On Greytown’s edge, neighbours have repurposed two buildings that once buzzed with community life. The Brigidine Convent of Pahiatua now sits across a field from the Apiti Post Office, both restored for family living with a twist from the past.

At the former Catholic convent, Brigid the bounding black schnauzer is named after nuns of the Brigidine order, who once lived and taught there.

Professor John Bushnell and wife Lizzie have moulded the villa into a gloriously spacious home. The interior was teased open and brown concertina dividing doors removed to restore the grand entrance hall. The nuns’ many tiny bedrooms are gone. Now the four-bedroom, three bathroom home with open plan kitchen/living, warmed by radiators powered by a wetback log burner, is a triumphant example of skilled restoration.

The former Pahiatua Brigidine Convent now sits resplendent in a Greytown paddock.

The former Pahiatua Brigidine Convent now sits resplendent in a Greytown paddock.

John and Lizzie moved the century-old rimu and totara building from Pahiatua to their six acres in Greytown in 2013, and swivelled their planned living area towards the sun. A verandah hugs the back, deep and protecting.

On the eastern side juts the former convent chapel, with its pressed tin ceiling and striking arched windows. Lizzie says the smell of frankincense oozed from the walls during relining. The chapel is now lovely in its simplicity, with a formal dining table fashioned from church pews, plain candelabras standing sentinel, and glass funnel chandeliers overhead.

The convent's interior has been opened up and is filled with natural light.

The convent’s interior has been opened up and is filled with natural light.

Adjacent is the former music room where nuns taught local children – it’s now Lizzie and John’s library.

Decades of alterations saw original features lost, but the couple have used more pews for internal steps. A salvaged cupboard here and stained glass there reflect the building’s past. A search across Australia for Queensland Acorn pressed tin to replace damaged panels on the chapel ceiling ended with luck in Adelaide.

Living is easy and open plan for John and Lizzie, their cats and Brigid, their dog.

Living is easy and open plan for John and Lizzie, their cats and Brigid, their dog.

After completing the project, led by Masterton builder Danny Rattray, John and Lizzie hosted some former residents at the house.

“The nuns were pleased,’’ Lizzie says. “We’ve done something which doesn’t scream against the history of the building. It has been loved by people and that’s continuing – we’re very privileged to live in it.’’

Later, the old Apiti Post Office passed by within metres, en route to land owned by Richard and Zoe Harbord. Opened in the settlement near Feilding in 1908, the post office was spotted for sale on TradeMe by Richard.

The old flagpole still stands guard over the post office building.

The old flagpole still stands guard over the post office building.

Also sympathetically restored by Danny Rattray, it’s now an off-beat home for the couple and their children, Wills and Abby.

Original features abound. The mail room came with a wide counter, divided wall leaners where customers filled out forms or addressed envelopes, and an external noticeboard for community announcements. A wall of post boxes now stores CDs and wine. The modern kitchen commands a corner of the atmospheric mail room living area, and a second lounge and three bedrooms are also heated by radiators. The hallway sports an unusual original skylight, with tongue and groove-lined shaft. Old walls and fireplaces gave up secret stashes of yellowed postcards and forgotten Christmas greetings.

The post office interior is now a comfortable;e and quirky family space.

The post office interior is now a comfortable;e and quirky family space.

The Harbords are proud of standing strong when an architect suggested removing a wall of P.O. features to crack open a view to the mountains. They resisted chopping and changing the original layout. At one point, Zoe was on the roof painting the flag pole, another must-stay item.

Richards collection of post office bits and bobs compliment the interior.

Richards collection of post office bits and bobs compliment the interior.

Richard cheerfully calls his collecting of post office memorabilia a “nerdy obsession’’. The Apiti Post Office, he says, was like a beautifully preserved time capsule, with its quirky whistles and bells. Two homes, two histories, a new neighbourhood of stories.

The original red post office boxes at the former Apiti Post Office.

The original red post office boxes at the former Apiti Post Office.

Story by Julia Mahony
Photography by Rebecca Kempton