Christmas has always been an exciting time for this Auckland stylist. See how her renovation helped to showcase her festive flourishes and discover how you can get this look at home
Meet + greet
Vanessa Nouwens, Your Home and Garden stylist and interior designer of Nes Design, Peter Nouwens, CFO and business manager of St Cuthbert’s School, Madison, 13, and Chloe, 9.
Preparing her home for the festive season has always come naturally to Vanessa Nouwens, an Auckland stylist and designer whose amazing styling and shopping talents help create many of Your Home and Garden’s beautiful photo shoots. Since she was young she’s had a passion for this time of year, and part of that enjoyment is bringing a home to life with a stylish theme.
“I have always loved Christmas,” she says. “As a child, we had the biggest box of festive decorations for our tree and home. I would spend hours adorning the house; I even had a small Christmas tree in my bedroom.”
These days, she gives careful thought to the looks and trends she has worked with in her job over the previous 12 months and considers early in the year what Christmas style she’ll select for her home. “This love of the festive season has stayed with me,” she says. “Every Christmas, a new theme is created. I normally decide by mid-year what it will be.”
This year she has a fresh canvas to decorate. She and husband Peter completed a renovation of their downstairs living area at the end of last year. The kitchen, family room, bathroom and laundry were all revamped in a three-month project. The upstairs bedrooms were left untouched, as was the home’s footprint.
Many readers will be familiar with Vanessa’s home as it has appeared in two Your Home and Garden Christmas issues. She and Peter bought the 170-square-metre house in St Heliers, Auckland, in 2006. “You can’t fault our location as we are minutes away from St Heliers Beach,” she says. “We love going for walks and bike rides along the bays. The school is close by so the girls can easily walk.”
They had made cosmetic changes to the home since buying it but had reached the point where they were sick of bumping into each other in the small kitchen and were in dire need of more storage.
A larger kitchen was at the top of the list. The kitchen was extended by half a metre into a reading nook/family room to allow Vanessa and Peter more cooking space. The room was also reconfigured and thought was put into how they could use it in the best possible way, with better cabinetry and a more efficient layout.
“We desperately needed storage. We didn’t have enough, nor do we have a garage to provide extra space, so floor-to-ceiling cabinetry was installed in the kitchen, laundry and along one wall in the family room by the main entrance,” Vanessa says. “We maximised every possible space to incorporate storage, as that was a key frustration.
Pete and I are both tall so it’s no problem reaching up. The cabinets have completely changed our world!” A window seat was also installed in the family area, to better use what was a window beside the reading nook.
The family remained in the home throughout the revamp, which was completed in November last year.
With the downstairs renovated, Vanessa kept the monochrome palette she’d had before, but simplified it – and has done the same with her Christmas style. By contrast, last year’s festive look was bold and graphic.
This time, her style is more pared back, mirroring her interior style. “As my style has evolved, I’ve gone for less-is-more,” she says. “I’m very selective. I used to have all my bits and pieces that I loved on display. Now I’m picky. I’ve honed my style.”
Elements of felt run throughout the revamp and Vanessa decided to tie this into her Christmas look. “In our new interior, we used a bit of grey felt on chairs, cushions and on the window seat so I decided I would extend the felt idea into our new Christmas theme. I’ve used felt for Christmas napkin rings and coasters for the dining table setting, as well as for decorations and tags for wrapping.
“I went to Spotlight and bought some stiff, thick felt and went to work, making star- and tree-shaped decorations for the tree which I’ve threaded onto soft, natural, blush-coloured leather cord.
The decorating is normally left to me for the main part of the house, but the girls get to pick a new decoration or something for their room each year which they can take with them when they leave home. They are into Christmas baking more than decorating at the moment. I gave them both a wrapping and bow-tying lesson last year and I have to say they are becoming good present-wrappers!”
Vanessa spent a lot of time researching what she wanted in her new kitchen. She decided on appliances and shelf sizes, measuring everything up, before taking her plan to a kitchen design company. Thanks to all her input, it wasn’t long before the couple were presented with a design they loved. Giving the designers a clear brief at the start saved a lot of time.
What do you love about your home?
“We use and live in every bit of our home. There is no wasted room. It’s a low-maintenance property with a courtyard out the front and small swimming pool out the back,” says Vanessa.
“It’s very adaptable – when the kids were younger, we had the second living room downstairs set up as a playroom with toys and a television. As my business has grown, I have needed more space for styling props and materials so my office nook upstairs is now a dressing room and the playroom is now partly my home office, partly a second living room. There is still a television in the room so Pete and I can watch our favourite shows in peace and leave the kids in the lounge.”
Renovating the downstairs didn’t overwhelm Vanessa. In fact, it left her wanting to do more. Next on the cards is a walk-in wardrobe and ensuite for the master bedroom. “Next time it’s all about the upstairs,” Vanessa says. “We’ve spent six years doing this up. Why stop now?”
Vanessa’s renovation tips
- Spend the time up-front researching what you like and stick to it. I spent a few months planning the kitchen’s design and style before showing it to a kitchen design company.
- Check with suppliers how long it will take to order the appliances and fittings you want.
- Go over floor plans thoroughly to ensure you are happy with measurements and small features.
- Put together a file, listing details and images of the fittings you would like to use.
- Trawl through Pinterest for inspiration. Everyone I showed my moodboards to could easily see the look and feel I was going for, which saved a lot of explaining.
Vanessa’s Christmas look
- Take a theme from your decor and repeat it in your Christmas styling, as Vanessa did with her subtle use of felt. She bought thick felt and used it to create tree decorations, threading them with leather cord. You could also make felt napkin rings and star coasters for the table, as well as gift tags.
- Let your children choose a new decoration for the tree or their room which they can keep as a family heirloom-in-the-making.
- If flowers aren’t your thing, get some pine branches and place them in a beautiful vase as a centrepiece. Greenery at Christmas is always a stunning option and it can also be used in your table setting.
- For a coordinated look, carry your theme through from the decorations on your tree to gift-wrapping and finally the table.
- Dress your tree in a chic, understated way, mixing matte textures with delicate baubles for a touch of sparkle.
Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Melanie Jenkins.