedges.”

Summer nights are spent around the firepit next to the grass tennis court which was levelled and established by Sandy – he’s an active tennis player, with his “crew” of players meeting up for regular social events.

Sandy and Bron say their new favourite spots for relaxing on a Sunday morning are either inside on the lambskin rug on the couch in the sun or gathered around the large outside table near the kitchen – where the week is discussed and mulled over, and future plans made.

Q&A with Bron & Sandy Kemp

The best piece of advice we received: Move out while the work is being done. It was a blessing not to live there while the builders were ripping it all apart. It was great living in town for a little while and being so close to everything. (Bron)

Low point of the renovation: Trying to juggle through Covid lockdowns. Although the local builder was organised, lockdowns and supplier disruptions made the process feel longer. (Bron)

Any budget blow-outs: Only on the deck. It was something they hadn’t factored in until the new french doors were built and then it made perfect sense to get that renovated as well. (Sandy)

Favourite new decorating finds: The pendant lights in the living areas, all from Annabelle’s in Havelock North. And the perfect dining table, from Hawthorne Collection. (Bron)

Any hedge-trimming tips: Don’t be afraid to trim them hard from an early age, to keep them straight and compact. Don’t be tempted to plant too close; allow 50cm between each plant and keep them trimmed. (Sandy)

Favourite local restaurant: Crawford Road Kitchen has a view down the harbour and out to sea, a bustling atmosphere and amazing food. It’s also a great place to try the latest vintages from the local vineyards. (Bron)

Best local walk: Up Waimata hill to the lookout at 5am two to three times a week – it’s the super-charge we need. (Bron)



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