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A determined young mum stamps her style on a 1970s home

It was cramped and boxy with possibly the world’s smallest, darkest shower, but a determined young mum knew this ‘find’ on Auckland’s North Shore was just what she’d been after

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Who lives here?

Tarryn Donaldson, 27 (marketing manager and Instagrammer @iamtarryndonaldson), husband Ryan, 27 (sales manager), Kylan Riley, 7, and Arden Cruz, 2, plus ginger cats Ted and Harley.


Tarryn and Ryan Donaldson bought their home in Browns Bay, on Auckland’s North Shore, four years ago. “I was quite particular about what I wanted,” says Tarryn. “And ‘particular’ is putting it nicely. I was very fussy. I wanted something in the East Coast Bays, north-facing, no shared driveway, a big backyard, an old place with good bones which we could make our own. I wasn’t asking for much, was I?” she laughs.

It was perfect.

Hideously perfect!

When Tarryn saw a private listing on Trade Me that seemed to fit her exact brief, she leapt on it immediately, whereas Ryan needed some convincing. “It was perfect. Hideously perfect! All I could see was potential but my hubby didn’t share this vision; he couldn’t see its beauty at first. It took a lot of explaining for him to look past what it was and see what it could be.” The original three-bedroom 1970s house had heaps of potential. The building’s bones were good, so there was no need for any major construction or council permits; it was simply a matter of knocking down a few unnecessary walls and stripping it of its buttercup-yellow wallpaper. Over the past three years, the pair did just that, and more, giving their home a total makeover.

The plan

The Donaldsons bought the house in February 2012 (just before the market skyrocketed, Tarryn says) and then rented it out for 10 months while they continued to save up for the work they planned. First on the list? Changing the bright orange roof and dealing to the dingy, dinky kitchen which had drawers so old and grimy no amount of Jif could make them sanitary.

The kitchen was very boxy, as was the rest of the home, so to open out the interior and create a more spacious feeling, the couple knocked out the interior walls separating the lounge, dining room, kitchen and hallway. The entire demolition took only about three hours (Ryan is a whizz with a sledgehammer) and instantly made the space feel 10 times bigger.

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Totally floored

The builders’ report had identified that the house had sub-standard floorboards, but it wasn’t until Tarryn and Ryan ripped up the carpet and saw how wonky and swollen they were, that they realised the entire lot (except for those in the bedrooms) would need to be replaced. It was a costly exercise but they knew it had to be done or it would wreak havoc with the laminate flooring they wanted to lay. Once the flooring was done, the new kitchen was in and the house was in a “liveable” state, the couple, with their young son, Kylan, moved in and slowly worked their magic on the rest of the house.


Out went the single toilet with its carpet runner, and out went the tiny, rotten bathroom with “the world’s smallest, darkest, grossest shower ever”. In their place, a single, large, tiled, contemporary bathroom gradually materialised. The couple methodically replaced all the carpets, fixed the drooping ceiling and painstakingly stripped the wallpaper in the bedrooms (“worst job ever”, Tarryn recalls). The home is on the small side – “You can sit at one end of the house and see the other” – but the pair knew they could make it appear bigger by using a single light-coloured paint throughout.

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Decor style 

Tarryn describes her interiors style as “simple with hints of Scandinavian”. She leans towards a minimalist aesthetic and loves simplicity. “Clutter drives me nuts and stresses me out. A calm, tidy home has a calm, tidy mum in my book.” Tarryn has always been fascinated by interior design, photography and creative pursuits but she’s found that her endeavours have intensified since becoming pregnant with her second son, Arden Cruz, who is now two.

A calm, tidy home

has a calm, tidy mum in my book

“Having a nursery to create from scratch has sparked a borderline obsession with designing rooms and making them a reality on a pint-sized budget,” she says. She’s especially proud of the boys’ unique bedrooms, each with a feature wall that she designed and painted by hand (she did Arden’s while eight months pregnant, in a bikini because it was the middle of summer and stiflingly hot). Kylan got to choose the colour for his room and his talented mum then created a subtle yet striking motif, to give him a calm, relaxing space to chill and play in.

Indoor-outdoor flow

In good Kiwi fashion, Tarryn and Ryan were keen to create as much indoor-outdoor flow as possible. They removed a window from the dining room and put in a set of gorgeous French doors which open to the outdoor area. Not only does this make the room feel more expansive and connected to the outside, it lets in a much-needed breeze on those hot summer days. They also added a bifold window in the kitchen, which opens onto the forthcoming outdoor entertainment area (next on the DIY list).


The playhouse 

Tarryn found the large garden playhouse on Trade Me. It was a doer-upper complete with rotten floors and a leaky roof, but with the couple’s DIY skills, a coat of paint and some Kiwi ingenuity, it came up brilliantly. The stools are old crates to which Tarryn added hinged foam tops, so they could double as storage. The kitchen was made from old TV units, and plywood and dowelling was attached to the walls to provide more display space.

The next move

The home’s exterior has been painted and now all the pair have left to do is execute their big plans for an outdoor entertaining area, which they’re hoping to complete over the next few months so they can all enjoy it next summer.

Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Jackie Meiring.

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