When Katrina Menzies took on the mammoth project of renovating the old Rice’s Confectionery building in Tees St, she thought it might be a project worthy of a TV show. She speaks to Ashley Smyth about budget blowouts, family sacrifices and why she would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Katrina Menzies describes her learning curve during the restoration of 26 Tees St as “exponential”.
She and husband David bought the derelict former Rice’s Oamaru Confectionery Works building in June 2016, because she was looking for a “new challenge” in her life.
And it “certainly was a challenge”, she said.
The couple and their three children live in Christchurch, but have strong family ties to Oamaru. Mrs Menzies teaches children who are acutely unwell at Princess Margaret Hospital, while Mr Menzies is a pilot.
She finishes work on a Thursday, drives to Oamaru, work on the building all weekend and drives home on Sunday night.
“It was pretty full-on. It’s been time management on steroids.”
The Menzies had a desire to be part of the revitalisation of Oamaru, and hoped with their project they could almost establish a type of benchmark of what could be achieved.
Mrs Menzies supported the idea of a unified vision towards the restoration of Oamaru’s buildings, as she thought it improved the town as a destination, and was important for the lifeblood and economy of the area.
“It also provides opportunity for other people who want to do cool stuff.”
The four-year project is still awaiting a couple of minor bits and pieces to be signed off from the council, but has begun operating as two boutique apartments, full of decadent wallpapers, furnishings and light fittings.
Mrs Menzies did all the interior design herself, and took her time putting together the look.
“Because the project took so long, you know, I had four years to find the right table and all the rest of it.”
Notable features were the bedheads, made from paneling that was part of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe movie set, and had been owned by one of the building’s previous occupants, Dugal Armour.
Mrs Menzies said although they were prepared to go over budget, and had a contingency plan, there were surprises every step of the way.
“We had a significant budget, and it was doubled by the end of it.”
The middle floor of the 1870s, two-storey building, was made from thick wooden beams. The Menzies budgeted on replacing a third of the beams, but discovered all the beams were rotten and ended up having to replace the entire floor.
Costs to comply with modern building standards, from firewalling and waterproofing to repointing the mortar joints, quickly added up.
“Every other mortar joint in that entire building on the inside had to be repointed. It was a family affair, you know. Five adults, all with pointing tools, over days.
“That whole building, really, was completely rebuilt, apart from the fact that we used the existing four walls. And that was the only way.”
The Menzies were provided with financial help from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage purely for earthquake strengthening, and a smaller contribution from the Waitaki District Council towards restoring the building facade. They were grateful to receive both grants.
“I would suggest that anything that is done to support people in renovating, or restoring or saving – depending on the state of the building – that it is definitely something that is worth the investment.”
And far from being put off, Mrs Menzies is already eyeing up her next project, and is eager to do it all again.
“I look at that building and I have the faces in my mind of all the people that participated and contributed … I felt that there was investment beyond it just being a job.
“So I when I do stand there and look at that building, I feel incredibly proud of what we achieved, but it was so many hands. And the positive energy of so many people.
“I look at it and go, ‘who gets to have a building like that?’. It’s pretty cool.”
Four years ago, the Menzies children were 6, 8, and 10, and they quickly tired of spending their weekends driving between Christchurch and Oamaru, so Mrs Menzies said her parents’ support was invaluable.
“Without the support of my parents, this could literally not have been done. My parents did so much child care it was not even funny.”
Mrs Menzies also sings the praises of her “exceptionally supportive” husband who did an enormous around of hard work, and “pretty much just trusted me to do it”.
More information about The Old Confectionery apartments can be found at oldconfectionery.co.nz.