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How this Art Deco Tauranga home got its new look

Slowly but surely the garden of this character-filled Art Deco Tauranga house has become as heart-felt as the home itself

Sally Blockley remembers well the day in May 2013 when her home dream in Tauranga became reality. She’d seen the house she now calls home but hadn’t bothered going to the auction thinking it was beyond her means. But the house didn’t sell, as she discovered during a drive-by.

“I checked it out and within three minutes said to my mother, ‘This is my house’. I then got in the car and three streets later I stopped to make an offer,” Sally recalls. She knew it would involve a fair bit of DIY but decided she was up for the challenge.“I always wanted a stucco home and always called them Elvis houses. It’s my first house and my dream home, which is very rare. Most people buy to get on the property ladder, whereas I think I could be here forever.”

Sally jokes that there’s even a ramp up to one of the doors, ready for her zimmer frame. Excited as Sally was about her purchase, she knew  it wouldn’t be her homebase for a few years. She rented it out initially for about three years to save money for her renovations. Sally tackled some necessary sprucing up before renting the house out. And, most importantly this keen gardener ensured she’d planted her garden, giving it plenty of time to thrive before her move-in date. She arranged with her tenants that once every 13 weeks she would be on site for a landscaping day.

People in the neighbourhood called the house “The Chocolate Box”. (The chocolate brown paint and cream trim have since been replaced by chic grey with white). It wasn’t pretty but Sally loved the wooden floors and outside space and could see its potential. Sally identified many things that needed attention. Things like holes in the interior doors, cupboards that didn’t close, a wobbly bathroom wall, wonky wooden blinds, curtains too short for windows, a back deck with holes underfoot and a rotten shade cloth overhead, and chipped and flaking concrete paving. Also needing to be tackled was the kitchen. Sally called in the Kitchen Makeover team to remove the cupboard fronts and switch them out from dark brown to white. A new stove also helped spruce up the space.

A family working bee put paid to things like a lime green wall, with Sally opting instead for plenty of white paint as a backdrop for her furniture, art and decor touches. White instantly made the house feel clean too, she says. The dark-hued petrol blue of Dulux Piha adds drama, however, in the main bedroom, the office and the fire surround in the lounge. Sally tackled the bathroom upgrade in between tenants. That involved pulling everything out and replacing the old with white marble floor-to-ceiling tiles, black finishing touches and a wooden barn door. She loves how the deep rustic look of the door adds a Balinese influence to the bathroom. The bathroom was the last do-up task before she moved in.

“As for moving-in day, my garden was already done, and the house working bees done. I just loved moving my stuff in. I absolutely loved that. I pottered for days putting everything in the right spot.”

Plenty of pops of colour and a lot of retro and eclectic touches feature in Sally’s home. The lounge alone includes many attention-grabbing retro pieces such as the Tretchikoff Green Lady print above the fire. Nearby, sitting atop the buffet are statues of The Madonna, and Pania of the Reef, alongside an old 8mm projector. The projector not only looks interesting as a design feature, it is used to uplight art, and to show movies on the pull-up screen in the outdoor firepit area.

Sally likes collections of things and, a case in point, is the old milk and cream bottles housed in a wire crate in the kitchen. Recent additions to the decor are the rattan lightshades in the patio area (accessed from both the dining room and lounge) and a large, egg-shaped one in the main bedroom.

“I enjoy sitting outside in the gazebo and looking up into my bedroom at dusk. The amazing patterns the lampshade throws out on the walls and ceiling are just so pretty”. Sally also loves a circular Lucy G print called Temptation that has pride-of-place in her hallway. It can be seen from her bedroom and waking up to the sunlight illuminating this piece of art is a real treat, she says.

Hands-on Sally quickly became adept at using a nail gun, skill saw, paintbrush, electric sander and jack hammer ­— oh, and a skateboard, which she used for transporting a huge plant from the back garden to the front when nobody was around to help with heavy lifting.

Beautifying her property involved plenty of outdoor effort as well as the interior makeover. This included major garden projects, replacement of boundary fencing, house painting, gazebo construction, the creation of the fire pit seating area, and the beautification of the patio area out the back. Sally was heavily involved and is hugely grateful to her uncle Ken for masterminding things like the gazebo project, and her mum Lynette for being a working bee star.

While she called a painter in for the exterior of the house, Sally painted the interior, the windows, stairs, ramps, patio and stepping-stones leading to the front door.

Sally had clear plans for her garden and says a subtropical theme was a no-brainer. “I love palms and bromeliads so needed them to live together happily. I also have a small Palm Springs passion. I call the fire pit area, with its towering cacti, ‘Palm Springs Lane’. The rest is subtropical,” she explains.

Sally also decided she wanted varying heights in her garden and a base colour of green with pops of colour. Orange bird of paradise, clivia, blood lily blooms, bougainvillea and vireya are some of the plants offering those pops. Green and height variation come courtesy of the likes of the sago palm, titoki trees, monstera, jelly palm, and the sugar cane palm (one of her favourites). Her bromeliads come in small and giant sizes, and a bird of paradise enjoys an extreme height advantage – one of the first things planted, it is now beyond roof height. Staghorns grow on yucca  – Sally’s attached them with tent pegs. In among the succulents and other cacti in the fire pit area can be found the magnificence of the St Pedro cactus, with its trumpet-shaped, white, heavily-scented blooms that last only 24 hours.

Longer lasting is the weathering steel used as garden edging, as well as the Balinese gates that separate one part of the property from another, a steel screen highlighted by uplights, and the gazebo.

Words by: Monique Balvert-O’Connor. Photography by: Alice Veysey

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