island bay, wellington, new zealand

Every designers ideal project - working on their own house!

in 2016 we were fortunate to be able to purchase my grandmothers seaside cottage after she had passed away. The house is blessed with a prime location, enjoying unobstructed views of charming Island Bay, in Wellington, NZ. The bay is absolutely picturesque with colorful moored fishing boats, steep hillsides, stunning skis and an uninhabited island. The house has front row seats to the often dramatic rugged scenery of the southern coast, headlands and harbor entrance.

My great uncle bought the house for himself and my great-grandparents to live in c.1951 after returning as a POW from WW2. My mother spent her childhood weekends there with her beloved grandparents and uncle, and I would enjoy both my grandmother and my great uncle tell stories of their childhood, growing up in Island Bay. The home is steeped in memories for me as I also grew up not far from the property. Our motivation for purchasing the house was purely sentimental - I wanted to be able to pass on my deep sense of family connection & history to my children.

The house had been well maintained over the years but due to some unsympathetic remodels, the original character had been stripped and the rooms had little connection to each other, nor to the outside. Mum turned out to be a great resource during the renovations as she could remember what the house had been like in its earlier years. 

Built in 1916 and looking outwardly craftsman-ish, the interior carried over Victorian proportions with high ceilings, a long central hallway and a warren of rooms. During mid-century remodels, renovation crimes were committed. Previous inhabitants lowered the 9ft (3m) high ceilings and removed ALL the original character windows, doors and moldings, replacing them with ill-suited mid century style iterations.

My goal with my renovation was to sympathetically reinstate character & charm, reorganize the space to make the house work for how we live today, and infuse the house with lightness and a smidgeon of fun. I had to do this all on a very strict budget without sacrificing my principals & priority of quality materials and workmanship always. Easy peasy right? 

I knew the first thing I wanted to do (after I cut a whole in the ceiling to confirm my suspicion), was to rip out the false ceilings and bring back the glorious tall interior proportions of the old girl.

sidenote : When a house has a small footprint, having a bit of volume up top does wonders for gaining a sense of spaciousness. 

We rehabilitated the interior of the house by stripping the rooms down to the studs and upgraded all the utilities. The next priority was to open up the interior flow. 

Originally the house had 2 large & 1 small bedroom, and a bathroom at the end of the hall. The bathroom was smack dab where a view to the backyard should have been so I chose to relocate the bathroom to the small bedroom. This meant losing a bedroom, but it opened up the area to become the dining space. By this change we also achieved a visual connection from the front of the house to the rear garden.

I decided to stretch the budget a bit further than planned, and line the walls up to the existing dado (6ft high) with tongue & groove panelling. The pain on the credit card was so worth it and it’s one of the features now that people most comment on. I have never regretted spending the extra money.

The T&G flows from the front entry, down the hall and into the family & dining area. These communal spaces are painted in a crisp but warm white and it is this clean, pared back volume that draws you into the house. The white spaces are a quiet contrast to the pattern & color in the bedrooms, living room and furnishings. 

This renovation posed a new design challenge for me: not only are my family going to be enjoying the house, but it also needs to appeal to strangers as a luxe vacation rental. 

FURNISHINGS: Being in the design game for a while now I had collected and/or ended up with a number of furniture pieces that were languishing in storage. Inventorying the locker became my starting point in the furnishings selection - my goal was to use whatever I could get away with without completely sacrificing the design intent.

New budget friendly retail items were found to fill in the gaps where needed - such as sofa & swivel chairs from West Elm, bed frames from Land of Nod for the kids room, and dining chairs from Serena & Lily. I made the choice to allocate funds to go with high quality custom items where crucial for design cohesion (ie: a custom head board, throw pillows & bench seats). I knew that it would be these elements that would end up being a pivotal aesthetic point of difference from a typical vacation home and that they would infer a sense of luxury.

During my travels I had collected a number of artworks on paper that I was able to finally find a home for in the beach house. The majority were by New Zealand artists, so it was fitting that they are back in NZ showcasing local talent to our overseas guests.

I don’t think I am a atypical designer to already be thinking of the next changes I want to make. The living room was one of two spaces that received little alteration; it was simply repainted, re-wallpapered, and re-carpeted. The old c.1950’s fireplace no longer functions and needs removing, and I think I’d like to see the walls paneled instead of papered. I also want to replace the existing aluminum windows with wood.

REGRETS: the one space that I am least satisfied with is the living room ie: I’d like it to be more pared back and have less going on - so even though it’s perfectly pleasant it is on my to do/redo list.... but the exterior needs painting, and the kitchen will need redoing next and the backyard could do with a deck. It might just have to be ok as it is…… for the time being.