Restoration a dream come true

The exterior and interior of this lovingly-restored carriages have so much character. Photos:...
The exterior and interior of this lovingly-restored carriages have so much character. Photos: Supplied
A love of restoring boats led Mandy Groshinski to Central Otago's big-sky, writes Bryce Langston in this extract from Living Big in a Tiny House

Mandy Groshinski never expected to find herself living in renovated railway carriages.

The antique refurbished log-burner sits in pride of place complementing the sense of history and...
The antique refurbished log-burner sits in pride of place complementing the sense of history and nostalgia, as well as providing necessary warmth in the cold Central Otago winters.
She was searching for a bush block to buy on the West Coast when she clicked on an internet tab suggesting other places she might like to view. A Central Otago property popped up and it had two rather derelict railway carriages on it. It was love at first sight.

"We weren't familiar with railway carriages at all, but we loved old things and we loved bringing life back to old things. We were excited by this right from the start, despite everyone thinking we were crazy."

Renovating the carriages was incredibly hard work. When Mandy first arrived on the property, the carriages were nowhere near ready to be lived in. They had been used as a party venue over the years and were sadly very rundown. Together with her ex-husband Daman, Mandy was willing to put in the labour to make her vision come to life, and they got stuck into the project.

"It was a massive task," Mandy says. "Had we known that, we might not have started. It took us about a week just to clear out the crap that was in them, including all the dead birds and dead rats. All we wanted was a clear space we could camp in - and we didn't even have that to start with. The roof was leaking, it was wet, it was damp and awful. It's been a lot of fun, but it's been a lot of tears as well. The first thing we did was get the roof on, and then we were away."

The couple had taken on projects before, including restoring several boats, so they weren't shy about a challenge. Still, their friends and family thought they were mad for embarking on such a monumental restoration project. It took Mandy and Daman eight years, working part-time on the property, to renovate the carriages to a state where they could be lived in. Now they are an unusual yet welcoming home for Mandy. Her work in another town means she doesn't get to spend as much time at the carriages as she would like, but she always looks forward to her breaks and being able to spend time at home.

The two carriages, including all their hardware, have been lovingly restored to their glory days on the rail tracks. Placed at right angles to make an L-shape, the main carriage is used as the living quarters, with a kitchen, lounge, bathroom and a master bedroom, while the other provides a spare bedroom for guests and another living space.

Inside has just as much character as the exterior. It still looks like two railway carriages, yet it has that comfortable feeling of home. As much as possible, Mandy and Daman wanted to stick with the original shape and form of the carriages, so they made the interior design decisions based around maintaining their character. Most of the timber used on the project was found lying under the trains and everything else was purchased secondhand.

When it came to making the interior space work, Mandy relied on her previous experience working with boats in order to make everything not only fit but also work functionally. The carriages were relatively simple because they have straight lines to work with, not the curvy challenges that you get with boats.

The kitchen, located at the far end of the main carriage, has its own entranceway. Next to it is a lounge, which includes a fireplace and the main door opening out on to the L-shaped deck. Towards the other end of the carriage is a small bathroom, with shower and toilet, and finally a master bedroom.

The book: Living Big in a Tiny House, by Bryce Langston, Potton & Burton, RRP $49.99
The book: Living Big in a Tiny House, by Bryce Langston, Potton & Burton, RRP $49.99
The second carriage, joined to the first by the deck, is separated into two sections. One contains a spare bedroom with queen-sized bed and a collection of old suitcases which, ironically, Mandy had started collecting before buying the carriages. The other end has a second lounge, with comfortable seating and a space affectionately referred to as the library, where Mandy stores most of her books.

Without a doubt, Mandy's favourite thing in the carriages is her fireplace, which adds tremendous character and is of enormous practical value in keeping the cold of the Central Otago winters at bay.

A close second to her fire is the large deck from where she can look out over the stunning vistas of big-sky country with mountains in the distance. The view from the property is ever-changing.

Mandy loves paintings and had always dreamed of a big home where she could hang up lots of works. Now she lives in railway carriages with very limited wall space, but instead each window of her home frames the landscape in a different way. She can sit for hours taking in the view and watching the light change.

Living in the carriages recharges her soul, Mandy says. Having poured so much of herself into the restoration, being able to live in them is simply a dream come true.


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