From restored antiques to enchanting textiles, this immaculate home in St Heliers, Auckland, is a treasure trove of special finds
There’s evidence of tender, loving care in every corner of this St Heliers, Auckland, home – from the animal statuettes standing proudly on a field of gold cabinets to the mix of original and newly added leadlight windows, framed one and the same by the black shingle exterior. How else could Nigel and Diane Davidson have pulled off an extensive renovation that is so in keeping with their 1930s home that it looks like its original inhabitants have lived there all along?
Diane, a Dunedin girl, was driving through the area when she first spied the house 15 years ago. It stopped her in her tracks. “I love a house that’s got a heart or a tradition to it. I just felt that when I saw it,” she recalls.
At the time, she was living with her husband at the boutique Epsom motel they had owned for 29 years, in a two-bedroom unit – “Hence when we went looking for a house, we got this ridiculously sized house!”
The pair moved into the heritage home in 2013 – nine years after they bought it – allowing them plenty of time to dream up plans. “We did our homework well,” says Diane. “I think if you are doing any alterations you have to work ahead.”
Like most original New Zealand homes, the place had good bones but needed to be opened up and levelled out for modern living, which the Davidsons undertook with architect Jason Bailey. “We’ve been meticulous about the architecture, making sure it was all seamless,” says Diane.
The main additions are an extension to the master bedroom upstairs, to house an ensuite and walk-through wardrobe, and a patio deck on the ground floor, which flows from French doors and leads to a newly manicured garden and entertaining area. The street front was made all the more welcoming with a widened driveway and an off-street entrance added to the standalone garage. A second garage attached to the front of the house was converted into a self-contained office.
For the interior, the home has been given an eclectic, timeless touch through Diane’s use of colour, texture and her collection of restored furnishings. A striking example of this is the dining room in the heart of the home, between the front entrance hallway and the kitchen at the back. There’s silver art deco wallpaper from Textilia on all four sides and a gilded covering smoothed onto the ceiling – bouncing light easily from the handmade Italian chandelier down to the Catherine Martin ‘Rhapsody’ rug, made of New Zealand wool, from Designer Rugs.
The built-in serving cabinet in the room – an original feature – has been buffed and polished, with a craftsman adding framing to the sides and installing lighting carefully into the arched top, to showcase the tableware collection inside. Mirrors have been inserted into the back to reflect the rest of the room, which can be closed off with original bevelled sliding doors. An intimate and lustrous space, it’s the jewel in this home’s crown.
Diane’s toughest design decision was painting over the original wall panelling throughout the home. “It was beautiful, just gorgeous, but we would have the lights on during the day, and you can’t live like that,” she explains.
To bring warmth back in, the original matai floorboards were exposed and custom rugs were ordered to give a sense of comfort. “You walk into the home and you feel warm and you feel as though you can sit down and put your feet up, and that’s important,” says Diane.
Coordinating curtains replaced the Venetian blinds in most of the rooms, to add to the sense of softness. “Drapes give a house personality,” she explains. “The house wraps itself around you and that’s what makes it a home.”
Having rebuilt and refurbished their motel, Diane knows where to source special objects and is always on the hunt for a unique piece. Most of the furniture is not new – it’s been found at auction, brought with them from the motel or has been sitting in storage just waiting to come home.
Of course, you have to know how to ensure secondhand or stored pieces stay special, and Diane enlisted the help of experts along the way. One, in particular, is fashion designer and interior specialist Patrick Steel. “I didn’t want someone to take over; I wanted someone just to help me and become my mentor. He’s a busy person, so I couldn’t spend a lot of time with him, but the time I did spend with him was invaluable.”
With the help of her specialists, Diane learned to gild her own finds and choose fabrics that could become the basis of her colour palettes. “I’m never too scared to ask people,” she says. “I’ve learned such a lot, and I’ve met lovely people along the way.”
One such authority, Yvonne of Yvonne Sanders Antiques, instinctively knew what pieces would work in the home, from the large crystal vases on the dining room table to the colourful art deco lights for the three bathrooms. A large mirror in the formal lounge is actually a French bedhead that has been glazed at Yvonne’s suggestion. Seeing as it was the perfect size and shape, Diane could not pass up the opportunity of restoring this piece for its new purpose.
Diane has learnt to look at things differently. Silver and golds meld throughout the home to add to an inviting sense of warmth. A gold candelabra next to a black panther miniature is made all the more striking for being teamed with liquorice-coloured candles. “It’s a bit different and I like things that can be a little bit quirky and unexpected.”
One room that needed a lot of attention was the kitchen, which had been renovated by a previous owner and sported dated, denim-blue cabinetry. Diane’s new design is more streamlined with Irish granite used throughout, even on the splashback. The repeated use of the stone and the addition of a large window – which opens the bench up to the outside entertaining zone – has made it feel much more spacious. “We can talk to our friends [through the window]. It’s very sheltered. With the music and the lights at night, it has a lovely feeling.”
A deliberate decision to hide all the plugs in the kitchen cabinets ensures the beautiful bench stays tidy, and Blum soft-close drawers and sorters in the solid oak cupboards add to the ease of the new kitchen. A last-minute decision to include a butler’s pantry was a saving grace. Tucked behind the fridge and with a door to the side of the house, it also holds the laundry.
After being restricted at the motel, the Davidsons are enjoying their private garden and pergola complete with running grapes. The flowers are all fresh white – roses, hydrangeas and gardenias – and chosen to not detract from the home but enhance the view of it.
As the owners of award-winning Askari Cattery, the Davidsons’ garden is also home to a number of exotic and Persian cats. Down the side of the house, streamlined glass fencing either side of the cattery gives the fluffy residents a surprisingly stylish playpen. The kittens are allowed indoors to be house-trained (although not in the formal lounge), and two of the cats, Bugeyes and Mrs Wobbles, have become permanent pets – Mrs Wobbles particularly likes the yellow guest room downstairs and can spend all day lounging on her Laura Ashley throw.
They may be cat lovers, but Diane and Nigel also have three dogs in the house – life-size ceramic statues of a bulldog, Afghan hound and white hound watching over the rooms. Another unexpected conversation-starter, these are just more examples of the cherished pieces that abound in this characterful home. “Your place has got to have a heart,” says Diane. “So you can walk into a place and say, ‘Yes, I can belong here.’”
Words by: Jessica Belle Greer. Photography by: Helen Bankers.