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How a young couple got on the property ladder

The whole family pitched in with this Dunedin do-up to help a young couple onto the property ladder

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Damon McLeod and his parents, Heather and Craig, had been looking for the perfect property to renovate together in St Clair or St Kilda, two beautiful beachside suburbs in Dunedin. The family were keen to help Damon into the property market, but their search for the ideal reno was bearing little fruit until a 1950s bungalow in St Kilda came on the market in early 2015. Damon, his partner Makenzi Taylor, and his parents went to view it together and immediately saw the potential behind the dark, heavy wood panelling, peeling wallpaper, threadbare Axminster carpets and vinyl flooring.

“The wood panelling down the hall was dark and every room was painted a different colour, including the window sills,” recalls Makenzi. “The colour scheme included sky blue, bright yellow, dark red, purple and green.”

It was soon agreed that this rundown house would become a family project with everyone committing to months of hard work fitted in between Damon’s full-time tiling business and Makenzi’s job at local homewares store Moi Design.

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With the help of architect and friend Will Lewis, plans were drawn up, consents gained and before long work was under way. Opting to do the majority of the work themselves, Heather and Makenzi were responsible for most of the painting and some demolition, while Damon and Craig handled the manual labour, including cabinet-making, hanging doors, installing timber flooring and skirting boards, reframing, landscaping, concreting, fencing and, of course, tiling.

“Makenzi and I were both involved in the design of the house and are very fortunate that we share the same taste. Creativity comes naturally to both of us,” explains Damon. “All of the structural and major building work was done by Ryan Whiston, of Ryan Whiston Building and Construction, who is a close friend of ours.” The couple, who wanted a renovation which was sympathetic to their home’s era, kept and restored many of its original features. The layout was reconfigured to create a more contemporary space while remaining sensitive to the scale and form of the existing building.

The back of the house contained the kitchen, laundry and a bedroom plus a hallway, linen cupboard and a coal bunker. “This half was in the traditional bungalow style; it was poky and felt like a network of doors, corners and different floor levels,” says Damon.

“We opened it right up to provide us with a large, open-plan kitchen, dining and living area with an adjoining outdoor living space which has been fully landscaped,” explains Makenzi.

The colour palette was chosen with resale in mind, with Resene ‘Black White’ used throughout. However, this wasn’t the only reason for the colour selection. “Art plays a big part in both our upbringings,” says Makenzi, whose father is an avid collector. Heather is a renowned New Zealand sculptor and her and Craig’s home features art by Grahame Sydney, Adam Douglass, Simon Kaan and Ben Webb to name a few. The bungalow’s fresh white walls give the feeling of being in a gallery and allow Damon and Makenzi’s chosen artwork to be fully appreciated.

One room, however, has been given a different treatment: the dining area has two adjoining walls painted in Resene ‘Foundry’. The motivation behind the black corner was purely to segregate the dining space from the living area and kitchen. “We feel it adds impact to the open space,” says Makenzi. “Damon and I personally dislike feature walls but we feel that the walls are not the feature, it’s the art on them.”

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The bathroom was Damon’s baby. “Like the kitchen, we wanted the bathroom white and clean,” he says. “The timber vanity, fun art and turquoise glass tiles add warmth and texture.”
In the master bedroom – formerly the main living room – the original fireplace has been painstakingly restored by Damon, who installed grey tiles in a traditional herringbone pattern. The open clothing storage was inspired in part as a reaction against having a “box-like” wardrobe built into a corner of the room, a feature they’d observed in many of the open homes they’d attended.

“We felt these wardrobes always made the rooms feel smaller and also left dead, unusable space on top,” says Makenzi. Budget was also a factor as this was one of the last rooms the couple tackled. “Having this open wardrobe means the entire floor area is visible. For one of our cheapest storage solutions, it’s surprising the amount of compliments it receives,” adds Damon.

In the guest bedroom in this three-bedroom home Makenzi showcases her love of vintage pieces. “The Formica table was the first piece of furniture I ever bought. I have found pieces in secondhand stores as well as been gifted treasures from my mother, father and grandmother. I needed to dedicate a room in the house to being feminine so I can have special pieces around.

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I don’t see the point of having beautiful things in storage. I would rather have them on show or use them,” she says.

What started out as an investment opportunity has morphed into a family collaboration to create a beautiful, contemporary home that encapsulates this couple’s love of art, family links and good design. Restoring original features pays homage to the home’s past while the open-plan living area and wonderful indoor-outdoor flow reflect how people live today. Although the palette is stark, clever ambient lighting and indulgent textures ensure this home is comfortable and inviting. “We both love coming home to what we have created,” says Makenzi.

Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald.

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