This family’s whole-hog renovation was a rocky road but they’ve emerged with a beautiful home designed ‘100 percent’ for them ‘and zero percent for resale
When popular mum-stagrammer Vanessa Rehm and husband Shane first found their 1960s home in Mangere Bridge, Auckland, they immediately knew it was the place for them. They’d made a wishlist and this house emphatically ticked many of the boxes: separate garage, on a street they liked, north-facing, great indoor-outdoor flow, a full-sized section, and the potential to improve.
Besotted, they settled in, making only two minor changes to the house in those first few years: an awkward fireplace was removed and a tomato-red kitchen wall was struck from the menu. “I feel very strongly about feature walls and this one was a killer,” laughs Vanessa.
But after five years, the couple – by now the parents of three young children – were starting to feel the squeeze. They needed more space, including a bigger living area to hang out in, an additional bathroom, an office that Vanessa could work from, and a larger laundry. Initially, they planned to tweak just a few areas of their home, but after a couple of conversations, they realised that if they were going to do a renovation, they should do it properly.
With that decision made, it seemed logical to reconfigure the house to make every room work. “Once we decided to go the whole hog [and rejig the layout], all the things that weren’t making sense or ‘fitting’ properly suddenly made sense and worked,” says Vanessa.
As their home is the go-to destination for a lot of family get-togethers, Vanessa and Shane were keen to make their kitchen, dining and living spaces bigger and purpose-built for easy entertaining and family living.
By altering the layout of the kitchen and dining areas, they were able to move the scullery to a more efficient location and really open up the entire space. They also created a more defined entrance (previously there was no proper entryway – just a door opening onto a narrow hallway) plus a nook in the kitchen where the kids could do homework and use screens under the watchful eye of their parents.
“We love the idea of keeping the kids in the family space as much as possible. They used to use the kitchen bench, but now go to the homework nook when they want to do screen-based homework and writing,” says Vanessa.
The idea for the vertical-slat divider between the kitchen and the entryway was sparked by the stairwell in Vanessa’s friend’s house. “We hadn’t agreed on how to finish the space – Shane wanted a solid wall and I wanted a half-wall along the two steps that go into the entrance – and this was the perfect compromise. We tied the slats into the desk space by using the same ply, which also gives it a bit of added character,” says Vanessa. They left the bedrooms and bathroom in situ, but added a new master bedroom and ensuite.
Vanessa is a big foodie (she used to write regularly about food on her blog ‘The Bubbalino Kitchen’, which is now called simply ‘Vanessa Rehm’) so the kitchen was the highlight of the renovation for her.
“As for my kitchen must-haves, I definitely wanted a large island bench with a sink and pull-out mixer, plus a Fisher & Paykel double DishDrawer (but on either side of the sink rather than stacked because who likes bending down to load and unload the dishwasher?).
“I also wanted full-height rubbish and recycling bins so I wasn’t emptying them every day, a pull-out spice rack, exposed shelving, drawers in the scullery, gas hobs, a wide oven for lots of baking, and subway tiles. I got it all and I feel very lucky every day!” she declares with a laugh. Putting in a scullery, she says, was the best decision of all. “Having a door to shut things away is amazing. The space that everyone said I would have so much trouble filling is one of my favourites,” she says.
This was their first renovation – and it wasn’t the best introduction. “We learned so many lessons and would do a lot of things differently next time… should there be a next time,” says Vanessa.
The builder they’d signed up with (and paid a deposit to) sold his business without advising the Rehms. He’d slipped a clause into the contract “which effectively meant we were passed on to the new owners without the option of pulling out”, says Vanessa.
The new owners had no previous experience in the New Zealand residential market. The build took significantly longer than expected and issues such as planning and communication caused a great deal of stress. “Next time I’d ensure we were a lot more thorough about the paperwork with the building company so we wouldn’t end up in a stressful situation like that again. We’d get the contract checked over thoroughly by a lawyer, regardless of the cost,” she says. On top of this, the family also navigated multiple moves while the building work took place.
“We spent eight weeks living with my in-laws, then four weeks with my mum. We house-sat for three weeks over Christmas, then went back to the in-laws for a final four weeks. I sure don’t miss that 30-minute-one-way school run each morning and afternoon!” says Vanessa.
To add to this, Shane’s work took him overseas a lot during the renovation. “It was hard not having him around for big decisions, especially when the relationship with the building company was strained. I feel like things would have been a total walk in the park if we’d used a different company.”
The best bits
Engineer Shane double- and triple-checked the design, ironing out all the details before work began. This close scrutiny, says Vanessa, is what has led to them being so happy with the final result. “Our layout is perfect and there is truly nothing we would do differently if we had our time again,” she says.
Shane also proved handy on the tools, creating the homework nook and building the mudroom shelves and laundry seating. The couple are super-happy with their decision to recolour the existing aluminium window joinery, from denim blue to white, reporting that it has made a huge difference for a relatively minimal outlay.
The interior style
Vanessa favours a simple, classical style and wanted the newly renovated interior to be clean and bright with splashes of colour – and an all-white kitchen. “Shane said that an all-white kitchen would be too sterile, but I stuck to my guns and there is nothing sterile about it,” she says happily.
All the decor choices were based on two criteria: they had to be family-friendly and they had to inspire happiness. For the newly configured space, the couple invested in some new furniture, including a corner couch to replace two leather sofas, a lamp, a glass coffee table and a large jute rug to go under the dining table (to define the dining space). The only problem was the Rehms couldn’t find a table and bench seat of the right size and in a price range they could afford, so Shane whipped up his own instead. With the addition of replica metal Tolix chairs, this area has become a favourite venue for singalongs at dinners with extended family.
The two kids’ bedrooms received a fresh coat of paint, some new soft furnishings and, in the case of Aston and Beau’s shared room, some fun map and dot decals (cheaper and less permanent than wallpaper). For the master bedroom, Vanessa broke with her usual convention and added lots of colour.
“I love a white interior and Shane is much more partial to colour, so to show him that I’m really good at compromising, I suggested painting our bedroom in a colour. I found a picture on Pinterest of my dream room and then tried furiously with the team at Dulux to match the colour. We didn’t end up with the same shade but, after around 15 different tester stripes on the wall, we arrived at this gorgeous soft blue, which is so relaxing. I still look down the hallway each day and love it. It’s Dulux ‘North Cape Half’.”
“We renovated 100 percent for our family and lifestyle and zero percent for resale. We plan on living here for the next 10 years or more,” says Vanessa – but with an unexpected hiatus. A few months ago Shane was seconded to California for two years and the family have now headed to the States, renting their home out in the meantime. “But we’ll be back and we plan to stay here until the kids have finished school, at least – unless another curveball comes along!” Vanessa laughs.
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: Vanessa Lewis.