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An auction-weary family saved the best until last

An auction-weary family found the best had been saved till last when they discovered a 1950s Devonport home in need of a helping hand. Story by Debbie Harrison


Who lives here?

Kate Alexander (interior stylist and owner of Places & Graces), Matt Kardos (enterprise architect for Electric Kiwi), Harry, 9, and Molly, 6, plus Mindy the Jack Russell.


This is a fairytale that starts like so many Auckland real-estate stories: a couple go to open home after open home, looking for something that fits their brief and – optimistically – their budget. Every weekend for six months, they search; they bid at three auctions and miss out. Then their luck changes. They spy a 1950s cedar weatherboard home in seaside Devonport, make a pre-auction offer and the next minute they’re ecstatic homeowners.

“The irony is that the one we ended up with was the best one for us, so it was a good lesson in just being patient,” reflects owner Kate Alexander. It was a goodie, all right – great central location, the right size for a young family, good bones and the potential to add value. Nothing had been done to it since the 1990s so it was a blank slate, which suited interior stylist Kate down to the ground.


The reno

Before they even moved in, Kate and partner Matt had already worked out a solid game plan. They knocked down a wall between the lounge and the kitchen to open the living area up. They took the space that was the TV alcove and reversed it, using it instead for the pantry and fridge. Out came the old kitchen (part of it is now the bench in Matt’s workshop) and in went a new DIY version from Mitre 10. The entire interior was treated to a lick of white paint and immediately the home started to look a little more loved and usable.

In the six years since, there have been many more changes: new colours on walls, a custom-built desk and cabinetry in a nook in the main bedroom, and the addition of a studio for Kate.

Waste not, want not

“We really like re-purposing,” Kate says. There’s examples of this all through the home: the pantry door was once one of the glass bi-folds that connected the lounge and kitchen, while the gold lights in the en suite were unearthed when Matt’s parents were tidying their garage (their old bathroom cabinets have also made their way into Kate and Matt’s home, transformed into part of a desk and cabinetry in the main bedroom).  The dinghy was found in a vintage shop; Kate has plans to fill it with ice and Champagne for a party.


Kate’s studio

Previously, there was a half-metre gap between the garage and the outdoor laundry shed. Matt and Kate remedied this by joining the two together to create a studio where Kate designs, writes and stores her styling props. They lined the room, removed the roller doors and installed glass doors and windows bought from a demolition yard (a few weeks later they were watching the 2013 series of The Block NZ and realised their joinery had come from one of the show’s houses in Hauraki). Matt and Kate did all this work themselves. “Matt’s amazing at DIY,” says Kate. “He could be an architect or an engineer. He has this natural ability to figure out problems.”


The outdoors

The garden was where there was real potential, says Kate. The enclosed deck off the lounge was usable but sparse and ugly, plus the painted bitumen got really hot in summer, so the couple added fake grass to make it cool underfoot and painted the deck wall in the same soft green as the lounge for cohesion. They have also worked to better integrate the south-facing deck, joining it to a retaining wall, adding a platform for a spa and building wide steps down to the levelled-out garden below.

Happily ever after

When you find your fairytale ending, you hang onto it! Kate and Matt plan to still be here in their retirement years, probably “plodding through a list of more house projects”, they joke.

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Story by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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