The Same Wavelength
Nature surrounds those who live near the sea, says Madeleine Black. In their sleek Oriental Bay apartment and in their picturesque Paremata cottage, Madeleine, her husband David and venerable tabby cat Sheba are all but immersed in it.
Madeleine and David in the kitchen; Madeleine says the Buddha “is a very relaxing thing to have in the house; there’s a serenity”.
An ambitious swallow dive from the apartment balcony would attain the briny between the Port Nicholson Yacht Club and the Freyberg Pool; a narrow walkway is all that divides the seaside cottage from the water.
The latter has been associated with Madeleine’s clan for almost as long as she has. Originally a dilapidated adjunct to the family home, the cottage was instantly adored by the six Hall children and became a satisfying hobby for their father, who did it up in 1960s style and maintained it thereafter.
But the cottage’s latter-day hero is David. Refurbishing and maintaining it has also enabled him to unwind, in his case from the business of designing and manufacturing Racetech racing car seats. The man couldn’t be handier. Says his wife, “The cottage wouldn’t be what it is without him.”
Weatherboard construction aside, it’s so quintessentially English in style that you’d anticipate a view of old roses, hedgerows and perhaps a pack of pink-coated hunters in pursuit of a hapless fox.
Madeleine takes five on the front verandah where a sea lion holidayed last year; the curtains can be arranged to provide shade without obstructing the view.
Instead you get the whole Pauatahanui Inlet, an arc that embraces the Paremata Boating Club, the hills behind Titahi Bay, a fringe of bright boat sheds and seabirds of all shades in pursuit of hapless fish.
Stormy waves wash across the walkway; rubbernecking stingrays venture up to the sea wall. Last year a sea lion commandeered the verandah as a boudoir, thrilling Sheba’s senses with the lingering perfume and flavour of its oil long after its departure.
There are roses, however; they love sea air and it seems that buxus, potted magnolias, pansies and succulents feel the same.
Sheba soaks up the sun in the sitting room; on cloudy days she can snuggle on her heated floor cushion.
Madeleine and Sheba lived at the cottage for 10 years, with David for the last six. A couple of years ago, the Blacks decided to return to the big smoke. Their 40sqm apartment in inner-city Wellington was a little too bijou to be a fulltime home and they looked for a bigger one near the sea. (“Once you’ve lived beside it,” says Madeleine, “you’re lost without it.”)
Only a small, pole-vaulting sea lion could successfully lob itself onto the Black’s city balcony above Oriental Parade. Nevertheless, the apartment has splendid harbour views, all-day sun in the living area and two good-sized bedrooms and it was freshly and fully refurbished when they bought. “We just came in and dressed it.”
There’s a capital view of the capital from the Oriental Bay apartment’s balcony, where tabby cat Sheba likes to sit with David: “She adores him”; the colour palette throughout is black, white and cream with lustrous touches of gold and sparkle; about half the furniture came from the Blacks’ last apartment, the rest was bought for this one.
Very smartly, we may say, and in sharp contrast to the soft colours, nautical details and sweet, often nostalgic bric-a-brac that enchants in Paremata.
Madeleine’s interest in design isn’t a secret known only to friends in need of advice. Her Madeleine Gallery, established in Vivian Street in the 1980s, did such a brisk trade in objets d’art, jewellery and ceramics that the eponymous proprietor opened a second one in Brandon Street. A car accident and a debilitating back injury put paid to both businesses and stymied Madeleine’s nascent career as an interior decorator.
Confined to bed for weeks at a time, she developed the life of the mind. “I became quite philosophical – you have to when you can’t move.” Always a lover of music, books and the visual arts – one of her four brothers is Bay of Islands artist Lester Hall – she also had the resource of a fertile imagination.
If anything strikes the visitor as immediately as the black, white and cream colour palette, it’s the many faces and figurines that keep an eye on the residents, wherever they may be. These include a Venetian mask; original paintings, art and photographic prints; reproduction busts and statues; Fornasetti plates – “slightly macabre and kind of flirtatious in a mysterious way” – and a serene gilded Buddha. Even the sofa cushions have dials. “I love faces,” says Madeleine. “They add mystery.”
Clocks are one of Madeleine’s recurring decorating motifs – this one is from Freedom; the Sphinx bookends flank a ceramic jar with Gothic architecture in relief.
The cottage has its mystery too. It was photographed in situ in 1906 but no one knows for sure how old it is or how it came to be there. One legend has it that it was shipped in bits from England and reassembled on the site; another that it was a gardener’s cottage relocated from Government House.
“Of course we want to believe that because it’s romantic,” says Madeleine, “but I can’t really see how it can be true.”
By buying it from her dad 12 years ago – it had become superfluous to his requirements – she kept the cherished cottage in the family. It was on its own title and its flat site was a godsend to her back but it was also tired and dated.
Thanks to David’s hard work and Madeleine’s furnishings it’s now cute, comfortable and classic, with its character intact. They’ve created two bedrooms from an over-large L-shaped one and recently replaced the bathroom but you’ll find nothing as anachronistic as an open-plan kitchen/living area here.
“It’s nice to keep it as a petite cottage rather than take walls down,” says Madeleine. “When people visit, you can see everybody who came here when they were young catching up with their memories.
“There aren’t many places like this left. We all treasure it and the locals love it too. It’s a privilege to have it.”
My favourite part of the cottage is: Sitting on the front verandah. (David) Lying in a lavender bath. (Madeleine)
The bravest thing we did around the house was: Go for strong themes. (Madeleine)
The best money we ever spent: Our bathroom renovation.
The home improvement that caused the most debate was: The bathroom.
My best moments in the kitchen are: Cooking for friends. (Madeleine)
My best moments in the garden are: Sitting among the roses at Paremata with a glass of wine after finishing the garden chores. (Madeleine)
Our happiest day in this house was: A beautiful summer’s day when a dolphin was playing in the inlet; all the neighbours gathered at the cottage for this magical experience.
A quote that I often use is: The sweet bird of youth has flown from my shoulder. (Madeleine)
We love this part of New Zealand because: You can’t beat Wellington on a good day.
In the next five/10 years we’d like to: Travel in style, where and whenever we can.
Best place for coffee in the area: Ruby’s in Mana.
Favourite local shop: Magpie [gift store] at Paremata.
Madeleine and David Black
|Story: Prue Dashfield|
Photographer: Paul McCredie