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Grand Designs NZ: Abandoned castle rebuild wows, but owner is selling up

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REVIEW: Two years ago Stuff ran a story on a property sale for a hardworking couple that spent five years pouring heart and soul into building a castle in rural Canterbury, but couldnt finish it.
Work had stopped back in 2011 when costs soared in the wake of the Christchurch earthquakes, and the build was mothballed. Weeds grew around the huge, abandoned concrete edifice, and it seemed it might stay like that forever.

But, ten years later, along came a prince in shining armour. Experienced renovator-builder, plumber, drainlayer and gasfitter Phil Metaxas put up his hand to take on the challenge of a rebuild.

He bought the abandoned castle in Ashley, Waimakariri, for just under $700,000, which seems incredibly cheap for 8.3ha of pretty countryside and five years hard work. But he was keen: From the moment I saw the property, everything about it just totally grabbed me, he says at the start of this weeks Grand Designs NZ show. Im quite excited about it.

READ MORE:
* Castle dream ended after 10 years' work; reluctant owners list it 'as is, where is'
* Grand Designs NZ: Aucklanders swap city rental for 'good life' passive house
* Grand Designs NZ: Container house build on Waiheke beggars belief

And so are we. The original castle listing attracted huge interest the whole thing seemed the ultimate folly so this has to be one of the most interesting Grand Designs builds ever. But as this show airs, the completed castle is already on the market. Its only the second time we have seen a Grand Designs build come onto the market immediately. But more on that later.

TVNZ1
Now that he's got it looking beautiful, Phil Metaxas (left) has immediately listed his 1250m castle, which he has named Bella Castello. He is pictured with Grand Designs NZ pesenter Tom Webster.

Phil christens the castle Bella Castello. And presenter Tom Webster cant refrain from mediaeval clichés: Is it a drawbridge too far (to be taking on such a massive project)?

Phils children Alex and Georgia are a bit shocked, but have faith in Dad. So, too, does his partner Sharon their first date was a visit to the 1250m² ruin.

Pigeons and rats have taken over the castle, but the solid concrete remains sturdy, so thats promising. Although Webster thinks its a bit Hogwarts meets motorway bridge with all the concrete.

BAYLEYS
The original owner's dream has finally been fulfilled after 15 years, but will he buy it back?
BAYLEYS
Like many castles, there is a porte cochre leading into a large, sheltered courtyard.

The plans include a porte cochère, so cars can drive straight into a large courtyard, a water tower, and a lift and stately staircase winding up to a turret with the main bedroom, and glass-enclosed lookout. There are huge formal and informal living spaces and loads of bedrooms. In short, a massive amount of work. But Phil doesnt mind a bit of slog. He says it beats going to the gym.

The budget is estimated to be a low $500,000. But a lot of the work has already been done. Phils optimistic, but we have seen this before on Grand Designs. Even if he is doing a lot of the work himself, this seems far too little.

And theres a time frame for the construction insurance it will expire in August 2022, and there was only one company prepared to take it on. That gives him nine months.

RAY WHITE
BEFORE: This was the castle as it looked when Phil Metaxas took it on - it had not been worked on for 10 years.

We get to meet the original architect Philip Kennedy, in Motueka, who says the design was driven by the fact his clients were keen horse people. He talks about the Mediterranean village influence, and says he was very disappointed and sad for the original owner: He put so much work into it. He was at it all the time. It was his heart and soul, his passion.

The pigeons are evicted, dead mice and rats nests removed, and the place is waterblasted, so Phil can start with a clean slate, so to speak. He moves into a couple of rooms, so he doesnt have to travel to and from Christchurch.

He has loads of tradies lined up, and in they come. Nothing is easy a lot of the original work may not comply with todays building code.

TVNZ1
Raw concrete remains in the grand entry, but is plastered on the upper level. The effect "ages" the castle appropriately.
TVNZ1
The chandelier is the perfect size for the grand entry.

Original owner talks about his dream​


The original owner Merv Higgs fronts up on a tractor to talk with Webster, which is fantastic. Heres his story: In the late 1980s his wife toured Spain and Italy and came back with a love of the architecture. He wanted the challenge to build something similar for her (he was the former owner of Higgs Construction). But after the earthquake, labour costs nearly tripled, and he was retired, so he had to put a halt to it.

Meanwhile Phil is attempting to seal the castle, to keep the pigeons out. Already he has underestimated the cost of all the bespoke windows. Tradies plaster the exterior to match the existing plaster theres a lot of curved walls, of course, adding to the complexity.

And electricians have a tough job working out what has and hasnt been done. Webster says Phil is getting a rude reality check, especially with the time frame.

TVNZ1
Natural light floods into the living areas from the large windows, glass doors and skylights.

This truly is a grand build, and its a great watch Phil is such a pro, and likeable. He wants to get the courtyard finished in time for daughter Georgias 21st in a few weeks.

And he does it. The courtyard is transformed into party central. Great stuff. You can see how the castle will look as a home (and maybe a wedding venue?)

Big Gib Shortage of 2022​


The Big Gib Shortage of 2022 affects the build they need a lot of it and the tradies are waiting, like builders all over the country.

While hes waiting Phil repaints the exterior terracotta walls cream. (He says the former owner is coming around to it.)


There are other problems that present themselves, like a leaking roof (every room) and drainage issues Phil feels hes still getting to know the building. He has a fake owl on the roof, but the pigeons arent fooled, so he buys a cannon and sets it off every 60 sec. Just as well hes in the country.

The need to meet the insurance deadline is reminiscent of the frantic work that goes on during the Block NZ, only on a much, much bigger scale. Webster thinks hes living in Fantasyland.

Entire castle with umpteen rooms for $1.5 million​


Webster reveals, as he drives up to the castle that Phil has been thrown another curved ball in the last weeks he and Sharon have parted ways.

TVNZ1
There are many different levels in the castle as it accommodates the gradient of the land. Large doors in this living area open up to the outdoors.

But look at the result of all his work. Utterly unbelievable how fresh and beautiful Bella Castello looks (Phil named it well.) The best thing is the way Phil has given the entry and tower walls a raw, natural finish, with a stunning chandelier.

Webster thinks the other rooms (dozens of them) lack a little personality, but suspects that will come. I agree. This place is so huge, you cant expect to transform it with fabulous furnishings all at once. Its enough to see that Phil has made a start with the furniture.


The main tower, with its spiral staircase, is the crowning glory, of course. Theres a stunning room where you can sit and enjoy the views. The lairds lair is up here. And the walls are painted, so theres a much softer, cosier feel.

The kitchen we are shown appears to be lacking in bench space, considering the size of the house. Theres no island perhaps its not the main kitchen, or maybe there is more to come?

Elsewhere, a classical colonnade wraps around the guest rooms, which include another lounge. Who wouldnt want to stay here?

There are still a few things to finish at one end of the castle, but no big deal. At least the wine cellar is ready formerly a concrete bunker storage area.

TVNZ1
The spiral staircase is an engineering triumph; the main bedroom is positioned to maximise the superb views.
TVNZ1
Even the bathrooms provide significant views.

Phil admits the project could be the hardest thing he has had to do in his life, although it is not his longest project. I was probably a little over-optimistic.

But he also says his own experience at so many trades made all the difference finding solutions for the myriad tricky parts of the build.

And the budget? It went up from $500,000 to around $800,000, so he has an entire castle the size of four or more houses for a mere $1.5 million all up (compare that to what you get in Auckland), and a potential income from it. Amazing. Thats not counting a year of his own time working on the build.

Bittersweet to be selling​


But now, Phil wishes to sell the build was always another project for the renovator, and he was unsure at the start whether he would stay on. He has listed the property with Julia Ashmore-Smith of Bayleys Christchurch. It is for sale by negotiation.

Speaking to Stuff, Phil says he is living in the castle on his own, finishing off the last few things, but it is such a big place, it needs to be enjoyed by a lot more people.

It seems a waste for just me to live here. But its bittersweet to be selling. I think about that when I get on the ride-on (mower) and go round and round and get to admire it from all the different angles. Its just amazing.

I love a project, but when it comes to an end, I do get itchy feet. I usually look for another one, and I do seem to find them. Although I always say this is the last one I will do, but that is never the case.

Another Grand Designs build in 2016, near Helensville, a replica villa, was also listed immediately upon the show airing, but it did not sell at that time.

BAYLEYS
The tower lookout with its 360-degree views is the perfect bolthole.
BAYLEYS
The shape of the castle is a lot clearer from above.
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