Mt Eden Family Villa
|The Look of Love
It’s one of a row of masonry houses called the Seven Sisters, the work of an Australian builder in the 1910s. Unusual in a suburb dominated by timber villas, most of these houses have remained structurally unchanged because of the challenges of altering masonry external and internal walls. So there’s none of that blown-out-the-back open-plan living, no cavernous spaces, just intimate, flexible rooms – Marg’s front living room, for example, has been both a study and a bedroom.
Marg and husband Michael bought the house 17 years ago, purely on instinct. “We weren’t looking for a house. In fact we had just finished installing a new kitchen in our existing house, but a real estate agent came knocking with some interested buyers and that was that.” Needing a home to go to, she and Michael saw the masonry villa on a Wednesday and won the tender on the following Friday.
Aside from decorative changes and a new kitchen, the couple added a glass-covered deck, built an outdoor fireplace from 100-year-old bricks and recently re-landscaped the garden to include a pool. Most dramatic feature: a screen of laser-cut steel panels designed by Marg and left to rust softly.
Says Marg: “The house dictates its own style. It’s already a mix of Aussie flavour with a Kiwi setting so why not add French bits, African bits, modern art against an old brick wall, put old and new together? I believe in putting things around you that you love. Surround yourself with memories, mementoes of your travels, of what you are doing or where you’ve been.”
The entranceway is a case in point. Along with a French dresser and a vase of feather dusters in place of flowers, it’s decorated with New Zealand artwork, a hessian-upholstered chair and an old lamp. A sophisticated palette of rich creams, dusky brown and black pulls all the elements together.
There have been challenges. The ceiling of the living room is an exuberant and ornate confection of sculpted plaster, complete with an inverted square-sided dome.
“I had a plain wedding cake but we’ve made up for it now,” jokes Marg, looking up at the ceiling.
Many people would have tried to tone it down with demure, plain walls. Not Marg. She chose a broad-striped hand-painted wallpaper in deep pink and cream. She and Michael hung it themselves the old-fashioned way, with wallpaper paste. “We had to do it after Maddie went to bed – she was three at the time – or she would try to eat the wallpaper paste when we were up the ladder. We would drink a bottle of red wine while we did it and stop when the wallpaper got too crooked.”
Another reminder of the house’s heritage is the old kitchen woodburner, now in a niche off the hall. For Marg and Michael, it’s a precious piece of history. Opposite the woodburner, the house’s bathroom facilities are literally split in two, with one room housing a vanity and clawfoot bath, the other a shower and vanity. The staircase to the girls’ second-storey bedrooms got in the way of their preference for one large bathroom but, rather than bemoan the fact, they did the best they could with what they had.
The front garden is planted in the traditional rambling English style and still has its original low front wall and wrought-iron gate. The rear garden is an altogether different proposition. When it was redesigned two years ago, Michael and Marg took out 48 box plants and gave them away, removed a large maple tree and installed a pool.
To provide privacy from the neighbours, Marg came up with the idea of a row of free-standing iron panels. Her original plan – using a laser-cut tapa pattern – was discarded as too predictable but she has always loved lotus flowers and felt the stylised form of the flower would suit the house, with the addition of a ripple of water and a connecting curve. She had the panels made and installed, left them to rust to a colour and texture of her liking, then sealed them. Dramatic at any time of the day, they are particularly striking when uplit at night.
The panels are joined by an iron cabbage tree sculpture, a bust and a large urn nestled in among the native plants; next to the pool a collection of Cape Cod-style chairs is painted in various pale sorbet shades.
Marg’s love and talent for interiors has been passed on to her daughters. When Dasha was allowed to redecorate her room, Marg had expected something in soft pink. “But she came back from the shop with her father clutching blue paint! Maddie wouldn’t have a pink room either; she chose white with hot pink and orange accents.”
It’s a house rich in objects and accessories – Michael teases that the cushions seem to breed – but not one that’s kept pristine and untouchable. With six animals (not counting the fish), that’s just not possible. There’s Saffie the white standard poodle, cats Koshka and Maisie, a rabbit named Daisy who comes in every night for cuddles and two cockatiels named Scooter and Turbo. There was a third called Mobility, but he died. “That’s Maddie’s sense of humour for you. She’s the animal-mad one of the family.”
It’s a house made and moulded for family and, says Marg, “We love it here”.For more images including web-exclusive images click on the "photo gallery" link above.
Our best moments in the house were: Bringing the girls home. Both were adopted – Maddie was a new baby adopted locally and Dasha was five, from a Russian orphanage. We had shown Dasha photos of the bedroom we had prepared for her but, when she walked in, she sat in the middle of the floor and shook; she didn’t know which way to look. We thought she would need to sleep with us for six months but, from
the moment she saw that room, she wasn’t giving it up for anything.
What we like most about this house: That we haven’t got bored with it. You can put whatever you want in it and the house copes.
You’ll never catch me without: Fresh-cut flowers in the house or a plate of Louise cake or brownies to have with your coffee.
I love living in Mt Eden: Because I can sit on the front porch in the morning in my nightie and slippers with a cup of coffee and watch the joggers go by.
Story: Sharon Newey
Photographs: Tessa Chrisp