The House with No Nails

A barn born from a cyclone finding its place in a pandemic.

Written by Kate Hay , photography by jen@housewithnonails.com

Dewi and Jen, the maker and the storyteller

The Barn Born From A Cyclone

When the gales of Cyclone Bola finally quietened, Dewi, a local farmer originally from North Wales, looked around him.  He saw the broken things, the modern houses blown inside out, the fallen trees.  But he didn’t see hopelessness or loss.  In that moment, he saw a special kind of home for his family.  The kind of home that would sway with the wind, but never break.  A new home that was centuries in the making.

So, Dewi talked to the farmers about helping them with their downed tree “problem”.  He got himself an Alaskan Mill and set to work milling the beams right there, in the fields.  Dewi and Jen didn’t have a lot of capital, so they paid in sweat instead.  Dewi milked cows for a local farmer during the day.  At night, he worked his timber in the farmer’s workshop.  With mallet and chisel, he shaped every joint in the house.  Every piece was pre-cut and premarked with a Roman numeral in an ancient practice of prefabrication.

Every piece of the frame was fitted for its neighbour.  Every piece with a purpose.  The central structure of the barn are the four “Bents” that curve from the central spine enclosing the home like a ribcage.  Just like our ribs, strength is derived from the curve and the flex of the timber. Every join is secured with a hand-whittled oak peg. On barn raising day, the community gathered and the entire frame was assembled and raised from dawn to dusk.  That night there was a dance and a feast between the beams, under the stairs. 

Once the skeleton was up, next was what Jen calls the “loving exercise of filling in”.  Jen and Dewi took their time and used their hands.  The external and internal cladding is timber, of course, rendered with a red clay and lime putty and lime wash, both handmade on site and brewed in the ground by the couple for the purpose. Jen wrote to Jocasta Innes, the English  interior designer, for the lime plaster recipe, which was provided in return by way of blue  Aerodrome letter.

Every part of the House with No Nails has a past that is honoured – the stones around the Inglenook fireplace  from the Paeroa hills, the mantel is an old Totara fencepost, the stone in the bathroom floor from the Haast, the handforged  copper kitchen sink reclaimed from its agricultural roots (from a cowshed), the antique clawfooted bath picked up from a paddock, rusted from the years of cow licks. The iron work has all been forged by a local craftsman, Brian Searle. “This place is about making,” Jen says.  They are passionate about the objects made and remade.

The Rhythm of the Land

The House with No Nails has in a real sense grown from the land in which it stands.  On the plains at the base of the Kaimai’s, the House with No Nails is watched over by Mount Te Aroha to the North and Wairere Falls to the South.  Te Aroha has always been recognised as a special place.  For local iwi, Te Aroha means “love flows inland”.  The Waihou River, a water highway, has long been critical to travel and commerce and that continued after the arrival of Europeans.  Jen tells me that Te Aroha was New Zealand’s first formal tourist destination as the Victorians travelled here to “take the waters”.

The Barn may be rustic, but this boutique bed and breakfast oozes comfort.

A Place in a Pandemic

The House with No Nails evolved from a family home into a bed and breakfast, with Jen and Dewi hosting so many travellers around their table. Their position near Te Aroha, Hobbiton, the Waihou River and Wairere Falls and their uniqueness made this little boutique B&B pretty popular with international visitors. Then came 2020, COVID 19, the lockdown, closed borders. 

The House with No Nails has made its own place in our changed world.  Unsurprisingly, this place is within its own story and as a place for others to tell their stories.  Rather than a spot for cyclists and weary tourists to lay their heads (although cyclists and tourists are always welcomed), the Chief Carpenter’s Barn is becoming its own experience.  From boutique opera performances to Agentinian, Polish and French immersion weekends, weddings and reunions to full well-being experiences, the building that has always been more than a barn is becoming much more than a bed for the night.

In the central solarium, rests a long table open to the character kitchen and with an open ceiling that vaults all three stories of the barn – truly, the heart of the home.  Jen caters for guests with incredible food and warmth.

Visitors may be treated to a long table candlelit feast, followed by mulled wine and tall tales around the fire.  Maybe an Indian banquet?  Maybe an Argentinian fiesta around the asador grill? 

The choices of how to spend your day range from cycling the Hauraki Rail Trail to kayaking the Waihou to hiking around Te Aroha or Wairere Falls and Wairongamai to indulging in luxury at the mineral spas (as those Victorians used to do) to fossicking around the historical town of Te Aroha … and much more!

You can be assured that upon your return from your adventure the House with No Nails will welcome you back …

You can find out more about the House with No Nails and how to take your place in its story, here.

If you would like to find out more about a Yoga-2-Go mini-break at the House with No Nails, use our build a mini-break form and be sure to tell us you want to stay at the House with No Nails!  Or just get in touch, here.

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