The week before Easter, we trundled the kids bunks and our boxes of clothes and kitchenware up the steep driveway from Isaac’s childhood home to the little 500-square-foot house we’ve been working on since August 2021. It was a momentous occasion, and one we felt was a bit overdue given that we moved here thinking we’d build a small house in six months or so.
But when I look back at photos from 2021 of what is now our driveway, it makes sense that it took this long. We cleared away forest, turned a trail into a driveway, and built literally everything that makes a home work, from a solar power system for electricity to a rain water collection plumbing system, complete with two water tanks (one of which is on top of a hill to give us necessary water pressure). We’ve done way more than simply build a house – we’ve made a homestead in the bush.
(Above: our driveway before and after)
These past two months have been a blur of tasks to get the place done before Easter. Isaac and a contractor we know finished the drywall inside, which showed us a few mistakes we had made in framing (novice mistakes like not including a top plate of wood around the ceiling to which we could nail the drywall sheets). Then we had an expert come in to plaster and sand the drywall (“gib-stopping” as they call it). Isaac’s best friend who moved back to the island recently is a painter and spent days painting the house top to bottom while Isaac nailed in trim and baseboards (scotia, architrave, and skirting as it’s called here).
Despite my enthusiasm for the project, I found out in January that I’m pregnant with a very-much-planned third kiddo, so I spent the first three months of this year in a fog of fatigue and nausea, unable to help with anything physical.
I perked up enough to finally get my work overalls on and lay the flooring. It was a glorious but frustrating job – we had purchased the flooring a year earlier, not knowing it would be so long before we would actually need to use it. The packets of click-together wood panels sat in a tool shed through a very wet year. As expected, they’d warped a bit and some were water damaged at the edges. Out here we have to make-do, and I did my best to hide the worst pieces in spots of our house that I knew would be under beds or furniture. I laid the last boards in the laundry room with only off-cuts to spare – we had measured well!
After three frustrating days of building flat-packed cabinets we’d brought over in our container from the States, we got the kitchen sink hooked up and were ready to call it home. The electrical outlets weren’t working yet, and we had no lights to speak of, but a few extension cords from the solar battery box provided the power we needed. Getting our electrician or plumber to give us a date for when they can finish the job is next to impossible here (it’s just the how things are done here on “island time”) so we decided to move in without those last bits of infrastructure. Our kitchen sink and outdoor shower worked, and we’re used to living in the evenings by headlamps, and during the day our house is flooded with light.
There was no looking back as we moved our things in. The kids had been waiting for their new bedroom to be done since the minute we tested things out camping in it over Christmas. Isaac and I had been dreaming about sleeping on our American king-sized mattress (which is bigger than king beds in New Zealand). It had been squished into the container for well over 18 months now and took a while to regain its shape once we unpacked it, but thankfully it wasn’t musty or mouldy.
Our beloved couch, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well. Underneath the plastic and cardboard, a mosaic of different moulds covered the cushions and backrest. Back in the States, we likely would have thrown it out and ordered a new, albeit cheaper, one. Not out here. “This is the couch we have,” I said, “It’s such a nice couch, let’s make it work.”
I doused the whole thing in vinegar, then showered it with baking soda and blasted it for two days in New Zealand sunlight. After a thorough vacuum, it was like new. “Make do and mend” has always been a slogan I try to live by, and this was no exception.
Moving day was stressful to say the least. We got a good autumn rain the day before, so our house was surrounded in mud. Our kids slipped and slid in it, then raced through the house to the deck and back. The reality of living with “indoor-outdoor flow” in the bush became clear. We would not, we decided, use any of our carpets or rugs in this house. Everything needs to be waterproof, wipeable, or washable. With a baby on the way, this will probably be a good idea for the next five years or so anyway.
I woke up after our first night in the house to a soft pink glow on the white walls around me. The sun rises over the hill to our east, and it bathed the house in colour. The high windows we designed are like television screens tuned constantly to an ever-changing sky. I have always loved clouds. It felt like I was waking up in them, then spending the day in them, then watching them turn to stars. “Shall we call this the Cloud House?” Isaac suggested later that day. Absolutely.
We still have a hundred things to do to officially “finish” the Cloud House. And even then, that’s just to get it in working order – our work on this spot of earth will be a lifetime’s worth. We have dreams of landscaping, planting, building out the container, maybe a treehouse. For now though, we’re enjoying having hit a milestone – we moved in – and we’re ready for a bit of a break.