The saying “good things come in small packages” rings true with this perfect little bachelorette pad by the beach at Mt Maunganui
Who lives here?
Julie Duncan, owner of floristry and antiques store Myrrh.
Like riding a bike
Learning to live in a small space is a bit like remembering how to ride a bike, thinks Julie Duncan. In both cases there have been a few wobbles and a little discomfort. Then some necessary adjustments, followed by a rapidly growing, gleeful sense of freedom.
The pharmacy owner-turned-florist bought an old-fashioned bike immediately after acquiring her tiny house on a back section two streets from Mt Maunganui’s coastal playground. The cottage was supposed to be an occasional bolthole, a practical stopping-off point closer to youngest son Liam’s boarding school in Cambridge and an escape from multiple business and social commitments in Opotiki. But Julie became smitten with the lifestyle, discovering cafes and shops, movie theatres and a glorious beach within walking or cycling distance. Following an amicable marriage break-up, the holiday home became her permanent abode and the bike her favourite transport mode.
“I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was in primary school,” Julie says. “I got on it to see if I could ride it and realised I had my helmet on back to front,” she laughs.
Initially, living on a smaller scale proved both puzzling and liberating. Where was she supposed to keep her books and magazines? Or her clothes? How could she entertain in a one-metre by one-and-a-half-metre living space?
So she stacked books on the floor and gave away surplus clothing, along with all her magazines and extra stored items. She invited groups of friends to meet in local restaurants or cafes. And she opened a shop selling cut flowers and antiques and filled it with crystal and other treasures she couldn’t keep at home.
There simply isn’t spacefor stuff and you
“There simply isn’t space for stuff and you. It definitely makes you live more simply and say, ‘Actually, I don’t need a whole lot of stuff.’ And it’s okay to love stuff and not take it home, or to give it away.
“I came from a very beautiful, large house on the beach with five bedrooms and three bathrooms and I did miss parts of that. I kind of miss the big parties we used to have. We’d often have 15 or 20 people for dinner.
“I always used to say, ‘I love that little house, it’s such an escape, but I could never live there. It would drive me nuts; it’s far too small.’ Now I’ve lived in it full time for two years, I’ve just kind of grown to be so comfortable, though I still think it would be hard to live here with somebody else.”
Early on, Julie envisaged renting the cottage to holidaymakers and fostered a deliberately romantic vibe with comfortable beds, good bedlinen and a pair of wrought-iron chairs on the upstairs balcony. This worked equally well once she started offering the place, free of charge, to female friends and friends of friends who needed to escape and recharge.
I feltI needed to anchor myself here
When she decided to move in permanently, Julie realised some things had to change, starting with the kitchen. She installed a dishwasher and a decent stove, new cabinetry and benchtops and a charming old French armoire – taken from the pharmacy in Opotiki – to hold glassware.
“I felt I needed to anchor myself here. I thought having a new kitchen would make the place a real home, that a proper working kitchen would make me cook more.”
She laughs. It didn’t really work. While the renovation does make the place feel more homely and practical, she still eats out more often than not.
A touch of grunge
When she bought the cottage, it sported black beams and dark furniture, but Julie prefers a lighter, more modern look mixed with a bit of grunge. “It’s like dressing in a raggy old pair of jeans with a smart top.”
So the beams were painted white and the house filled with far less sombre belongings. Now, a pint-sized second-hand dining table is surrounded by flashes of gold and pink and sparkling chandeliers. White curtains and shutters were added and the mustard-coloured exterior window trims were painted pink.
Modernising the bathroom is the final chore on her renovation wishlist.
What’s in a name?
When Julie bought the house, it was marketed as “The French Cottage” for its French oak floors and pint-sized, old-world charm. Her visiting Italian teacher was not impressed.
“Marco used to come here and teach me. After a few lessons, he said, ‘Oh, Julia, it’s a problem for me, coming here. The French Cottage? I don’t like it.’ So I said, ‘Fine, let’s make up a new name.’ We spent a whole lesson working out what we were going to call the place and came up with La Casa de Guilia Tocco Italiana – the house of Julia, a touch of Italian.” And the name has outlasted her lessons.
“My Italian’s hopeless. Marco said, ‘You’re my favourite pupil but you’re my worst advertisement.’ So I gave him a glass of red wine and said, ‘I don’t think this Italian is really going to work.’”
Julie claims tradesmen who laboured in the kitchen were terrified by the overt femininity of their working environment.
“They’d never seen anything like it. But the grandkids come and stay and they love it because I’m not actually precious about stuff and also, I think, because it’s a bit like a big doll’s house.”
Julie and ex-husband Kerry Nott have seven adult children between them. She says Kerry hated the cottage for its dearth of sea views, low sloping ceiling and the absence of a television.
“It’s not really a man’s house and anyone who’s taller than five foot four can’t really live in it,” she laughs. “I’m living quite a humble life, a smaller, semi-solitary life. And it’s all mine.”
Words by: Sue Hoffart. Photography by: Rachel Dobbs.