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An Australian family are living the good life in their Christchurch new-build

This Australian couple and their children have created a slice of paradise on a lifestyle block in Christchurch filled with pattern, pops of colour and pets

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Meet and greet

Katie McNamara, stay-at-home mum and founder/designer of online children’s clothing brand LaVieKid, Mark McNamara, New Zealand Racing Board commentator, William, 3, and Bronte, 1, plus spaniels Bondi and Kiwi, three horses, two ponies and four chickens.

Sydneyside to the countryside

Mark McNamara had always wanted a lifestyle block so it was no surprise to his wife, Katie, when he made an offer on a piece of land in a rural settlement southwest of Christchurch.

At the time, Katie was in Sydney visiting her parents, and it was some weeks later before she viewed the site of her proposed new home. “Mark loves horses. He’s always wanted an acreage. When he found this site, I knew that he’d go for it,” she says.

The Australian couple moved from Sydney to Christchurch in 2009 when Mark was offered a racing commentator’s position. At first, they rented a home in the Port Hills overlooking the sea, but the lure of the country eventually drew them to the satellite suburb of Rolleston and their search for land began in earnest.

Having bought the site, the couple considered moving an existing house onto it and found an ideal one in an abandoned, quake-hit suburb. However, their builder quashed that idea with a dose of financial reality, but the exercise was not a complete waste of time.

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“Our builder advised us that by the time we’d arranged the relocation and reinstatement, we might as well build from scratch. We loved the design and style of the house we’d picked so that became the basis for our new home,” Katie explains.

She sketched the floor plan, gave the drawings to a draughtsman and building started in August 2014. Deciding where to locate the home on the undulating, bare block came down to picking the optimum spot to soak up the sun, maximise views and achieve privacy from the road.

“We visited a few times and walked around to find the best place. We picked a nice position. I can see the mountains from my kitchen window,” says Katie.


Let there be light

Katie, a designer and artist, knew exactly the kind of home she wanted. “I grew up in the bush in Australia. Our home was always bright and sunny and opened to the bush surrounds. I wanted that same open, spacious, light feel.”

The generous 267-square-metre home has living rooms at one end, bedrooms at the other. Katie chose to carpet the media room and bedrooms but the rest of the home has polished concrete flooring, selected for its thermal qualities and practicality. “Concrete is a great surface for kids and dogs. It’s so easy to clean.”

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A geometric rug defines the informal lounge area and appeals to Katie’s love of bold colours and pattern. Katie found the wooden armchair on Trade Me and bought it for $7.50. “By the time I’d had it stripped back and re-upholstered it certainly wasn’t a cheap chair but it is a family favourite and it will be with us for ever. When my dad visits, he loves to sit there and sketch.”

The lights over the island bench were chosen for their concrete detail, tying in with the floor and other industrial influences, and the trio of timber pendants above the dining table cleverly harmonise with the wooden bench extension.

A single skylight in the hallway provides natural light but Katie wishes she’d pushed for another. “My builder was really against skylights so he pressured me not to add any more. I wish we had, though.” It is perhaps the only regret regarding this house, which she “loves coming home to”.

Reaching out to friends

Katie and Mark drew on their wide network of contacts when picking contractors for their building project. Builder David Fowler was a friend from racing circles and Katie valued his pragmatic approach and expertise, although she had to stand her ground on some issues.

She managed the entire project. “The build took eight months and I visited the site almost daily. Dave needed some guidance around time management, but otherwise was quick and great to deal with.”

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The kitchen was Katie’s labour of love and she worked closely with fabricator Paul Renwick and his designer Jess Curtis to achieve a kitchen that looks stunning and is ideally suited to the family’s needs. Katie is especially proud of the wooden bench extension. “It’s the best thing I have designed in this home,” she says.

“My mum says that white never dates so I took that advice for the joinery. I was going to add a white benchtop but Jess and Paul Walton, from the Granite Benchtop Company, showed me a slab from Brazil and it was stunning. I loved being able to pick my own granite.”

From the open-plan living and dining room, glass doors open to an outdoor play area. Beyond that, two ponies, a yearling and two brood mares graze in paddocks. Four chickens provide lots of eggs and work is about to start on a vege patch. “We are trying to be a little more self-sustaining,” Katie says. “My husband keeps adding to our menagerie.”

It’s a colourful world

Katie is an avid lover of New Zealand design and cites interior designer Alex Fulton as a constant source of inspiration. “I love to have a clean, white base and then layer on lots of colours. Adding different art and cushions can really change the space. Alex Fulton is an awesome designer. She created the coloured spots (called Abi’s Dots) on the wall in my office.”

Katie controls the chaos that comes with children by keeping their toys in a single space, not in their bedrooms. “We have a wall of toys in the media room.” Ikea shelves in the dining area house cookbooks on the bottom and breakables higher up.

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With the exception of the media room where the walls are painted dark blue (Dulux ‘Piha’), Katie has used white (Dulux ‘Okarito’) throughout the home. Only one wall in the house – in Bronte’s room – is papered. Katie’s choice to paint the rooms was a budget-driven decision. “I would have liked more wallpaper but it came down to cost.”

Splashes of colour come from bright artwork, prints and soft furnishings. “I love punchy colours and patterns; they are really cheerful. In the media room I have created a bird wall. I fell in love with Australian artist Anya Brock and then found other prints by Pete Cromer and Evie Kemp from New Zealand.”

A hanging in the hall is made from a piece of Marimekko fabric. “I sewed it top and bottom, added dowel and created a great artwork. I love it.” The framed art in the hall was done by Katie. She plans to replace them with originals by William and Bronte in time, but for now William’s first artwork has a special space in her office.

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In the bedrooms, colour pops on every surface. “I adore colourful bedlinen and always buy it when I go back to Australia. My mum is amazing and always brings lovely things when she comes to stay.”

In Bronte’s room a collection of her prettiest clothes and footwear is on display. “I love to hang her cutest and favourite pieces. My dad refers to her ‘Imelda Marcos collection of shoes’, which is quite funny. She wasn’t even walking yet when he said it!”

A large linen-covered chair and ottoman are ideal for feeding during the night and the pastel-painted chest of drawers was originally Katie’s. “I was given that dresser for my 18th birthday. We brought it over with us and I repainted it.”

Tile tales

When it came to deciding on the interior styling, Katie was in charge of almost every area. The one exception was the choice of fittings for their ensuite bathroom. That was entirely down to Mark. “Mark loves his shower. He wanted two rain heads and two shower heads, so that’s what we have.”

The bathrooms were one area that exceeded the budget, but Katie does not regret the decision to fully tile each room and to select tiles, basins and vanity units for their appeal rather than their price tags. A range of shapes and textures adds interest.

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“In the bathrooms there were lots of square edges. I softened that effect with round mirrors and curved bowls in the ensuite and a curved, freestanding bath in the main bathroom,” says Katie. “I love the big, vertical marble tiles in the shower. The hand-crafted tiles over the twin basins were ridiculously expensive. Fortunately, I managed to get some leftovers from another order and we painted the wall above to match.”

A wooden sideboard in the living room was originally intended for the ensuite but an error in measuring meant it was too short for its intended purpose. “How did I get the measurement wrong? I was pregnant at the time. Silly mistake, but I think the unit looks good in the living room.”

Words by: Ady Shannon. Photography by: Kate Claridge.

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