Blast of colour in Wellington
Look around the living room of Melissa Laterveer’s Wellington home and one thing is immediately obvious – she has no fear of bright hues. Clad in a jewel green dress and cobalt blue cardigan, the investment project manager turned artist is surrounded by decorative dashes of turquoise and pink, silver, olive and orange.
She’s as vivacious as the room, with a wicked sense of fun. Her pending birthday party will feature yellow-striped sun umbrellas and 1970s-style Beverly Hills glamour, with lotus flowers and floating candles in a plastic clamshell paddling pool.
All this from a woman who once favoured a beige-grey colour she calls greige. “I was totally colour-phobic, but I just feel there are enough bad weather greige days… so I added a little bit of colour. And then I added a bit more. I think it does have an uplifting effect. Now I have embraced colour, though always with a background of white.”
It seemed silly, she says, to maintain a wishy-washy palette in the home she and husband David share with Sophia, seven, and Charlie, four. “We’re young at heart and we’re happy and there’s a lot of laughter in our house. We kind of don’t want to take things too seriously.”
Hence the bright pink toile wallpaper that lines the lavatory and reminds her of a jewellery box interior. Like many of Melissa’s favourite finds, the wallpaper came from an auction website. At-home motherhood and a home-based word art business have given her the freedom to trawl the internet for design inspiration and booty such as an old birdcage found on TradeMe, now painted and decorating the master bedroom.
Flea markets, junk stores and charity shops are not safe from her homeware-hungry eye either. Charlie’s room is decorated with vinyl records; in the hallway a silver dish, found in an Italian antiques store, frames a photograph of Melissa’s great-grandmother. A lampshade in her art studio came from the Second Treasure “tip shop” at Wellington’s Southern Landfill.
In the kitchen an ugly pine cabinet is unrecognisable now that its yellowing varnished body has been scraped back and painted. Melissa added a set of legs, mouldings, wooden embellishments and wire netting over fabric on its doors. She lined the inside with silver wallpaper so the humble storage cupboard “could feel like an Armani jacket. It’s very important to be beautiful on the inside. I like upcycling. It’s good for the planet and pre-loved or inherited pieces give a house a bit of soul. But I couldn’t do all old. I like a bit of glamour too. I’m a visual person. In our little flat in London I had flowers in a window box. People would laugh because it was just a temporary flat.”
The Laterveers spent four years in London – she in fund management, he in advertising – before returning to Wellington to nest. David joined an advertising firm and they quickly bought their Karori home, which fulfilled their yearning for more space and a garden; a place to raise a family. They overhauled the garden and planted the cypress hedge that now forms a green backdrop – and hiding place for ugly outdoor toys – at the end of the yard.
Inside, there was a flurry of painting, reflooring, tiling and redecorating. Followed by another flurry. Melissa is a compulsive rearranger who admits that their master bedroom decor has been revamped four times. “As long as there’s still a bed, David is usually happy to go along with it. I really like the American interior designer Jonathan Adler’s quote: ‘We believe that, when it comes to decorating, the wife is always right – unless the husband is gay’.”
Naturally, Melissa’s creative immersion also extends to her work. She uses antique letterpress printer’s blocks to produce typographic artworks. Customers provide a list of words that are meaningful to them – children’s names, favourite places etc – and she inks and prints them by hand in a diminutive basement studio that began life as “a muddy, dark cave” and is now as light and bright as the rest of the house. Entry is by way of an Alice in Wonderland-style window-sized door.
The art business is a happy accident that began when Melissa and her friend Gretchen Fraser, a commercial lawyer, were both living in London. Gretchen spotted a coffee table studded with dark wooden printer’s blocks.
The table was so eye-wateringly expensive that Gretchen decided to make one herself. It was ready for assembly when she spotted work by a Sydney artist who pressed words onto paper. Gretchen called Melissa and suggested they each produce a piece of art for their homes, before the wooden blocks, gathered from second-hand stores and websites, were set into the table.
“I ended up doing two pictures and she only got four words done because she had two little boys running round,” says Melissa. “I got them framed and people kept commenting on them when they came over.”
Commissions flowed and g&m design was born. Melissa now supplies word art to customers in the US and Australasia while Gretchen takes care of clients in Europe and the rest of the world. Meanwhile the printing blocks have become far too precious to create a coffee table: “Maybe when we’ve retired we’ll have one made.”
Not that Melissa is missing that particular piece of furniture. She runs her eye contentedly over her living room’s multi-hued layers of books, cushions, art and treasures. “It’s sort of impossible not to feel happy when you’re sitting in here,” she says. “Especially with a glass of wine and friends.”
For web-exclusive images of this house click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Story: Sue Hoffart
Photographs: Paul McCredie