The completion of a major renovation has provided this Waiheke Island family with the perfect backdrop to showcase their botanical-inspired Christmas style
Meet and greet
The Waiheke home of this botanical stylist is filled with fresh Christmas style
It was a transformation 15 years in the making, but Gemma and Greg Yeoman have turned their tiny, run-down 1940s cottage into a stylish tropical sanctuary. The Oneroa, Waiheke Island, house they have lived in for 15 years underwent an extensive renovation last year, when the original cottage was expanded to incorporate a series of cascading rooms and decks which flow down the sloping section. “We wanted a whole lot of floating decks,” says Gemma. “We use them all because the sun hits them at different times.”
The couple made the move to Waiheke Island, a 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland, early in their relationship, to offer support to close friends whose son was fighting a brain tumour. This proved a life-changing experience for the couple. “We changed our whole life to be organic,” says Gemma. They also became accustomed to island life, and after renting for about a year, they bought a dilapidated two-bedroom cottage on the island.
“I didn’t really even look inside the house because it was pretty terrible,” says Gemma. “But we bought it because it had such a good, long section.” They renovated the house in two parts, initially making it more liveable with a new kitchen and bathroom, then sitting tight while they planned and saved for their dream home. “It’s good to do it that way,” says Greg, “because you get a feel for the spaces.”
Time to extend
Although they got the resource consent for their extension after 10 years in the house, it was another five years before they had the funds to build. Designed by Vaughn McQuarrie (whom Greg studied architecture with), the plans added a third bedroom, second bathroom, lounge, courtyard and deck to the home.
“We had a really big brief about our lifestyle and how we like to live and entertain,” says Gemma. “We needed it to work for the future and wanted separate spaces, but not too far away from each other, so it’s still a modest home.” Connection to the outdoors was important to the couple. They also wanted to retain the home’s small footprint and keep most of the original house.
One of the defining features of the home is the bifold doors which connect the lounge, kitchen and dining areas with an internal courtyard and deck. When these are open, you get a feeling of spaciousness and the outdoors flows in. When closed, the separate zones add a sense of intimacy. “It works for our family,” Gemma says. “Ivy can be in the lounge while we are in the dining room or vice versa.”
The couple’s bedroom is separated from the home’s living areas by a hallway and concrete wall. Although it has no door, the wing has a secluded feel, and the insulated concrete wall keeps noise to a minimum. “The concept was to have the bedroom removed from everything,” says Gemma. “Away from the kids and away from the lounge” but not too far, so they can still be connected.
They still have plans to update the kitchen and guest bathroom since these were completed fairly simply in the first renovation. They plan to install the old kitchen into a container in Tauranga which they are making into a holiday home. “That’s our project now that the house is done,” says Gemma.
Gemma has kept her Christmas styling pared-back and botanically influenced. She created a simple tree out of ruscus leaves, which stay green for a long time. “I always have quite an alternative tree,” she says. Presents and decor have a natural, rustic look, with nothing being too “Christmassy”. This year they are camping with family up north for the holidays, but they look forward to hosting a Christmas at their newly renovated house soon.
The couple have built up a green sanctuary over the years, planting native and subtropical plants to create privacy. The house was designed around this vegetation and to fit the site, which made the consenting process fairly smooth. They even built their deck around a cabbage tree – it appears to grow straight through the decking. “It was really easy to get our resource consent because the house was set into the slope,” says Greg. “We’re not trying to stick another level up on the ridge to get a view out to the sea.”
Landscaping is important to the couple. Gemma is the botanical stylist behind Flora n Fauna, which fits out homes and offices with plants. “I’m all about getting greenery into urban spaces,” she explains. Greg co-founded stormwater management company Stormwater360, which designs and imports water-filtering products. The company’s permeable paving product Grasscrete has been installed on the driveway and a Chambermaxx water-collection device under the front lawn eliminates the need for a large water tank.
A cabana and small pool (or potentially a spa pool – the debate is still raging) are planned for one of the lower decks. They also want to add a louvred roof to the internal courtyard and more wires to the outside of the house so greenery can grow up the walls.
Now they finally have their dream home, Greg and Gemma are taking time out to enjoy it. The retreat-like space means they can ignore the summer crowds which flock to the island. “You kind of forget about them here, until you step out,” Greg says of the quiet haven they have created. “It can be really busy and you don’t notice it.”
Although there are a few things they wouldn’t repeat, the renovation has been deemed a success, and they’re not looking to move. “I think every time you renovate you would learn more and more but a year on we still love it, love what we’ve done and love the colours we’ve chosen,” says Gemma. “It’s a feeling you can’t describe,” she says of the completed renovation. “Especially when we’ve come from living in a two-bedroom little house, and feeling like we worked really hard for it. When we first sat in our lounge together we could have pinched ourselves.”
Gemma’s Christmas styling tips
- Use what is around you and in season in your garden.
- Be creative with your Christmas tree and come up with new ways to display it each year. A two-dimensional tree will free up more space in your home.
- Think of simple ways to wrap presents, such as using upcycled paper and ribbons or accenting with dried foliage.
Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Vanessa and Michael Lewis.