O’Leary HOME: Wanganui Steelformers

Life on the farm got a whole lot more comfortable for Fiona and Humphrey O’Leary when they decided to build a new home.

Fiona says, “At the old house, which is a 100-year-old villa down the farm, about a kilometer way from our new house, some mornings it would stay chilly indoors till lunchtime, we would still be wearing our beanies.”

Building the home on a ridge on their 180ha cattle farm at Whangaehu not only meant more sun but also that the couple could survey their land from the new site.

“We can pretty much see the whole farm now, which is a bit of a novelty,” says Fiona.

When they made the decision to build, they sought out builder Shane Stone, who recommended they enlist Paul McKenna Architecture for the design.

Fiona says the brief was pretty straightforward, they wanted a traditional-style home big enough to cater for extended family when required.

“Because we are living on a farm we didn’t want a modern-looking home; we wanted something that would stand the test of time and looked like it had been there a long time.”

They also chose materials that were sympathetic to the rural environment.

Fiona says, “Originally a metal tile look was specified for the roof but we went for the more traditional look of the longrun because it sets the house off and it’s an interesting roof, and the material shows off the workmanship.”

The home’s rock base was another element that reflects the environment.

“We have these Rangitikei cliffs around us so we chose a rock base for the house in a similar colour to the cliffs.”

And, of course, after their experiences in their old house, they wanted the home oriented for maximum sun.

“The old houses were built to protect the kitchen from the sun because they didn’t have fridges but in this home we have beautiful big windows and it’s a real sun trap.”

Paul McKenna says because it was a wide-open, fairly flat site, orientating the home for sun and views was an easy task.

Easy access to the site made the build process easier, too.

As Fiona recalls, “We went to the Melbourne Cup and when we left it was a flattened paddock, but when we came back the frames were up.”

Most of the design work went into the layout of the home, the detailing of the roofline and the interiors, where he went for more complex architraves and exposed beams.

“The roof with its gables and valleys was a bit tricky, especially when you are trying to get all the fascias to line up and the soffits worked out.

But quite often as an architectural designer you design to the builder and I knew Shane would have no problem with that detailing because he is right up there with the best.”

The layout of the single-level, L-shaped home has a self-contained flat separated from the main part of the house by an internal-access double garage.

In the rest of the house there are three bedrooms, with the master having its own wing. Open plan living is at the heart of the house, with a separate lounge as a retreat. North and east-facing decks wrap around the house.

Fiona says they opted for a largely neutral colour scheme but “we went for a few wallpapers for a bit of variety because it is such a big house with high ceilings”.

The building process was easy because they were living close to site so could keep an eye on progress but there was no time pressure on the build – the focus was on quality.

 “The attention to detail Paul has put into the design has given our home ‘the Wow Factor’ – from the ceiling details to the window surrounds and much more.” She adds, “The incredible workmanship of our builders and other sub-contractors has certainly brought Paul’s visions to life. “We cannot speak highly enough of the Wanganui tradespeople involved in our building project, professionals all the way.

“And Shane Stone Builders ensured the whole project was an absolutely seamless process for us – Shane’s expert knowledge and project management skills are second to none.”

Paul McKenna Architecture

Designer, Paul McKenna began life as a Carpenters apprentice in the late 80’s. Achieving honours for highest marks in both trade and advanced trade certificate, Paul then began studying architecture with the Open Poly and jumped on a plane to gain experience with both a hammer and drafting pen overseas. After settling in Wanganui to raise a family with his wife Emma, Paul started his architectural practice in the late 90s.  

The practice covers all facets of design and documentation, from new houses to commercial, adapting to the needs and tastes of his clients. But Paul’s first love has always been new homes that reflect, but aren’t chained to, NZ’s rich domestic architectural heritage- homes with enough character to look as good with a bit of wear and tear in 50 years time, as they do when first built. The O’Leary’s provided an open canvas to achieve this in what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable project to work on.

Architectural Designer

Paul McKenna Architecture


Telephone: 06 3444 729

Roofing: 40 COLORSTEEL® Endura Corrugate

Colour: ‘Windsor Grey’ 

Roofing supplier: 

Wanganui Steelformers

Telephone: 06 344 5142

Roofing installer: 

Roofing Specialists Wanganui

Chis back

Telephone: 0274 470 965

Site Foreman: Tim O’Neale


Shane Stone Builders Ltd 

Telephone: 06 3477-007