Not a hair is allowed out of place in the immaculately ordered rooms of Hartford House.
A marauding hare, however, has free rein over the strawberry patch on Tara-Jayne Stapleton and Carl Loader’s 3.2ha Canterbury property.
“We haven’t had a single strawberry, the hare has literally eaten every one,” Tara-Jayne says. “He gets away with it because he’s beautiful. It’s not a pet, it just lives here and must have a sweet tooth.”
This relaxed attitude to the fluffy-tailed garden invader – Tara-Jayne happily buys her strawberries from the supermarket – does not extend beyond the vegetable patch. The self-confessed neat freak and her equally fastidious partner co-own a crime scene cleaning business and share several traits besides keeping a tidy house.
They bought their three-storey, seven-bedroom Georgian-style country house largely on the basis of its attractive setting and the balanced proportions of the house and large pond.
The former Christchurch city-dwellers spent a couple of years relishing an urban lifestyle on Auckland’s North Shore before returning south in early 2016. Tara-Jayne had viewed the house years earlier when it was last on the market and a friend was considering purchasing it. Once the for sale sign reappeared, she began dreaming of lily-clad ponds and planting her first-ever vegetable garden. Carl was initially less enthusiastic about becoming a landowner in rural Ohoka, surrounded by lawns and pūkeko, some chickens and a couple of pet sheep.
“He’s a city slicker but he loves it here. He likes hanging out at home now, you have to push him to go into town. And it’s a nice supportive community, all the neighbours seem to know one another.”
The move was also a major change for their miniature schnauzers Sidney and Stella, who spent most of their Auckland years indoors, down a shared driveway, surrounded by high fences and multiple neighbours. They were initially wary of country life but since the arrival of puppy Spencer, all three dogs have discovered the joy of romping in vast, green spaces.
The couple’s other animals remain indoors, steadfastly still. Star of their taxidermy collection is George the peacock, named in honour of actor George Clooney, “because he’s super elegant too.” Tara-Jayne acquired the bird in Tauranga and says visitors are fascinated to see his vibrant plumage at close quarters. He has been strategically placed to gaze knowingly out the sitting room window.
Simon the stuffed owl shares his moniker with English reality television judge and producer Simon Cowell because Tara-Jayne considers him a wise man.
The rest of the interior menagerie includes the head of a fox and an African serval, as well as antiques and treasures from overseas travels. A pair of Japanese vases had to be carefully stowed in hand luggage for their journey home while the samurai warrior’s suit, padded metal elaborately embroidered with gold thread, was bought from an Auckland antiques dealer.
The oldest piece of furniture is a 1710 French console (see page 32) that was bought on Trade Me from an American immigrant whose art collection included four Andy Warhol paintings.
The Stapleton-Loader abode was designed by Christchurch architect Ray Hawthorne and built about a decade ago for a developer who landscaped the property well before he built on it. The original multi-hued wallpapers and mosaic of carpet – a different shade in every room – have been replaced with neutral shades, and a new kitchen adds functionality and luxury.
The garden has been culled, too. Tara-Jayne’s aversion to messy leaves and bare winter limbs meant many of the deciduous trees had to go, to be replaced by conifers and other evergreens.
But the grand water feature remains untouched. “It’s a beautiful setting. I’ve always wanted a pond but often they’re added as an afterthought and they’re not sited well. This one’s situated a nice distance away. I love the ducks and water lilies and the swans. But most of all, it’s the symmetry. A Georgian house is the perfect thing for a Libran with OCD.”