During reconstruction of her Wellington home, Anna Symmans occasionally feared she might have pushed the themed decor gag too far. Under her watch, functional white Scandinavian simplicity overtook the kitchen and moody Asian mystique infiltrated the dining space; in the lounging area American ranch style reigned.
Each living space quickly acquired a moniker to match. She and husband Darryn Smith told friends that cooking would happen in Copenhagen, eating in Hanoi and fireside sitting would unfold in Montana, beneath the taxidermied bust of a longhorn steer. "People were getting the idea I was putting together a sort of Disneyland," says Anna.
Though the geographic labels have stuck, any nagging theme- park worries dissolved as the Seatoun couple emerged from an intense, year-long renovation. The star feature of the house - a 26m room containing all three main living spaces - is a hit.
"I love the fact that when people walk into my house they say 'wow' at the length of the room. Then, if they're in the Montana room, they laugh. I think it is tasteful but it is quirky. People get a reaction in a fun kind of way."
Darryn and Anna moved back into the house with teenage sons Matt, 15, and Harry, 18, in September last year. "It works perfectly," says Darryn of the gutted, remodelled, added-on, modernised version of their original 1928 seaside cottage. "There are so few things we would change. I think it's quite hard to achieve that on your first attempt at building."
Getting it right was no accident. The couple clocked up five sets of plans over a period of five years before settling on the final, U-shaped design. They agonised over minutiae, logged countless hours of internet research and waged innumerable battles over council regulations.
Darryn tracked down suppliers for specialist timbers from the US and France, then issued specific milling and cutting instructions. Anna had existing furniture remodelled, stripped back or painted and scoured online auctions for the rest. Darryn found tiles from Italy and carpet from Belgium. Together, they decided on lighting plans and window heights, designed wooden panelling and an oversized fireplace.
Darryn fitted the project around his day job - he is a producer at film and video production company Sauce. Anna worked on the house full-time for a year before taking up her current role as communications manager at the Treasury.
Designing and building was a necessary creative outlet for them both, says Anna, claiming they also share perfectionist tendencies and a determination to do any job well.
"I used to put things together in millimetres," says Darryn. "Every power point and light switch � where they would go. Every little detail was worked out. I tell you, I'll never do it again. I used to be up every night till 1am or 2am, drawing. It was exhausting. It just about killed me."
An architect was engaged primarily to draft the final plan. "We're the worst clients you could ever have, for an architect," says Darryn. "We probably drove them mad, because we did know what we wanted."
They were also clear about the things they didn't want. No white gibbed walls, for instance. Instead, they have chosen rough-sawn cedar for rustic warmth, embossed wallpapers for texture, wood panelling for Asian drama.
Nor did they hanker after floor to ceiling sliding stacker doors. "We didn't want to open the front of the house to the weather because, if we did, we'd all get blown away. We designed our house as an interior home, not an exterior one. Wellington is not a sit-outside kind of environment."
So, rather than agonising over outdoor furniture, the duo worked out how best to frame their favourite sea view with a perfectly placed picture window. House discussions always revolved around the way the property would look and feel at night. Careful consideration was given to lamplight and candlelight and exactly how to recreate the ambience of the original living area, with its rough-sawn rimu sarking.
The seaside cottage they purchased 15 years ago was charming but flawed, with a single bathroom, tiny galley kitchen and shonky workmanship. Darryn says the 1970s renovation was clearly undertaken by do-it-yourselfers.
It was the seaside location, rather than the house, that sold them on the property and Seatoun itself was part of the attraction. The boys have been able to skateboard to friends' homes. Cafes and shops are an easy stroll away.
"Because of its villagey, beachy kind of feel, Seatoun seems to have a very low turnover of people, so you get to know everyone. There's a certain intimacy about it. Kids do run between houses. People do borrow eggs and sugar."
Darryn and Anna take none of it for granted. "I still go home, have a cup of tea and look out the window and things come right with the world," says Anna. "We're full of gratitude for that window because it has a huge impact on your day, to be able to look at the sea, no road in front of it, just sky and landscape. It's hugely comforting. It's like having a painting; a picture in a window frame. I think it is the highlight of the house."