Thursday, February 7, 2008

Highlands Station

For two days, I stayed on the 3000 acre farm known as Highlands Station, outside of Rotorua on the North Island. John and Catharine Ford (aunt and uncle of a friend of mine) ran the family farm. It is a beautiful set of land, shaped and sculpted by recent volcanic activity, which gives rise to many of the thermal baths, springs, and pools that Rotorua is known for.

The Fords lived in what they called the Big House. Ironically, or not, this was the name given to traditional folk dwellings in Western North Carolina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were called big houses because most everyone lived and slept in the same room, often to utilize the heat of the fireplace, but also because kitchens were removed from the house. I didn’t to ask John and Catherine about the name Big House, but in some regards, I guess it probably has to do with the fact that it is the biggest on the farm (others include workers’ and sheep shearers’ quarters).

The original house was built in the 1930’s and had undergone a series of additions. At one point, the kids were taught at home, and they added a room on just for this purpose. Much of the original floors are still in the house, and you can see where such additions happened. The Fords then did a pretty extensive renovation in 1996. The renovations were a combination of adding some space and serving to make the house more energy efficient. As with many original farmhouses, there was no insulation in any of the walls. So, once they started getting into the work, they gutted and opened up all the walls from the inside, since the house was going to be ripped up and added insulation. Their renovation unified a lot of the house, as John said his father was tight with money and would sort of add on ad hoc, without a whole of planning but a lot of doing. He did see a lot of the work on the house taking away from the farm work, and so he wanted to be quick with the changes to the house. He described one story where his father and mother hired a landscape architect, and he was ready to come in there and do the work with a wheelbarrow and shovels. Instead, his father just came out with his bulldozer and did it himself, resulting in a more unplanned version than the landscape architect was hoping for.

John described two main themes as to why the house had changed over time. The first was the family circumstances: family size, age of family, addition and subtraction of wives, which had different tastes and different abilities of ownership. Technology was the other driving factor. They used to have a long drop loo (outhouse), and as in most places, the introduction of plumbing drastically changed the makeup of houses, resulting in changes within kitchens and bathrooms. Such changes have continued to play a large role in the continual change of kitchens, with the constant change and upgrading of appliances. As advances in insulation changed, so to did the Fords change insulation as well.

As a result of changing conditions and standards, they have had to update their house as well as the shearers’ quarters, in order to serve and have a quality of housing that would attract quality workers to their farm.

If they had to do it again, they would have been more focused on more efficient energy sources. Of course, the technology available for that now is much different than it was 10 years ago.

John posed an interesting question at the time. As cities are regenerating, will suburbs become the slums of the future? I’ll have to ponder that on a little more.

I am grateful for the time, hospitality, and information the Fords shared with me. It was a good insight into a more local and real New Zealand family and life centered around the farm. I am sure I will refer back to much of what they have shared through my upcoming posts and such.


Nicolette Mastrangelo said...

There's only one Big House I know....and it's in Ann Arbor!

Nice Blog, Luke! Miss ya, thinking about you.

momAlice said...

Hi Luke et al!

Reading your comment: John posed an interesting question at the time. As cities are regenerating, will suburbs become the slums of the future? I’ll have to ponder that on a little more.

reminded me of a conversation I had in the past few days right here in Asheville. Of course (senior moments abound!) I cannot remember for sure who said it, but it was about the probability that many of the macmansions dotting the hillsides even around here are becoming vacant and will soon be homes to multifamilies. Although I do believe a retired real estate agent assured me that because of all the retirees still coming here this is not so likely to happen as in other regions, someone and I were definitely having this conversation. I found it serendipitous that someone in New Zealand and you were onto the same point!

Much love and ALWAYS lots of wishes for smooth sailing, as it were,