How Chelsea Thorpe blends landscape, creativity & comfort | Black House Studio

An interview with Chelsea Thorpe — maker, creative & accommodation host: Black House Studio
Read below | Chelsea’s what-to-do recommendations for anyone staying in Gisborne for the weekend.

The unique world of Gisborne’s Black House Studio is a haven that seamlessly blends modern design with the serenity of nature. In our interview with Chelsea Thorpe, the visionary behind the studio accommodation, we’re taken on a journey that reveals the interplay of landscape, creativity and comfort.

Chelsea Thorpe’s personal history with the land her family home and studio sits on adds a deeper layer to this narrative. The home and studio rests atop a hill that offers sweeping views of Tairawhiti (Gisborne) township on one side and a valley on the other. Chelsea, her husband, and their four daughters call this newly built residence home, a short ascent from where she spent her early years in a house her father constructed in the mid-1980s.

This location, rich with memories, holds a special place in Chelsea’s heart – a hill her childhood was steeped in, where she and her four siblings built hideaways beneath the protective canopy of towering pine trees. This very piece of land became the foundation for the home they established in 2020, merging their personal history with a new chapter of creativity and comfort.

Chelsea Thorpe, Black House Studio


Gisborne Black House Studio

Then came the newly built accommodation studio. Set against the backdrop of Gisborne’s landscapes, Black House Studio goes beyond the conventional notion of accommodation. It effortlessly marries architectural elegance with the natural splendour that envelops it.

Chelsea’s interview with us invites you to appreciate the thoughtfulness and creativity that converged to shape Black House Studio into a space where architecture, landscape and hospitality blend.

We’re delighted to share this interview with Chelsea, which provides a glimpse into her visionary design process, illustrating how the surrounding environment and an artistic vision was thoughtfully incorporated into her home and studio’s design…

[ Chelsea also shares her recommended weekend itinerary for Gisborne travellers at the end of the interview ]

Chelsea, tell us a little about yourself… 

My husband and I, along with our four daughters, live on a hill overlooking Gisborne city on one side and across the valley on the other.

I grew up just down the hill in a house my dad built in the mid-80s, where my four siblings and I spent our childhood climbing the hill and making huts beneath the pine trees.

My parents are both very creative people, so we were always encouraged to follow our creative pursuits. This first led me into fashion design, and then over the years I have followed many creative business pursuits. Along with sewing clothes for my own clothing label, I’ve also opened a clothing store, a cafe, a lifestyle store and an online children’s store. These businesses all served me well at the time and fulfilled a creative and entrepreneurial need.

Your latest venture is opening an Airbnb studio on your property — tell us a little about it…

We love where our home is positioned: close to town and amenities, but set on a hill and far enough away from neighbours, giving us a feeling of seclusion. 

We always wanted to share this space with guests. It’s especially magical on a beautiful evening, while watching the sun set over the bay and city.

After building our home here, we converted a 20ft container into a studio to host guests. The studio is wrapped in black charred wood with simple, calm interiors. It has an outdoor bathroom and kitchen, which are tucked behind the studio with an outdoor bath and fire. From the bath is the perfect place to watch the sunset and listen to the birds chirping.

The studio interiors are much like in our own home: Natural materials and colours with the aim to help guests escape and relax. The space is set up for one or two guests – and we love welcoming so many different guests and seeing the different ways the studio is enjoyed. From friends having a weekend away, cosy romantic weekends, engagements and guests travelling for work…

Both our home and the studio are run using solar power, with gas for water and cooking.

What is your favourite thing about your property that you now share with guests?

The views and the connection to the weather are what makes our property special to us. 

Some days we can be shrouded in mist and not be able to see beyond the driveway, and on other days we can see across to Māhia Peninsula. We can watch the weather roll in and count the minutes until the rain arrives, or track the sun across the sky on a hot summer’s day.

Since moving onto your piece of land, what have you planted? 

For 30 years prior to our house being built our land was covered in pine trees. As a requirement of our resource consent we had to have all trees within falling distance of the site removed. This was our first big challenge of the property. 

The pines left the soil depleted but we have just let nature do its thing and the land was quickly taken over by all of those fast growing weeds (which we are grateful for!). 

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) have grown in abundance, and even though we have never seen them on the property before we have grown to love them. They have grown very quickly and have a beautiful foliage in summer and fragrant white flowers that look similar to wisteria.

Also as part of our resource consent we had to plant natives – so we also have hundreds of native flaxes and hebes dotted over the site.

Because of the slope we live on, every time we want to plant a new garden or create an outdoor space we have to build retaining walls and stairs and bring in soil – so gardening on our property is really landscaping! We have planted loads of lavender, rosemary, herbs and olive trees

On one side of the house we have clay, the other side is ash – and we occasionally find a pocket of beautiful rich soil. We are forever learning about this property and have plans to extend the gardens in the future but it all takes time (and money!).

What are your favourite things to grow?

Honestly, I love the idea of gardening but I am grateful for anything that survives. Our rosemary is beautiful and our lavender looks amazing when in flower. But with the weather so fickle and our site exposed, I just love anything that actually grows.

We do have a small veggie garden that keeps us in rocket, spinach, lettuce and herbs. And I dream of having a garden filled with flowers.

You’re a wife, mother, creative and homemaker, and now an accommodation host — what’s the secret to juggling it all?

Ha, it really is juggling isn’t it! I have always needed to be creative, to have my hands and mind busy – so for me it is a need. 

When the girls need me I drop everything, and when they are happy and content I can get back to creating. Which is less and less these days, but when I need it I make sure I make the time and space.

The Airbnb is a great little space which we have just incorporated into our life. Most of the work is during school hours and it works wonderfully with our lifestyle.

How do you feel you are positively influenced by the landscape that surrounds you?

We are always in and out of the house and I am forever bringing branches into the house to fill vases or hang on the walls. We are very connected to the land and weather, and I often just stand in the window being struck by how much better it is than any TV show.

It’s not all rosy though — when the rain doesn’t stop for days/weeks it can get very depressing being surrounded by grey all day, everyday!

One for the travellers among us — what would you suggest as an ideal ‘itinerary’ for someone staying in Gisborne for a weekend away? 

I would obviously recommend you would stay with us at the Black House Studio!


  • Pop to Crawford Road Kitchen in the harbour for a glass of wine and some nibbles in the sunshine, and maybe an early dinner. 

  • Wander across the bridge to the Dome Cinema. Sit in the garden and enjoy a cocktail and order a pizza to eat at intermission. If there is no movie playing they may have live music instead – win win!

  • Head back to the studio and have a bath while stargazing.


  • In the morning, head to the Gisborne Farmers Market to stock up for a picnic – local cheese, fresh bread, pastries, juice, coffee and fruit.

  • Head to Flagship Eatery for a slow breakfast before heading out to Eastwood Hill with your picnic lunch. Walk among the largest collection of Northern Hemisphere trees south of the equator – it is beautiful at any time of the year!

  • Take a moment of rest at the studio. Then visit Sudiri Wine Bar for a glass of wine or two. You can order pizzas from Neptunes Pizzaria that can be delivered to you at Sudiri, or wander along to USSCO for a delicious meal.


If it is summer, visit the beachside Tatapouri Cafe. It’s a little drive in the wrong direction but you will find a gorgeous little cafe with bagels, coffee and  icecream right on the beach. Otherwise Zephyr Wainui is a vegan cafe and is always a good idea for a quick coffee or smoothie before going for a walk along the beach.

For shopping I would recommend the Aviary, The WorkShop (retail/cafe), Touchstone (plant nursery/coffee/retail).