A forever home

Celestina Sumby, John Cruickshanks and their four children live in what used to be a Catholic church.

They bought the 250sqm building, one street back from Paekākāriki Beach in 2010, after falling attendance and a consolidation of parishes in the region meant the Church no longer needed it.

Not that Celestina, John and their children Luti, Vita and twins Etienne and Frida had any plans to leave the comfortable family home in the Wellington suburb of Strathmore they’d owned for five years.

“That house was beautifully sunny, we had great neighbours and we thought we’d be there forever,” says Celestina, a communications consultant. It was also handy for John’s job as a contract scenic artist at Sir Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop.

But one night friends showed them the former Our Lady of Lourdes Church online and the couple was smitten.

What appealed were the big open spaces for their growing family, its location in the small, friendly seaside community and the chance to flex their creative muscles. “We love a project and fortunately John had the skills to do most of the work himself,” says Celestina.

Over the last seven and a bit years, they’ve completely renovated the Rimu-built structure. The first major undertaking was adding three half-tonne steel girders to support the roof. Then they turned the former choir loft into three bedrooms. 

Downstairs, the space that once housed the altar has morphed into the kitchen, while walls were added to create a family bathroom/laundry and master bedroom.

Big fans of sustainable living, they were always going to use as many recycled products as possible. Fortunately, John is a veteran magpie with a knack for stumbling upon useful objects such as the brightly coloured former mechanical tins which have been repurposed in the pantry.

Ask Celestina if this is her ‘forever’ home and she barely misses a beat. “We’ve loved every step of the renovation journey which has given us a great house, large enough for socialising, including hosting events such as the recent fundraiser we held for a family we befriended in India.”

That time, they managed to fit 150 people into their home, raising money for the family who’d been affected by floods. “This house is perfect for lots of people, laughter and fun. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

Reported by Sharon Stephenson for our AA Directions Summer 2019 issue

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