This brand new home wasn’t exactly love at first sight for the owner
It’s fair to say that when Gretchen Reid saw her brand new house it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. “The only redeeming features were the location, the swimming pool and the flat backyard,” she recalls. “It was so unappealing, it didn’t feel loved. It was such a daunting task, I wasn’t sure I was up for it.”
Having relocated to Auckland after her Christchurch home was damaged during the earthquakes, Reid was keen to re-anchor the family quickly and this was the first place that ticked the all-important location box. The interior, however, left a lot to be desired.
The previous owners had a very utilitarian approach to decorating. There were no embellishments and the kitchen had been industrialised, with low-slung benches, commercial-style cookers and a giant extractor fan dominating the ceiling space. Worse still, says Reid, was the bathroom which came complete with a urinal.
“It was horrendous,” she says. “I think the previous owners may have run it as a private restaurant. When we were doing the fit-out we put everything on the side of the road and it all went – except the urinal, which didn’t surprise me one bit.”
Looking around now, it’s hard to believe the house was once the cold concrete box she describes. The home Reid shares with husband Richard and young daughters Frankie and Hazel is beautifully warm and luxurious: the decorating equivalent of tucking into a box of Godiva chocolates, comforting and exquisite all at the same time. The stunning interior is testament to the wonderful working relationship Reid enjoyed with interior designer and family friend Melissa Greenough.
“I could see it had really good bones and there was a lot of potential to make it into a really beautiful and inviting family home, but it was one of those properties where you had to really push the parameters,” says Greenough.
Having worked as a floral designer in New York – with clients such as Condé Nast (publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair), Jennifer Lopez and Martha Stewart – and as an importer of Argentine antiques alongside her flourishing interiors career, Greenough was the first person Reid thought of when she knew she’d need help.
“We met through mutual friends years ago, Melissa has a wonderful eye and a really beautiful way of putting things together. I trust her judgement and knew I’d be in safe hands,” says Reid.
First on the extensive to-do list was the kitchen.
“I’m not a brilliant cook, I’ll admit that,” says Reid, “but we do a lot of entertaining and the kitchen is the heart of the house, so it has to serve a lot of purposes.”
Together the pair settled on an all-white look punctuated with black, including the taps, sinks and a beautiful Tom Dixon pendant light hanging over the benchtop.
“We’ve introduced a lot of layers,” says Greenough.
“The Santa Fe shutters add a rustic look and work really well to block out the neighbours while still letting in lots of light.”
The cabinetry was custom-made by Superior Kitchens in Auckland and Greenough commissioned a gorgeous antique mirror splashback to cover one wall. “I wasn’t sure about that when Melissa suggested it,” says Reid, “but now that it’s in, I can see it was a completely inspired choice and it adds a little bit of glamour.”
A beautiful six foot stone urn resting against the wall in the adjacent formal dining room also dials up the glamour.
“I always like to bring in unexpected bits and pieces and find a place for them in a home and Gretchen has such eclectic taste I knew she’d appreciate it,” says Greenough.
Reid’s love of beautiful things is showcased in the formal living room. Here, she and Greenough created a series of small vignettes that tell the story of the family’s life and travels. “A house should represent the people who live in it,” says Reid. “I love having all my favourite things around me and bits and pieces I’ve picked up overseas or that have been handed down by relatives. It makes a house a home.”
Many of these treasures, including Royal Doulton tea sets, a feathered head piece used in a Vogue photo shoot and vintage crystal curtain tassels, have been displayed inside a beautiful antique armoire that Greenough imported from Argentina and painted in shiny black lacquer.
The sofa and ottoman were custom-made and upholstered in gorgeous metallic fabrics from Paris. These work beautifully with a pair of wingback chairs that originally belonged to Richard’s parents and have since been reupholstered in black velvet.
The showstopper, however, is the set of chocolate and gold geometric print curtains running along an entire wall.
“I spotted these in a magazine article featuring the apartment of contributing Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo and just had to have them,” says Reid. “Melissa must have thought I was mad showing her this picture where you could only see a tiny snippet of the curtains, but she tracked them down and I took a deep breath and ordered them, hoping they would look as good as I thought they would.”
Reid needn’t have worried. The result is stunning and while the room is undeniably sumptuous, it’s not in the least bit intimidating. An array of beautifully scented candles, made by local brand Illumina, and fresh flowers placed throughout, immediately create a lived-in atmosphere.
Upstairs in the bedrooms, Greenough intentionally kept the underlying palette neutral, employing hand-painted white wallpapers and soft cream paints, while adding contrast with soft furnishings and accessories. The velvet headboards in the girls’ rooms were custom-made and beautiful linen curtains in the master bedroom puddle luxuriantly on the floor.
Along with collecting beautiful objects, Reid is also a lover of New Zealand art, particularly favouring South Island painters like Séraphine Pick, the late Ben Webb and Cameron Foggo. She has even graced the pool house with a series of abstract works by her good friend Bronwyn Abbott.
“I really didn’t know what to do with the space so Melissa suggested I brighten it up by adding the paintings and light fittings and popping the shutters around the door – now it looks beautiful,” enthuses Reid.
Now the family is living in Auckland, Reid has enjoyed creating a subtropical garden that is in stark contrast with the outdoor space they left behind in Christchurch. She likens it to a hidden oasis in the middle of the city.
“I love all the gorgeous plants, I can’t believe I can grow hibiscus finally,” she says.
Living in a new city means the family has faced a lot of ‘firsts’, but the move has brought them closer together.
“I love this house now,” says Reid. “It just works really well for us as a family home. I can sit here in the kitchen and watch the kids jumping in and out of the pool and just relax. It’s almost perfect.”
That “almost” is because the downstairs still needs to be tackled, but for now there’s a TV and media room and other rooms are being used for extra storage.
Reid and Greenough say they’d love to work together again soon. “Maybe we could do another project,” says Greenough. “Ooh. That would be fun,” replies Reid.
If this collaboration is anything to go by, that would certainly be something to see.
Writer: Nicole Curin-Birch.
Photographer: Helen Bankers.