With their previous home too small for hosting Christmas Day this family can’t wait to make the most of their new treetop abode in Titirangi
This Auckland home is revamped and ready for a Kiwi Christmas
Tina Stephen (creative director of Roomie), husband Mark Stephen (film industry set designer), and Mathilde, 7, plus Poppy the cat.
Interior designer Tina Stephen, husband Mark and their daughter Mathilde, 7, decided to move from Auckland’s Green Bay to nearby Titirangi because they wanted a change and more space. And boy, did they get more space! Their new abode is a modern, two-storey family home set among 3500 square metres of mostly mature kanuka.
The property borders both a local school set in 12 hectares of protected native bush, and also a protected reserve. “The house overlooks the Manukau Inlet where mangroves have been re-established and are thriving. It’s a special area with lots of birdlife,” Tina says.
The couple bought the home in November last year, but they didn’t move in until the following March. “We had a lengthy settlement, so had plenty of time to ponder and plan for our vision,” says Tina. They knew they didn’t need to make any structural changes, so it was more a case of considering what paint colours they would use in the house.
In their previous home, hosting family and friends on Christmas Day was never an option. But the family couldn’t be more excited about Christmas this year. “Because our last home was tiny, we always spent Christmas at our bach, which was a fairly casual affair involving a barbecue and a day at the beach,” Tina explains. “But this year we are staying put in the new house. It has space for extended family and I’ll be dusting off my Mrs Claus hat and possibly the apron!”
The couple have always had an open-door policy, so will expect a few extras on Christmas Eve for a cocktail party, with a Champagne breakfast and present-opening the next day.
“Weather permitting, we are planning a lazy beach afternoon at Cornwallis Beach, with naps under the pohutukawa and swims,” says Tina.
She is excited about styling the home for the festive season – with Mathilde’s help, of course. With elements of wood set against white surfaces and items of mid-century furniture, the house has a subtle Scandi vibe.
“We don’t follow any rules and certainly don’t adhere to the usual red and green Christmas palette,” she says. “We like to keep things simple with fresh flowers, plenty of foliage, and the table set with ceramics from our lovely friend Renée Boyd.
“I have a bit of a wrapping obsession, and love simple brown paper with hand-printed patterns. Mathilde loves crafting, so I am sure there will be handmade cards – and everything will be wrapped up with colourful ribbons.”
Tina’s revamp tips
- Don’t underestimate the power of paint. Sometimes just getting the right balance of colour for a room avoids the need for an entirely new interior scheme.
- Invest in pieces you love, but try to buy from people who benefit directly from the production and sale of furniture and homewares, whether it is a local designer or maker or a small business offshore.
- Buy secondhand. If you don’t like op-shopping or trawling the inorganic collections, then buy homewares and furniture from companies such as Mr Bigglesworthy that do all the hard work for you. Often these pieces are a similar price to new designer furniture, but they are collector’s items so their value only increases with age.
- Get professional advice and services when you need to. Don’t try to do everything yourself, especially if you feel overwhelmed. Design professionals can offer a fresh eye and new ideas that you may not have considered.
The home’s original colour scheme was very safe, with cream walls throughout, a cream bathroom and a cream kitchen. “At more than 200 square metres and with high ceilings, it made for a lot of cream surfaces!” Tina says.
The couple set about blocking out walls with colour and adding some contrast. “The house is much bigger than our previous homes so it is able to handle large feature walls and bold choices,” Tina says. “We set about breaking up the rooms with a combination of feature colours, and also balancing dark and light. They chose a soft, dark grey (Dulux ‘Castlecliff’) for the main living room wall – “The effect suits our furniture, which is mostly mid-century wood and leather.”
With help from the guys at The Mood Store, the brown kitchen cabinets were given new plywood fronts, also painted in Dulux ‘Castlecliff’. A kitchen feature wall in mustard was inspired by a Rachel Carley bowl that Tina was once given. “I had about 20 paint swatches taped to the wall and it was hard to choose the right colour – not too yellow and not too brown. We finally decided on Dulux ‘Crow Valley’, which we love.”
The duo decided to leave the rest of the walls as they were, as the original joinery and blinds are cream so a stark white would not have worked. “At first I was unsure about living with cream walls but the colour is lovely and soft, especially now it is offset with dark grey and mustard,” Tina says.
Christmas style secrets
- Keep your decorating minimalist. Use a green tree covered in decorations made of natural materials or in a muted palette.
- Go for neutrals, eg white and gold or white and silver, with minimal elements of colour.
- You can never have enough sparkly lights. Buy silver or gold seed lights instead of plastic lights, then you can use them year round.
- Engage the whole family in decorating, and celebrate 1 December with a little tree-decorating party.
- Include plenty of evergreen branches and trees to add colour and warmth. Forage around your neighbourhood for leaves and branches, and pick flowers for centrepieces and place them in simple ceramic or glass jars.
- Although it’s summer and you won’t need the warmth, animal skins and woollen blankets will add cosiness to modern furnishings.
Imminent changes for the home include putting in a spa pool and adding an outdoor swing or gym set for budding gymnast Mathilde. The couple also plan to change the living area flooring to oak floorboards.
The five-year plan is to reconfigure the kitchen with an extended island and butler’s pantry. “We didn’t expect to own this home and we are still in shock about how peaceful it is here,” Tina says. “We have a lovely community but we all have plenty of breathing space with huge sections, so you don’t feel as though you are living on top of each other. It is a vast difference from suburbia.”
Tina and Mark are big art fans and try to buy something from each country they visit. They understand how art that has a personal relevance always makes a home more special, and makes for great conversation starters. “The living room only has one wall where we can hang art, so we wanted to make an impact with an oversized piece – an image of White Island from the Daily Overview print shop, which we follow on Instagram.
“The shop has aerial shots of Earth and is fascinating,” Tina says. “We both loved the image of White Island, which my childhood home in Mt Maunganui looked out towards, so we ordered a custom oversized print.” Other favourites include art prints and a mask from Sri Lanka in the master bedroom, Graham Howe prints of Te Aro and Miramar (two Wellington suburbs they once lived in), and a Flox art print in Mathilde’s room, which inspired her jungle theme.
Most memorable experience? Tina: Having our house-warming in May. We had an ‘Aspen’ theme and invited everyone, not expecting everyone to turn up. But they did, and we had three levels of dancing and celebrating, complete with a snow machine and lots of people in ski outfits!
Experience you’d rather forget? The long wait between buying the house at auction in November and the moving-in date in early March. Lucky it was summer and we could escape to the bach!
Budget – $9000
How did your makeover budget forecast compare to your actual spend? We didn’t really budget, but just took each change or new item on its merits and in the context of the end result. We made to-do lists and worked through them. We knew the changes were not going to cost a huge amount overall so we just went for it!
What areas of your home did you save money on? And what did you splurge on? We saved on the painting as we did most of it ourselves. We splurged on new artwork with professional framing, the kitchen cupboards and our mid-century lounge chairs which we bought in an op shop in Mt Maunganui years ago and recently had re-covered in leather – they look amazing and are now true heirloom pieces.
Do you tend to buy high-end homeware or seek out a bargain? I usually try to get a bargain. Sometimes I just wait until something I love comes on sale, but often find that by the time I go to buy it, I don’t want it any more! So the things I take time to consider are really special. I am also lucky enough to work in an industry with so many creative and talented makers – so many items in our home have been made by friends and colleagues whom I have huge respect for.
Best advice when it comes to spending money on a home? Get in professionals when you need them. Don’t follow trends. If you love something, then buy it in its own right – don’t try to make something fit into an overall style or theme. An eclectic home is the best kind.
Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Helen Bankers.