Crammed in for the good life
By JILL WILD - The Dominion Post
The Sutherland/Giggenbach family home in Eastbourne maybe one of the smaller houses in the village but what it lacks in size it makes up for in vibrancy, colour and quirkiness.
It is home to a family of four, crammed into two bedrooms with the backyard devoted to a pair of free ranging chooks.
But for this family, life is about living and sharing and they love the location, surrounding bush and birdsong rather than concerning themselves with the lack of space. This is a family team that sees everything in positive mode and their home shrieks happiness.
"Certainly it would be great to one day have more room but we make the most of what we have and it's been a wonderful place to raise the kids," says Ellen Giggenbach.
"We came here 11 years ago and it's just been great."
In fact the family had time to sample the environment before they bought. They rented the house next door and when the landlords gave them notice because they wanted to move back into the house to retire. It was a chance remark to the next door neighbours that resulted in a huge opportunity.
"Our neighbours said jokingly 'do you want to buy ours?' and then followed up by saying they were serious because they were moving. We loved the street and loved living in the area so it just seemed the obvious thing to do. You hear that buying a house and moving in is one of the most stressful things a family can do, but it was easy for us. We just casually packed up all our stuff up and walked next door."
In 11 years they have made few changes but are delighted with what they have done and continue a regular maintenance programme on the 1920s home. When they moved in the backyard had a manicured lawn and old shed, both have now gone.
"When we came we had a Dalmatian dog that eventually died at 17 years old. Our dog was like a third child so while I knew we needed pets I wasn't ready for another dog and we aren't cat people because we love the birds. The boys' cousins had chooks, which our boys really liked and when I asked chook owners in Eastbourne they were all really positive about chickens," Ellen says.
Teenage son Austin is precise about the family chooks that were bought just over two years ago.
"They turn three in December, Marshmallow or Marshie is the smaller one; she's fast and cheeky and loves winning. Dolly is fat and grumpy and likes everything her way, she occasionally rules the roost"
The chook house took six months to build and is state-of-the-art with art works and doors the chooks can open. It was built by Paul Sutherland to his exacting standards.
"When the chickens arrived we thought we would fence part of the garden off for them, but we didn't know they would eat virtually everything. They finished the weeds and just kept going - at that stage we had a beautifully manicured lawn with shrubs around the outside. As the chooks kept eating their way through the backyard we kept thinking 'we must do something'.
"They ended up extremely free range and Paul has now fenced off a vegetable garden in the middle just for us, but even then the sparrows eat the vegetables and there are certain things we just can't grow because of all the birds."
Ever practical, Ellen has pairs of gumboots at the edge of the veranda for people venturing out to the backyard and vegetable garden. The backyard is gently raked to keep it tidy. The 15 centimetres of lawn around the vegetable garden are kept short using hand tools. The backyard fences are lined with mosaics made by Ellen before she became immersed in designing stationery, fabrics, giftware and homeware on a commercial business basis.
"We did take out a wall to make the kitchen/dining area open plan. We had a builder who was a real craftsman do it so it's in keeping with rest of the house and looks as though it was always there. Now we can look into the backyard garden and it gives much more light to the kitchen area."
Ellen says she and her husband started out with very different interior concepts.
"Paul was very conservative. He grew up in Hong Kong and was used to that minimalist Asian look. I have a Germanic background with lots of colour, so our aesthetic was not the same. He has had to adapt. He has had to come to terms with my ideas, he knows if there is a space I will be bunging something in it. His thoughts were that if a room looks good in beige then it should be that colour."
The home is now a riot of colour and certainly no beige. The bathroom is chartreuse, the master bedroom cupboard doors cherry red, the kitchen bench tops canary yellow and the kitchen cupboards are cobalt blue.
"When we were picking a bench top we were shown typical Formica colours and granites, but out of the corner of my eye I saw a bright yellow. I thought 'not in my dreams would Paul agree to the colour', but we've ended up with it."
The riot of colour continued when Paul abandoned his Asian neutrals and instead chose fire-engine red to paint around the sink and below the Morris & James multi- coloured tiles. The boys' room is a bright yellow, moderated by camouflage netting storage areas and a collection of anything related to The Beatles. A pair of couches and their tapestry fabric coverings determined the living area colour. Ellen says they were furnished in traditional colours that forced her to select a more traditional green for the walls.
"I've now recovered the couches in a brown polar fleece fabric, it cost about $50, but now I'd like bright red couches. Funnily enough if I had the couches in red I would have the walls in beige. I want a Nordic look now and pelmets are out."
Ellen's driving force in her mix of colours is to create a friendly feel to the home. She says a high-tech "tricky dicky type place" is not for her and she much prefers a funky and fresh house.
"I always think it is funny how people have an architectural home and then put baroque furniture in it, the two just don't match. People should look at their big pieces of furniture and let them dictate the look of the house."
While the Sutherland family may, at times, be squeezed in their two-bedroom house, in winter they are snuggly warm, heated by a living room open fire and panel heaters in the dining area that warm the whole house. And while the house may be small, the section is one of the bigger lots in Eastbourne with a sizeable front lawn for children to play and the free-range chook run at the rear.
"If and when we add on, or rebuild there is plenty of space for options. We are lucky," says Ellen.
"We may do something at some stage, but in the meantime it is home and we love it."