The renovation of this family home in Wellington may have been a slow burn but its joyful way with colour has warmed the heart from day one
On a windy Wellington day, the yellow front door of Fran and Ben Storey’s Houghton Bay home is a vivid beacon amid a grey landscape. Beyond it lies a collector’s heaven: here a vintage wooden oar, there a quirky artwork… The only constant is colour.
Until recently, Fran ran a homeware styling business which mixed pre-loved items with more contemporary pieces.
“Clients would get a group of friends together and I’d take along products that I’d help them style,” says Fran, who moved to New Zealand from the UK with husband Ben in 2003.
But when this started to impact on her full-time role as a health researcher, the former nurse put her hobby on hold. Not surprisingly, many of those demonstration pieces have ended up in her hilltop home. “I’ve always loved interior design and collecting homeware,” says Fran.
If Fran isn’t Wellington’s biggest Christmas fan, then she must come close. The build-up starts around September, when the expat gets out her boxes of decorations, including treasured ornaments inherited from her English grandparents. She usually has two trees – one with every kitschy ornament she can find, the other more tastefully dressed.
“There’s no limit to where I can go with festive decorations,” laughs Fran, who as well as having fun with traditional decor also loves to get creative with everyday objects, such as the old medical lightbox she decorates with washi tape in the shape of a Christmas tree.
“It’s all about having fun and thinking of different uses for objects,” she says.
This instinct for design came in handy during the renovation of their 1950s home, located across the street from the couple’s previous house. “We’d outgrown that place but didn’t want to leave the area. So when this four-bedroom house came up for sale, we jumped at it,” says Fran.
The house wasn’t in great shape, having been rented for many years. “Very little had been done since it was built, but it had the mid-century modern aesthetic I like,” says Fran.
Although both Fran and Ben were renovation novices, the couple rolled up their sleeves and got stuck in straight away, pulling up dated carpet, sanding floorboards and repainting the interior. Their new home’s layout worked well, but all the interior walls needed to be insulated, gibbed and gib-stopped. Once that was done, the main issue was which bit of the house to renovate first.
“We would love to have done the whole renovation at once, but the reality was we had to chip at it over time, as money and our growing family allowed,” says Fran.
This meant the main living area was completed shortly after the Storeys moved in nine years ago, the bathroom was updated two years ago and the basement was converted into a second living area and utilities room last year.
The biggest job of all was turning a separate toilet and bathroom on the upper floor into a large family bathroom. The couple knocked out the dividing wall and repositioned the shower and bath, as well as adding a double vanity.
Fran opted for large matte white tiles on two walls and plain white paint on the other walls to add texture and contrast.
A colourful beachy photographic print above the towel rail was a clever addition to a room that gets the least amount of light. “The glossy photographic paper bounces light around the room and isn’t affected by moisture,” says Fran.
For years, the couple’s friends despaired at their lack of action on their 28-square-metre basement, which was once used as a sewing room by previous tenants who were costumer designers at Weta Workshop.
“‘We had all this space down there but it was just a dumping ground for Ben’s cycling gear and the washing machine,” says Fran. “We knew we had a treasure on our hands; we just had to figure out how to use it.”
They finally settled on a second lounge/TV room where the kids could also practise the piano. Keen to create a separate entrance, Fran asked a friend to build a wooden screen with geometric cut-outs to add interest and shield this new entranceway from the lounge.
A new skylight floods the area with light, illuminating the textured grey and white wallpaper which runs up the stairwell.
They also carved a second bathroom and utilities room out of the downstairs space, giving Fran the dedicated laundry she’d always wanted. “Before, the washing machine was downstairs and the ironing board was upstairs, so it was difficult. Now we’ve got it all in one large room, life is so much easier.”
A self-confessed magpie, Fran found much of her home’s furniture at secondhand stores and then got creative with the paint; examples of her handiwork include a framed pegboard depicting a large ‘H’ and an aqua-framed mirror in daughter Hattie’s room.
“I’m a frequent visitor to the Wellington Tip Shop and often pick up old frames which I paint and fill with things like pieces of pegboard embroidered with my daughter’s initials.”
Fran also repurposed a number of old medical lightboxes as quirky artworks. “A few years ago, lightboxes went digital so there were lots of old ones hospitals no longer needed. All we’ve done is popped a picture in the front.”
Both Fran and Ben love art and did most of their renovation themselves so that they could afford to buy the art they wanted, such as a large oil painting of peonies by Wellington artist Jane Blackmore. But much of the home’s art is by Fran herself, as this clever mum enjoys turning old pieces of fabric and embroidery into unique framed pieces.
Although it’s taken a lot of time and energy to get to this point, the couple aren’t finished yet. The final stage of their renovation is knocking through a wall in the living room to open up the compact kitchen.
“The current kitchen is small; there’s very little bench space and I’m cut off from the living room. But opening up the space will hopefully deal with those issues.”
Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Anna Briggs.