On The Block NZ, site foreman Peter Wolfkamp is the man in charge of keeping contestants on a tight schedule, but when it comes to his own home, deadlines are a little more flexible.
“Our big renovation has been our own house over many years – and it’s still not finished, before anyone asks me!” says the building expert, TV star and Newstalk ZB radio personality nicknamed “Wolfie”.
With so much on his plate, its not surprising home improvements sometimes get pushed down the to-do list. Not only is the 55-year-old at the tail end of filming his ninth season of the Three home reno reality show, but Peter and his wife Debbie Coleman have also recently finished a whole separate project – revamping a classic 1905 cottage in their Auckland neighbourhood of Devonport, which they now rent out as a fully furnished holiday home.
The 95sq m house, which the couple bought in 2019, presented quite the challenge.
“It was in a pretty sad state, to be honest, so the renovation was extensive,” recalls Peter, who, with Debbie’s help, redid almost everything in the place, from the insulation to the veranda, even replacing the roof.
“There’s really nothing that’s untouched.”
Working on the villa was a labour of love, adds the carpenter.
“It was nice to put my tool belt back on and get stuck into a project. Over the past few years, I’ve focused on television and radio work, as well as quite a lot of speaking and writing, so I relished just being able to go to the house, listen to some music
and work away.”
For Debbie, the highlight of the project was an unexpected hidden treasure.
“Behind a wall in the lounge, we discovered this amazing brick fireplace,” marvels the 57-year-old. “It reminded Peter and me of some we’ve seen in France. That was a really incredible find.”
Inspired by her travels in her 33-year career with Air New Zealand, Debbie brought her keen eye to the renovation, while Peter kept tabs on the practical side of things.
“There’s been a really nice synergy between us working on the project,” he says. “With Debs, her skill is looking at the aesthetic – what looks simple and beautiful – while I’m in the house, making sure it all works!”
The couple make a great team off the building site as well. Meeting when Peter was just 19 and Debbie was 21, their 36-year-long relationship began at a youth group gathering.
“I heard him before I met him,” Debbie chuckles. “I thought, ‘What a fantastic voice!’ Then, of course, I saw him and we got talking. He’s a really gentle, considered person and he’s got great integrity – I’ve always loved that about him.”
The couple were in no hurry to reach traditional relationship milestones, holding off on marriage until their thirties and having their son Joseph when Debbie was in her early forties.
“My mother had me at 41, which was encouraging,” she says. “All my friends were having kids a lot earlier, but we were too busy travelling and seeing the world!”
As far as Peter is concerned, the timing has worked out perfectly.
“Becoming a father means the world to me,” he shares. “Joseph is an absolute delight and great company.For me, being a slightly older dad means I can focus on family, rather than building a career.”
“And he’s a great father, which is awesome!” adds Debbie, smiling.
“He’s always been fun,” agrees their 13-year-old son Joseph. “Even though we are
all busy, Dad with the show and me with school and drama activities, I always appreciate that he makes the time to be there for me.”
With Father’s Day today, Debbie and Joseph will be spoiling Peter as best they can during Auckland’s Covid-19 lockdown, especially since this Father’s Day is a particularly poignant one for the TV builder.
“It’s a little bit different this year because it’ll be the first year that I won’t have my father,” Peter shares, his voice uncharacteristically quiet.
“He passed away in July, just eight days after his 98th birthday. For me personally, and for our whole family, it’s a different dynamic now. This particular Father’s Day we’ll be very much thinking of my dad.”
Some of Peter’s fondest memories of his father Petrus, who immigrated to New Zealand from the Netherlands a few years before Peter was born, are of working alongside him in the South Auckland factory he established, making metal furniture and anchors.
“I remember going there, being given a pair of boots that were way too big and putting
on this pair of overalls that were about a foot too long!” shares the former Papatoetoe resident. “I would have been eight or nine. There’s not a chance you’d be allowed to do that today, but it was what was expected of us and I actually really embraced it. It’s such a strong, evocative memory for me.”
Though his earliest recollections of his father are of a hard-working, driven man, Peter also remembers his dad’s softer side.
“I was the last child amongst my siblings to have a grandchild and when Joseph was born, I thought, ‘Well, he’s number 11 for Mum and Dad – it’ll all be a bit ho-hum.’ But to see the delight, in Dad, in particular, was really lovely.
“I’d like to think he was proud of all of us. A few years back, I was going through some stuff in a drawer and found he still had a newspaper clipping from 20 years earlier, when something I’d done in my radio career had made the local papers.
“For all his kids, he did things like that. He had remembered something that I was involved with and had kept that as a memento. I thought that was really sweet.”
Even without the sad passing of his father, the past 18 months have been an eventful time for Peter, including weathering the most dramatic series of The Block to date, which saw the foreman exit the reality show briefly to be hospitalised for a (now resolved) eye problem. Oh, and there was that global pandemic that put the series on hold.
“Certainly, it is the most unexpected season yet, given that we started for two weeks and then we all went home for a year due to Covid-19,” says Peter. “That’s history-making.”
Now, with the postponement of the show’s live auctions due to another nationwide lockdown, the hits keep coming for the reality series. But even in these trying times, uncertainty hasn’t dampened Peter’s enthusiasm for his job.
“I’ve really enjoyed the season and working with the teams,” he enthuses. “I’ve had the opportunity to develop, I hope, some sort of rapport with all of them – and I really like the challenge. What I want in my work is to feel that every day there is something that might
be unexpected or unusual, or a situation that I’ve never encountered before.”
This drive to rise to the occasion might be one more thing to be grateful to his late father for.
“He taught me there is a real value to work and also to service,” says Peter, who hopes he’ll pass this ethos on to his own son. “He had a remarkable life and a life well-lived.”
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