It’s not uncommon for Sven and Lara Baker to round the curve in the driveway to their three-year-old home and find the neighbors’ children in their pool. Or maybe a bunch of teenagers bent over the giant pool table in the game room. You might even spot a few ponies in the paddock.
One of the loveliest aspects of this couple’s move from Wellington to the small rural community of Raukawa, near Hastings, is that their property is a place where friends gather, locals drop by to help and furry friends are welcome.
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Sven and Lara, who share the Glen Aros Estate with their four boys Ike, 21, Joe, 19, Abe, 16, and Ezra, 14, as well as dogs Whisky, Spot and Mabel, various sheep, cows and goldfish, love everything the sprawling house. They particularly enjoy taking care of their numerous tournament and breeding horses – up to a dozen at a time.
“There’s definitely more to come,” muses Sven. “I don’t count foals,” Lara replies, while Sven mumbles something that they are all brown and therefore difficult to count.
This family of enthusiastic riders owes their move north to horses. “We traveled regularly for the horse of the year and seriously considered buying a holiday home here,” says Lara.
However, when the family scouted the historic Glen Aros Estate for sale – a magnificent six-bedroom home on 25 acres of rolling land – the idea of a creek idyll turned into a permanent move.
The property, built in the Arts and Crafts style the Bakers love, had passed into the hands of Americans Hilton and Barbara Glavish, who ran it as a luxury lodge. “They valued the architecture just as much as we did and invested a lot of time and money in its development,” says Sven.
For example, all the carpentry work in Rimu and Mataī has been rebuilt, and the tiles in the bathrooms have been carefully chosen to reflect the design features of 1912, the year the house was built.
But the Glavishs didn’t want anyone to take their pride and joy. “Once we expressed interest in buying, we kind of felt like we were interviewing them,” explains Lara. “The main thing was that they decided to sell to us and not that we bought from them.” Fortunately, the stars matched, a friendship developed and the house soon belonged to Sven and Lara.
One of her favorite spots in the house is the American country-style kitchen with its huge Wolf professional oven, perfect for catering to friends who gather around the long outdoor table on balmy evenings.
Or you can see Sven in the garden, which was originally designed by the famous landscape architect Alfred Buxton in the early 20th century. It comes with a fascinating directory of trees so lost species can be easily replaced.
But it’s the brand new stables where Lara and the boys can be found most often. Sven, who was managing director of the multidisciplinary agency Designworks until 2016, designed the stables. “And I had a very challenging client,” he jokes.
Sven wanted it to look like it had ‘always been here’ and created elements to match those of the existing house. “I also took inspiration from a large shear shed down the street, especially with the raised air vents you see along the roofline.”
The result is a beautiful eight-stall stable that easily accommodates the family’s horses, as well as any visitor horses that show up with guests using the self-contained cottage that is rented on Airbnb. Lara admits that she enjoys the hustle and bustle of hosting and that all visitors usually end up indoors for a BBQ and a swim in the resort-style 18m pool and spa. “When the blacksmiths come to make the horses’ hooves, they often stay overnight.”
Sven is a head gardener and bought a tractor to handle the many jobs involved in tending such a large piece of land. But he’s prone to distractions, says Lara.
“He likes to get things moving when I’m at horse shows. It’s become a little running gag,” she says. “Once an entire section of the garden disappeared. I came back the other day and there was an old boat in the driveway – one of Sven’s restoration projects.”
Because that’s another passion of this avant-garde of style – repairing the old in order to make it new again. Lara lists the various obsessions – tube radios, Michelin memorabilia, Bang & Olufsen audio equipment.
Alongside his creative consultancy Sven&Friends, Sven’s latest venture is Good Farmers New Zealand. His restored 1956 General Motors Company truck with the Good Farmers logo is quickly becoming a fixture in nearby Havelock North, where Abe and Ezra attend high school.
“It’s a community of producers who believe in the same things,” explains Sven. “While the company does not grow anything itself, we bring like-minded partners and share the asset – the Good Farmers brand – with them to exploit.”
It’s been a hit so far, with Good Farmers coffee, muesli, eggs, organic meat and more available in specialty grocery stores. Lara and the boys love testing products that make it onto the Glen Aros kitchen bench, but this is Sven’s baby – he came up with the idea and the branding.
It’s his scrutinizing eye, coupled with Lara’s background as a fashion designer in Australia, that is also evident in the artwork and trinkets that have been collected over several decades – such as a giant Fane Flaws tiki and a scattering of smaller Flaws works throughout the living spaces . There’s a closet full of Fun Ho! Toy cars, statues of Ned Kelly jutting from the shelves and Sven’s impressive collection of Best Design Awards from the Designers Institute of New Zealand lined up along a sideboard, amassed over his 30-year career.
But the property, while pretty much perfect in every way, isn’t quite finished yet. “Because Sven has his collections, I can have as many animals as I want,” says Lara, laughing. “We recently lost a donkey and a few Kunekune pigs, so I’m upgrading my pet inventory.”
Q&A with Sven & Lara Baker
Our furnishing style is: If we love it, it stays! (Lara)
Favorite power tool: We brought a whole bunch of tools from our old house and we used almost all of them. There’s always a broken pump, a fence that needs repairing, or a gutter that needs clearing. I probably like the leaf blower best. (Sven)
The DIYs that sparked the most discussion: construction of the stables. (Lara)
What we want to change next around the house: Honestly there really isn’t anything we would change, although I’d like a bigger closet – I keep watching the vacant room. (Lara)
Best seat in the house: The mornings on the veranda overlooking the valley are fantastic. (Sven)
Favorite outdoor space: The pool in summer. (Sven)
Favorite local restaurant: Oak Estate Winery. The food is amazing and during lockdown they even delivered wine to us and dropped it on our porch. (Lara)
Best place for coffee: Hawthorne Coffee Roastery & Espresso Bar in Havelock North. So good we worked with them at Good Farmers New Zealand. (Sven)
Favorite local store: Farmlands – I joke with you that their sales must have doubled since we moved here. (Sven)