Christmas is a colourful affair in this 1920s Auckland bungalow where little family traditions make the season extra special
A snowy white Christmas is something most Kiwis find difficult to envisage; after all, we’re busy enjoying backyard barbecues, camping trips and walks on the beach come December 25. So when New Zealander Mary-Ellen Hinton stayed in Germany as an exchange student, she was enchanted to experience a storybook snow-clad Christmas come to life, and it made a lasting impression.
“Germans have the most amazing Christmas traditions – the trees, the decor, the markets,” says Mary-Ellen. “One of my good friends always had a 10-foot tree with decorations that were family heirlooms, passed down through the generations.”
Mary-Ellen now aims to give her children a similar experience by choosing a tree and purchasing hand-picked decorations to build a sense of tradition they’ll cherish. She draws inspiration from many sources, including her extensive travels, as well as her interiors business, Hello Saturday.
“We are lucky enough to have a Christmas tree farm just down the road,” she says. “So every year we go on a family outing to choose the tree and take photos of the kids amongst the Christmas trees.”
The traditional theme of a real tree and white decorations fits in well at the family’s 1920s home where a monochromatic palette is the backdrop to bright bursts of colour, ensuring that Christmas is a fun and cheerful mix-don’t-match affair.
The Hintons’ traditional bungalow in central Auckland reflects Mary-Ellen’s love of colour and art, but it was a different story when she and husband Matthew purchased it in 2013. Back then, it was a tired old home with very dated decor.
“We loved the fact that it still had its original layout, with very few alterations over the years – it was the same size as it was in 1922. It had great bones and had been well maintained but it was a styling disaster. It was largely yellow inside and out and ripe for a makeover.”
Wasting no time, the couple enlisted professionals to carry out a renovation before they moved in. “Because of the colour scheme, we knew we needed to do some work on the house first. So we put all our belongings into storage and started work straight away. We were lucky enough to have family we could stay with and visit the house every few days.”
With the efficiency that she applies to her professional projects at Hello Saturday, Mary-Ellen project-managed the renovation, starting with the removal of all the window treatments and light fittings on day one, and finishing with the replacement and sanding of floorboards.
A new sleek black kitchen, set against whitewashed floorboards and white high-stud walls, formed the striking centrepiece of the renovation and has proved to be the perfect backdrop for Mary-Ellen’s ever-growing collection of colourful ceramics and vases.
“We (I say ‘we’ because my husband does get consulted, but we always agree so it’s very easy) chose to have a black kitchen and love the bold statement it makes,” says Mary-Ellen. “We went with black cabinetry and splashback for the back wall and white on the front with a white benchtop, and used cup handles throughout to add interest. Six years on, it’s really stood the test of time.”
Mary-Ellen finds it hard to define her aesthetic, but one clear characteristic is her love of art. Every wall, nook and corner displays pieces collected locally and from around the globe.
Her home’s strong monochromatic base has become the perfect canvas for these treasures, although recently there has been a foray into wallpaper with a tropical toucan design appearing in the bathroom (pictured on page 73) and a whimsical botanical print in the sunroom.
“I love colour but not harsh primary colours,” says Mary-Ellen. “I like soft tones and believe that when you’re choosing paint, you should think about the colour you want, look at it on a chart and then go down three or four shades. When it’s on the wall, it looks so much darker, especially if you have it with a lot of white.”
At a Hinton Christmas, you can count on a beautifully set table with hand-picked ceramics, botanicals and colourful decorations keeping the look relaxed and fun. Another fixture is the annual trip to Smith & Caughey’s to see Santa and gaze at the window displays, the quirky storytelling always delighting the kids.
“It’s not London but it is a little bit of tradition we can take part in, and the displays never cease to surprise and enchant us,” says Mary-Ellen.
After more than six years in their lovely home, a move is afoot. With the bungalow just sold, the family are looking forward to one last Christmas there before heading off camping with friends, and then on to their new home.
Words and styling by: Tina Stephen. Photography by: Helen Bankers.