A flair for Scandinavian design and a love of white are behind this stunningly modern villa renovation.
From the outside, Tony and Agge Burt’s 1908 villa bears the ornate hallmarks of its Colonial design. But step beyond the heritage-protected façade and you’re transported to modern-day Sweden. Through the wide hallway with its whitewashed American oak floors, a recycled kauri staircase descends into a spacious urban oasis decorated in minimalist Scandinavian style. “People walk in and get a big surprise,” says Tony.
He and Swedish wife Agge bought the Parnell property while living in London 11 years ago, after his sisters alerted him to it.
“The house was liveable but it had a really 1960s kitchen, a concrete lawn and a traditional Kiwi back door,” says Tony. “That was it. There was no outdoor living or indoor-outdoor flow.”
The couple engaged an architect to draw up plans to renovate while renting it out for a while. After first child Jacob was born, it was time to move back to New Zealand. Unhappy with the architect’s plans, they lived in the house as-is for two years.
“It turned out to be a good thing because it allowed us to think about what we really wanted to do,” says Tony. “We had this idea of stepping down onto the back lawn. And upstairs, we wanted to make the most of all the sun that comes in in the mornings.”
With the help of a draughtsman, they set out to rebuild the two-level dwelling, transforming it into a spacious three-level home. That meant extending the house from the staircase, thereby significantly raising the living room ceiling height, levelling off the old-fashioned patio and turning it into a flat grass area, modernising the kitchen and bathrooms, and building a deck off the main bedroom.
Previous owners had lowered the stud in the lounge, presumably for warmth, says Tony, so they installed a heat pump and raised it back to its original, elegant level. Upstairs in the main bedroom, the couple can now enjoy stunning views of Rangitoto from their glass-panelled deck. Only the lounge is relatively untouched, with its original picturesque shutters and windows.
Aside from the unusual layout, it’s the home’s abundant use of white that sets it apart.
The couple had always known they wanted to live in a white house so they restricted themselves to a white palette, right down to the bedroom lamps. The 200-year-old wooden dining table, which the couple picked up in France from an antique store, was duly whitewashed, and Tony painted several pieces of furniture white.
“It’s very traditional to the Swedish approach and it allows you to change things up as you go,” says Tony. “We could change the blue bedspread to a red one and it’s not going to be too much of a clash. It’s a great base to work from.”
It also makes a great canvas for Agge’s grandparents’ furniture, painted in traditional pastel colours, and Tony’s colourful print collection. Plus it accentuates the couple’s statement pieces: the gold-green pouf in the living room, a Flos Arco lamp they bought when they first moved in together, and Agge’s old family clock in the hallway.
The house isn’t strictly minimalist, however. A large built-in bookshelf in the living room houses the couple’s impressive book collection – and Tony’s many LPs from his former life as an online record store owner. There are also creative decorative touches throughout. Tony first got the idea for Jacob’s full-wall atlas from travel agents in the UK, who had a similar image plastered in their shops. He tracked down the makers online and contacted them directly.
Now that the couple are used to the white, Agge, who loves researching decor ideas, has suggested they introduce a few natural timber elements. One possibility is restoring the whitewashed table back to its original state. Whatever they decide, you can bet the result will be light and serene.
“New Zealand houses are beautiful, but they throw a lot more into them,” says Tony. “Sometimes Agge and I look through magazines and there’s so much going on in each room. Whereas we like the minimal Scandinavian approach.”
- Come up with a vision and develop a plan. “Inevitably something will come up that you have to change but if you can avoid it, all the better,” says Tony.
- If you’re going for a minimal vibe, allow for plenty of storage space. One of the additions Tony is most proud of is the attic built out of the old roofline, allowing them to keep their Zen-like clean white space free of clutter.
- Add personality by grouping colourful prints together. Tony has collected several from around the world, such as this wallpaper atlas by Environmental Graphics Wall Murals in the US.
Words by: Rebecca Barry Hill
Photography by: Todd Eyre