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 small beach side cottage after she passed away. Its located in Island Bay, Wellington, NZ, in a prime location. It sits across the road from the picturesque Island Bay with its colorful fishing boats and views of the regularly tempestuous southern coastline. The house had been well maintained but the interior featured a collection of ugly remodels, and rooms with little connection to each other, nor to the outside. My great uncle bought it for himself and my great-grandparents to live in c.1951 - my mother spent her childhood weekends there with her beloved grandparents, so it is steeped in deep family connections and ones I wanted to be able to pass on to my children. Mum turned out to be a great resource during the renovations as she could remember what the house had been like.

Built in 1916 and looking outwardly craftsman-ish, the interior carried over Victoria proportions - high ceilings, a long central hallway and a warren of rooms. During later mid-century remodels - crimes had been committed: Previous owners had lowered the ceilings and removing all the original 1916 character windows, doors and moldings. Criminal!

The goal with the renovation was to reinstate character & charm with an understated sensibility. And to infuse the house with warmth, lightness and a smidgeon of fun. The first step was to rehabilitate the interior; to undo unsympathetic renovations done in the 1960’s, strip it down to the studs and upgrade all the utilities. And of course; do it all on a very strict budget, without sacrificing quality. Easy peasy.

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 low ceilings and bring back the glorious 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.

Th 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 - smack dab where a view to the backyard should have been. I relocated the bathroom to the small bedroom. It meant losing a bedroom but it opened up the area where the bathroom had been to become the dining area - creating a spacious causal dining and lounge. This also gives us a connection from the front of the house to the rear - complete with a lovely view to the sunny backyard. Another element that I am so glad I stretched the budget for, was lining the walls up to the existing dado line with tongue & groove panelling. The T&G flows from the front entry, down the hall and into the family/dining area and all is painted in a warm white. This white, clean, pared back paneled hallway draws you into the house and acts as a contrast to the pattern & color found in the bedrooms, furnishings and living areas.

This renovation also posed a new challenge for me: not only are myself & my family going to be enjoying the house as often as we can, but it also needed 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 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 in the living room, 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: 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 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 gracing the walls of 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 atypical as a designer to already be thinking of the next change I want to make. The living room was one of two spaces that got little alteration. It was simply repainted, re-wallpapered, and re-carpeted. The old c.1950’s fireplace no longer functions and needs upgrading 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: Although the living room has the best views in the house, it is the one space that I am least satisfied with ie: I’d like it to be more pared back and a little less fussy - 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…. so it might just have to be ok as it is, for the time being.