• Tom Webster and Kate Fraser in action in Featherston on a Grand Designs New Zealand reveal.
  • Aidan Bennett, Tom Webster and Kate Fraser catching up at Dulcie in Devonport.
  • Graham Ritchie, Kate Fraser, Tessa Kingsbury (Homeowner) and Tom Webster at the Dunedin 'glasshouse'.
  • Tom Webster and Kate Fraser on location on the Chatham Islands.
  • Cameron Betts (Camera), Graham Ritchie Graham Ritchie (Camera), Kate Fraser (Series Producer:Director), Nicole Smith (Sound) and Tom Webster on the Chatham Islands.
  • Graham Ritchie, Kate Fraser, Nicole Smith, Tom Webster on the Chatham Islands.
  • Kate Fraser and Tom Webster at work on Grand Designs New Zealand at Mangawhai.
  • Tom Webster and Kate Fraser during the 'glasshouse' reveal in Dunedin.

Shore locals driving Grand Designs New Zealand

At Channel Magazine we love meeting Shore people at the top of their game. Two Shore locals who are in that category are Birkenhead’s Kate Fraser and Tom Webster of Devonport. Tom will be well-known to television viewers who enjoy watching home renovation shows. He’s the high profile host of one of the best locally made shows on television, Grand Designs New Zealand. Not so well known is Kate Fraser. Kate's the series producer, on the other side of the camera. Channel Mag’s Aidan Bennett is an avid watcher of the show. He loves it. So he didn’t need a second invitation to catch up with Kate and Tom at Dulcie in Devonport to find out how the Grand Designs New Zealand magic all comes together. Is it the charm of Tom or the skills of Kate? Or a combination of the two?

It was with a little nervousness that I sat down to interview Tom Webster and Kate Fraser in late May at Dulcie eatery on Devonport’s waterfront. Despite many years of experience with this stuff, I always get a few nerves when I’m interviewing someone who may be famous. Not sure why, I just do.
But I needn’t have worried with Tom Webster, the star of Grand Designs New Zealand. The warmth he exudes on television is real. He was super friendly, warm, passionate, and very easy to talk to, as was Kate Fraser, the producer of the show. She’s the organiser who brings the show together. A show she’s clearly just as passionate about as Tom.
A passion they also share is for their home patch, the North Shore.
Kate and her husband Graham Ritchie live at Birkenhead Point. They bought there in 2014 and it’s a community they love being part of for everything it offers. They love the sense of community, that they are close to beaches, great walks like Le Roy’s Bush, loads of good eateries, the Bridgeway Theatre and the office is just a short ride over the bridge in Ponsonby.
Tom and his wife Anna live near Devonport. They love that they live in a friendly ‘village’ very close to the city. Before emigrating to New Zealand they lived in Bath, in the South-West of England. While they loved Bath the commute to work in nearby Bristol was slow and always in heavy traffic. Tom says he really enjoyed the ferry ride to work in the city when they first settled in Devonport.
“The first year and a half that we were in Devonport I still felt like I was a tourist,” explained Tom. “I’d get on the ferry over to work at Cheshire Architects, the practice where I was working, and find myself getting lost in the moment, like I was on a cruise. I really enjoyed that commute.”
Tom is originally from Liverpool, and that’s still his football team. He and Anna first came to New Zealand for a year in 2007-2008. The two architects loved it. They decided to emigrate eight years later in 2016, along with their two young sons.
“With our two boys we were looking to put our roots down in a village-like community that offered good schools and lifestyle,” explained Tom, when asked how they came to live in Devonport. “We ended up renting a holiday home and we’ve loved it ever since, buying our home in 2022. It really does have everything we need for our family.”
Kate Fraser and Tom Webster have been doing Grand Designs New Zealand for three seasons. They joined at a similar time, as a new host to replace Chris Moller was needed and the show swapped networks, landing at TVNZ.
Grand Designs New Zealand is made for television by local New Zealand production company Imagination Television. Kate had worked with them previously and was thrilled to be offered the role on Grand Designs New Zealand.
“You don’t turn down an opportunity to work on Grand Designs,” was Kate’s reply when questioned about how she got involved. “My husband Graham and I work as a bit of a team. He’s one of a number of cameramen on Grand Designs. We both enjoy the variety that the show offers, seeing some great homes taking shape and travelling the country.”
Currently the Grand Designs New Zealand team are working on two seasons. That means following the progress of 16 grand design homes being built.
“As you would imagine bringing everything together requires a great deal of planning and coordination. The average build takes around 18 months, with the longest being seven years.”
Kate says that they never give up on any projects. They treat them as live even when unexpected delays may mean a project’s future is unsure. “They go on the back-burner and most get finished eventually.”
“Like most building projects people are very optimistic at the start with regards to how the project is going to go and the timeframe. The realities are often quite different. The post-pandemic period has made things more uncertain as well.”
When Kate began as producer on Grand Designs New Zealand one of her first tasks was helping to find a new presenter to replace Chris Moller. She went looking for the special talent they were after and ended up tapping Tom on the shoulder for the role.
Tom was then at Cheshire Architects, working mainly on the five Greenstar Hotel Britomart project. He was the site architect, so spent most of his time on site involved with the construction.
Tom had never done tv. Kate says they quickly worked out that he was a natural, so they offered him the role.“I was unsure at first and my inclination was to say no,” reflected Tom on that initial approach. “It was my wife Anna who encouraged me to find out more and looking back I’m glad
she did.”
It wasn’t that Tom didn’t like change. In fact, although he started studying architecture with Anna, he qualified a decade after her, having had a few early career changes, including qualifying as a car designer, before returning to his true passion.
Not that this was a complete career change for Tom. He may be on call for Grand Designs but the majority of his time is spent running his own practice, Webster Harding Architects, with Anna. Their office is based on the North Shore and he says they love working with local clients to create special projects, both residential and commercial.
Three years on from joining Grand Designs New Zealand both Kate and Tom really enjoy working together.
“We have developed a strong working relationship and a friendship that goes beyond tv,” explained Tom. “Spending time with Kate and Graham (her cameraman husband) on location around the country is very easy and enjoyable. We all share a passion for what we are doing. Over the past three years we’ve seen a lot of New Zealand together and had a lot of fun doing it.”
Kate says that as well as being a natural, Tom is also fun to work with. “Single takes are quite common and he’s comfortable ad libbing. He’s a people person and is very passionate and enthusiastic about everything he does.”
While there are up to 26 people in the show’s credits, of the eight or so core staff – five call the North Shore home including the show’s: Editor, Head of Post Production, Head of Production, Tom and Kate.
Both Kate and Tom play a big role in choosing the homes/projects that are featured on Grand Designs New Zealand. They say that a key requirement is that they are in some way unique.
“Design is obviously an important factor as are the people undertaking the project,” says Tom. “If they are unique and therefore interesting it makes for good tv. Innovation and sustainability are two important ingredients as well. Building sustainable homes is very important in these times. An interesting location also adds to the appeal. The combination of Kate’s tv experience and my architectural background is a good one during this evaluation process.”
The new series of Grand Designs New Zealand is due to screen on TV1 and TVNZ+ later in 2024. All episodes are available to watch at TVNZ+. Kate and Tom say they are keen to include more North Shore homes on Grand Designs New Zealand. If you have an interesting project in the pipeline then make contact with Kate at Imagination Television.