YouBuild: Rebuilding our housing heritage

By Maike van der Heide

Photo Ishna Jacobs


Bringing Nelson’s oldest character homes back to life is a passion rather than a job for a team of Nelson builders, who spend their days saving and preserving the region’s rich European history.

You Build was established a year ago by Nelson builder Matt Thomas, and has already completed a number of renovations on some of Nelson’s earliest buildings.

While You Build also completes quality high-end new builds, Matt says his team of 12, which includes five qualified builders, four apprentices, a labourer and an office worker, was handpicked specifically for their skills and experience with working on older homes.

“Our team has a really big passion for heritage homes. A couple of our staff members have their own villas as well so it’s not just a job, it’s a personal hobby for the guys.”

Matt, whose experience includes residential building and marine cabinetmaking on multi-million dollar superyachts, has fostered a love of heritage buildings since childhood, when he watched his father renovate their family villa – a decade-long labour of love.

It’s a passion that becomes important when faced with the challenging nature of restoring older homes.

Matt says not only are the original building materials harder to source and match to the original profiles, but renovators learn to expect the unexpected, daily.

“You need builders who are really smart and can tackle problems all day long. You don’t know what you’re going to get, so having guys who are comfortable in that environment is key, they work in that element and have a love for it.”

With the local building industry currently booming, Matt says there are plenty of new home builders available but the skills required to work on homes from times gone by are becoming “a lost art”.

Yet because land is at a premium in Nelson, people are increasingly looking to renovate existing properties, he adds.

“People are seeing the value in renovating properties and people are fixing up what they have – it’s a bit of a New Zealand dream.”

Modern building systems and solutions means older homes can now be brought up to current standards and be as warm and functional as any new home, he says.

“A lot of New Zealand homes are cold, wet and dark, and a lot of these villas are in that situation, so it’s good to improve the standard.”

Before work begins, a You Build team member will assess the home with a project manager and suggest a draftsman or architect.

“Then they’ll work together to refine their plans and dreams and come up with what they want. From that, we will work out a fixed price contract but, as with any old villa, we have to be really careful because there will always be variations. That is why we recommend putting in place a contingency of 10 to 20 per cent.”

Matt says the extra effort of preserving any old house is always worth it.

“We really want to look after these character homes – we don’t have a long history, so we have to look after what we have.”


Phone: 03 548 6833


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