The DIY Makeover: George and Willy’s Urban Cabin (Created from a Tiny 1991 Suburban House)


Remodelista regulars no doubt have admired the work of George & Willy. They’re the cute, young New Zealander duo who made their design debut with the Studio Roller, a hanging roll of kraft paper for keeping To Do lists and making sketches. Since then, George Wilkins and Will McCallum have gone on to offer a suspended clothes drying rack, a fire starter inspired by Alaskan whalers, and a collection of signs including a Scrabble-like letter board.

Their creations are all about modern utility paired with a delightful Down Under playfulness. They sum up their M.O. as “making your space exciting”—which led us to be curious about their own quarters. For the last 18 months, we’ve been told they’d soon be ready to unveil the first George & Willy remodel: the two have been working with friends on a house for George and his wife, Hannah. Built in 1991, the structure—”tiny, nondescript, and uninspired,” says George—was priced right and had potential: to them it was begging to be transformed into an urban cabin. That required these first-timers to panel just about every surface inside and out. Come see.

Photography courtesy of George & Willy.

Above: George and Will spotted the house while driving near their studio in the coastal town of Mount Maunganui, on New Zealand’s North Island. (Scroll to the end for Before and In Progress photos.) The two met at boarding school and launched their business out of the wood shop at their university. They’re both self-taught designers and learned how to build working alongside their grandfathers.

They say the overall layout of the house “was actually not bad and didn’t require too much changing,” but the plasterboard exterior and landscaping called for a total overhaul. In addition to cladding the structure in macrocarpa, an evergreen that’s a less-pricey alternative to cedar, they built a picket fence (to keep in George and Hannah’s dog, Frida) and a wooden walkway that, George says, “gives the feeling of being on a bushwalk every time you enter the house.”

Above: The walkway leads to a wide front deck. Powder-coated black aluminum framing was introduced outside and in. To install the house’s vertical shiplap, George and Will worked alongside their “mate Pablo, who is a qualified builder.”
Above: George and Will built the planters that line the deck for Hannah, who is the resident gardener.
Above: Double-glazed bifold doors and a new window open the living area to the deck.

George tells us they finished the exterior paneling with tung oil, “a natural product that unfortunately hasn’t worked as well as we would have liked because it doesn’t have mold inhibitors in it, so the timber has developed a slight mold. We got a cleaning product from the company that sold us the cladding oil that we’re going to use and then recoat; over time the wood will gray off nicely.”

Above: George describes the look of the interior as “a mixture of a forestry cabin and ski lodge” and says “macrocarpa  has such a nice smell—it’s very welcoming and everyone who comes in for the first time comments on it.” Work was done on the 100-square-meter (1,076 square-foot) interior in a busy six-week stretch, and then George and Hannah moved in; over the course of the following two years, the exterior was finished during weekends and vacations.

Here’s George’s story of how they stumbled on a big cost break: “I called the sawmill ten days before we were starting work to order the timber and was told there was an eight-week lead time, which left us with quite a problem. While I was pondering what to do, I got a call back saying that the mill had a pile of seconds timber that we could have for a quarter the price. We ended up using that which was great.”

Above: Adjoining built-in plywood sofas/guest beds were made from George & Willy workshop scraps, as were the coffee table and kitchen stools. The sofa cushions are covered in denim and there’s storage underneath. Note the overhead surfboard: “we’re in an urban setting in Mount Maunganui,” says George, “but one of the world’s nicest beaches is about 400 meters away.”
Above: “Probably the biggest change we made to the inside of the house was removing the plaster ceiling, exposing the rafters, and putting in two skylights, says George.

The indoor swing is a quintessential George and Willy touch. “We design in tandem,” George tells us, “but Will is more on the ideas side of things and I’m the practical one, so, for example, Will designs the swing and I design how it’s going to be fixed so it’s strong enough.”

Above: The kitchen island is framed with the same wood used throughout and the drawers are plywood with steel fronts. George and Will poured the concrete counter themselves in their workshop: “it’s the first one we ever made and is actually rather rough, but it gives the room lots of character.”
Above: The steel-fronted drawers have handmade wooden pulls. In hindsight, George says, it would have been more cost-effective to buy kitchen cabinets than to build them: “sometimes doing it yourself actually costs more.”

Above L: The washer/dryer in the back of the space is topped with a steel counter—and has steel doors that George says got removed out of convenience. Above R: They found the Warmington stove on classifieds site, and were later thrilled to discover it had come out of Pipi’s Pizza, a North Island institution.
Above: The fully paneled office has a desk and bookshelf that George fabricated from leftover macrocarpa exterior cladding. He says he’s slowly building a book collection that he hopes will one day line the room.

Above L: The house has three bedrooms, including the master, shown here, which occupies what had been the garage: “it was a small garage but made a big bedroom.” The photos hanging throughout are by George (“Will and his fiancé got them framed for us as a wedding present”). Above R: Overhead space in the room is used as “in-ceiling cubbies for things that aren’t used too often, like snow skis over summer. The house doesn’t have a heap of storage so we had to get creative.”
Above: The storage area is accessed by a steel ladder. “Ceiling spaces are nice and dry, which is good for storage,” says George.
Above: A George & Willy pulley system drying rack hangs in a corner of the master bedroom where it takes up little space and allows clothes to dry in the warmest air. Read about the design in Object of Desire: A Hanging Laundry Rack.
Above: “When we were lining what had been the garage, there were two taps from an old laundry sink, so we decided why not have a sink in the bedroom for brushing teeth and getting water,” says George. “Will had just made the basin at a pottery course and it was perfect for here; we added the surround for storage.”
Above: To complete the cabin vibe, there’s an outdoor shower in the back.
Above: Some of the work involved trial and error: “we tried to use only natural products, but the first finish for the floor had to be stripped and replaced. The reality has been that oil-based products are far superior in wearability. “
Before and In Progress
Above: The builder who put up the house stopped by and told George and Will it had been his first project. They reoriented the front door and windows and removed the exterior plaster finish before applying the shiplap cladding.
Above: By using wood seconds (labeled as such because of cosmetic but not structural flaws), the duo say they were able to afford to panel far more than they had originally envisioned.
Above: “I love the practicality of huts,” George tells us. “They tend to just be built purely for function and don’t follow any trends.” See more behind-the-scenes remodeling photos at the George & Willy Journal.

Browse our archives for more favorite Cottage & Cabins, including:

O Canada: Mjölk’s Renovated Scandi-Style Cabin on a Lake
A Tiny (but Glamorous) Seaside Cabin on the Riviera
Off the Grid Retreat: Anthony and Phoebe Dann’s Homemade Cabin in Australia

#Remodel&Renovation #DesignerVisit #Small-SpaceLiving #NewZealand #HouseCall
Remodel DesignerVisit Small NewZealand HouseCall

Older Post Newer Post