Meanwhile, back at the Ranch House with stylist Sjan Johansen…

Down a winding side road, over a one-lane bridge and up the last rise to the driveway, an arrow reading ‘This way’ is your guide around the final gravelled bend to the door of a Tauranga home affectionately named the Ranch House. Its owners Sjan Johansen and John Guise didn’t set out to live in the country, but now they’re the proud owners of this one-hectare haven with an unparalleled panoramic view, they hope never to let it go. “We’re still in awe,” says Sjan. “We’ll do everything we can to hold onto it.”
That’s saying something for these serial renovators, who’ve updated three houses in Noosa, one in Brisbane, one in Queenstown and one in Mount Maunganui prior to this, and tend not to believe there’s just one dream life to live. But for Queensland native Sjan and Kiwi John (owner of a marketing and events business), who moved to New Zealand from across the Tasman three-and-a-half years ago, there’s just something about this place.

TOP John painted the exterior bricks in Dulux Haast as well, while the roof is in Dulux Woodland Grey. The hanging chair was found at Mrs Robinson in Tarras, Otago. ABOVE The walls in the main living spaces are in popular neutral Dulux Haast Double, but when it comes to décor, Sjan says she favours the unexpected. “I’m constantly trawling Facebook Marketplace, Trade Me and op shops for pieces no one else has. I love that most of the things in our home have a story.” Some of the key items here include (from left) a circular artwork Sjan made herself, a surfboard by Maywood, chairs found on Marketplace, a Mill Stump side table beside them from local studio Kayua Noosa and photograph Heads First Point by Harrison Mark.

In the rolling hills on Tauranga’s western side, yet still close to town and the Mount beach beyond it, this area, Oropi, is populated by farms, orchards and lifestyle properties — but few quite like this. Before it was subdivided, Sjan and John’s slice of heaven was part of a larger farm on which a family was raised in a home built in the ’70s on one of the original house sites in the area. Since this founding family passed the baton to Sjan and John, the pair have overhauled the four-bedroom house, keeping the L-shaped footprint but revamping much of the rest. 

TOP The former pool room with hectic beer-themed wallpaper is now a stylish dining room closed off by a sliding barn door from Visual Hardware and set up with kids’ toys in one corner that allow it to perform as a playroom. The cost-effective concrete flooring in this and the other living spaces “shows all the imperfections, but we like it that way,” says Sjan. “Given we rent out the house on Airbnb, we need hard-wearing elements like this, which are awesome with the kids and the dog and multiple people and spills and all of that.” Behind the table from Freedom and second-hand chairs, Sjan has hung a set of happy snaps in frames from Spotlight. The lamp is also from Freedom, while the curtains are from H&M. ABOVE The existing kitchen was boxed in and about half the size of the new edition. “It was a no-brainer to open it all up,” says Sjan. Designed by the couple and made from Tasmanian blackwood by John Blair of Happy Sunday, the kitchen table is so solid, the maker delivered it with three mates to help him carry it, while John and his friend provided extra manpower. Around it sit Loretta bar stools from Cintesi. The Dampier Lantern 70 light overhead is from The Society Inc.

They took out the walls in the main entrance, living room and kitchen to create one open-plan space, and put in new doors and windows to connect it to the wraparound deck. When the wall removal revealed the low-pitched ceilings weren’t in the best shape, they opted to replace them with plywood panels, visually warming the home in the process.
Out came the lino in the living spaces in favour of grinding and sealing the concrete underneath, while the marbled brown carpet in the bedrooms was exchanged for a charcoal upgrade. Wallpaper of various jazzy descriptions sashayed across most of the walls, but like the bones of the home, it was in exemplary condition, so instead of stripping it off before repainting, they sealed it, then had a plasterer skim-coat and sand the joins, something Sjan recommends for a faster process and a better finish. “Plus, we kept our sanity,” she says.

TOP To keep things interesting without compromising her preference for pared back, Sjan regularly swaps her display items for others from her collection of props. The splashback tiles are Mallorca White Satin from Tile Space. ABOVE Instead of more commonly seen sliding or bifold windows, the couple chose to install a gas-strut design here, tracking down a joiner to make the frame and hinges, getting the glass installed by a glazier and attaching the struts themselves. The wide- eaved external corridor it connects to is ideal for relaxing on outdoor seating from The Warehouse, unwinding with friends or watching Frankie play on her swing and trampoline with the best view in town. The Harbour wall light here is from Lighting Direct.

On the opposite side of the hallway, the couple combined the separate bathroom and shower room to create one space to redecorate. Past the curved wall beside this — a nifty existing feature they were thrilled to retain — the bedrooms were also in good nick and swiftly brought up to scratch with new joinery and décor details.

TOP Sjan and John sourced the majority of the macrocarpa and redwood they used from nearby Tauriko Sawmill, and she trawled Marketplace for cacti and other plants to grow in pots from Bunnings and Mitre 10, some of which she rendered and repainted. They help set a scene she considers a mix of Mexico, Greece and Bali. They opted to lower the height of the wall enclosing the courtyard (which John built and Sjan rendered with Dulux AcraTex tinted to Dulux Mt Aspiring) as it makes its way behind the pergola (pictured below), so it feels like they’re sitting among the trees. ABOVE They’re learning something every day out here. “We didn’t realise what amazing mature trees we had until they started fruiting or people told us what they were!” exclaims Sjan. “We thought the tree on our front lawn was dying until summer came around and it provided us with fantastic shade!” Through the door frame, you can see their Wanaka fire pit by Bray Design, a hotspot where Sjan says they enjoy after-dinner drinks and have “toasted/burnt way too many marshmallows”.

These “doers” got the bulk of all that completed in just eight weeks. Sjan was pregnant with their second daughter Georgie (now 1) at the time, and with toddler Frankie (now 3) to wrangle too, she wasn’t able to work as much as she had on previous projects. Still, she helped DIY when she could (including uncovering, then rendering and painting the original fireplace), while John project-managed; did the majority of the demolition; helped install the joinery; painted undercoats and the entire exterior; hung shelving; attached skirting boards, door frames, doors and handles; built the fences, deck, retaining walls, pergola and bedroom headboards; shovelled gravel; and more besides. 

TOP & ABOVE Anchoring the courtyard is a table crafted by JG Custom Fabrication & Welding, surrounded by chairs from Bunnings and a bench seat from Flux Boutique. Against a backdrop of mature tī kōuka/cabbage trees, pōhutukawa and pūriri, a wisteria vine is gradually climbing up the cedar pergola and will provide shade and scent as it grows.

As well as being a mum, Sjan is a stylist who’s worked on everything from TV ads in Australia to magazine covers in Aotearoa. For this project, she drew from the landscape, combining country with coast and light with dark. “I kept it fresh but earthy through the use of beautiful textures and natural materials that make the house feel alive, authentic and handcrafted,” she says. “It’s definitely built for the way we live — we don’t have to be too precious about anything.”
Alongside their daughters, Sjan and John are raising a weimaraner dog and two Highland cows here. Rabbits and a couple of turkeys roam onto their plot, the neighbours’ pooch comes over to play, and possums pilfer from their fruit and nut trees. There’s birdsong in the air from dawn till dusk, as well as the crowing of roosters, the braying of donkeys and, says Sjan, “if our cows are grazing in the paddock behind our bedroom, we can hear them munching and sneezing”.

TOP In keeping with Sjan’s preference for matte over shiny, the Elysian tapware from ABI Interiors in the bathroom is in brushed nickel. It feeds into a concrete basin generously donated to the couple by their plumber (who had it left over from another job) atop a Tasmanian blackwood vanity also made by John Blair of Happy Sunday. The visual interest of the original lace moulding around the windows has been switched for textured tiles, including Brera Off White mosaics from Tile Space on the nib wall and Boston Lavagna subwaysin the shower. The mirror is from Freedom and the pendant light is from Mr Ralph.  ABOVE John’s handcrafted macrocarpa headboards add depth and character to all of the sleep spaces, which are painted in Dulux Waitangi. “Beige with a little green, it brings in warmth while keeping the look clean,” says Sjan. The couple’s Derwent lights by Oriel Lighting are from The Lighting Outlet NZ, the Arvid bedside tables are from Fraser Country, the bed linen is from In Bed, Adairs, Farmers and Pony Rider.

Along with finishing the powder room off the dining space, this great outdoors will be the last big thing for the talented twosome to tackle. “It’s going to take time, but we’ve slowly been chipping away at it,” says Sjan. “If budget allows, we’d love to add a plunge pool to the front lawn…One thing we’ve learned about this property is that it’s an ever-evolving project.”
It’s one they’re balancing with an inherently and pleasantly slower pace. “We feel so relaxed and free here, disconnected from the grind but not isolated,” says Sjan. “There are days when I realise I haven’t left the house — you forget, because you don’t really need to. That’s pretty cool.”
You can experience the good life here too if you like. Look for Ranch House Oropi on

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Larnie Nicolson

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