We can all think of towns where rampant development has created a blot on the landscape but David Borman, born and bred in Wairarapa, is responsible for some of the most sympathetic buildings and heritage renovations in the region. He talked with Anne Taylor in Kuripuni, where an exciting new project is unfolding.

We’re sitting in The Village Grinder, looking out on Borman’s smart new Country Life building. It’s one among a cluster of commercial properties in Kuripuni that he has rejuvenated over the past 12 years. And the work continues. Currently under construction on the corner site across the road is a state of the art, two 42-seater boutique cinema/theatre complex. It will feature a bar and tapas restaurant and will be 100% earthquake compliant. Borman has always prioritized quality and the long game in his work.

We haven’t been talking long when an older woman approaches him. “I can’t wait for the cinema to open,” she enthuses, telling him what a great job he has done for Kuripuni. “Perhaps you can look at Lansdowne next?!” she suggests. 

This sort of thing happens quite often, he admits. Notable landmarks he’s worked on include The White Swan and Fresh Choice Supermarket in Greytown, and Masterton’s Times Age building, along with a number of vineyards and scores of residential properties.

In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking he has a map of Wairarapa pinned in a back room somewhere and is slowly moving around the region’s towns. He concedes he does play a mean game of Monopoly but if there is a ‘grand plan’, it’s all about “lifting the level” of the region and seeing it flourish. “It started in the 1980s when we began to have high end projects attracting top architects. Then we had Mike Laven developing heritage buildings in Martinborough and it went from there.” 

Architect Max Edridge – who was instrumental in revitalising Greytown’s Main Street from the 1990s onwards – was a friend and important influence, the pair working together on many properties: “Max understood that if you do it right, if you present something attractive, people will come,” he says. A casual glance at Greytown on a weekend will see that’s proved true. “I see Wairarapa not as a suburb of Wellington, but a playground for Wellington.” 

Borman started as a building apprentice two years out of high school and struck out on his own as D R Borman in 1993. The firm collected a slew of awards for their high-end residential and commercial projects – 2003 was a particularly good year, scooping first place in all six categories entered in the local competition (a first for an NZ Registered Master Builder).

He sold his firm in 2009 to become a full time property developer and has recently been putting in voluntary hours to help local councils develop the Wairarapa Cricket Association grandstand at Queen Elizabeth Park II in Masterton, and project manage at both the Waihinga Centre in Martinborough and a “long overdue” $2.4m netball complex in Masterton.

After extensive debate and not a little controversy around Martinborough’s Town Centre, Borman has delivered a plan that is close to the original budget of $5m and should see broad community buy-in. 

But it’s heritage redevelopments that have become his true passion. He recently oversaw the careful brick by brick dismantling of Dr Owen Prior’s 1906 residence and surgery in Perry St, Masterton. Long a proponent of creative recycling at his sites, he used the bricks at a commercial project in Perry St. The wooden fireplaces, lead light doors and other vintage fittings have been lovingly installed in a new home in Cambridge Tce. The wood sarking will become a ceiling feature at the new Kuripuni cinema complex. 

Borman is up at 5am and starts site visits at 7am. Currently there are two buildings under construction with at least 10 on the drawing board. This afternoon, he’s off to the Edwardian era Chilton Building on the corner of King and Chapel Streets in Masterton. One end is already home to physiotherapists Back in Action, and the Beauty Within Boutique. An adjoining gym is planned, plus an industrial style café with it’s own roasting facility on the corner site. Three high spec 1920s-style apartments will occupy the top storey, and there’s already interest from potential buyers. 

Continuity with the past is a factor in both his personal and professional lives – “I still see many of my friends from primary school who grew up in the same street” –  and he plays snooker every Friday afternoon, a tradition started 20 years ago. 

If he had his time over, he says he would still come back as a builder, putting his success down to a simple fact: “I can see how things will look when they’re finished. I’ve always found it easy to visualise what is possible.” The Kuripuni cinema complex is due to open in mid-2017.