The meticulous refurbishment of this 1920s Herne Bay villa remained faithful to the period with a subtle oriental twist
From the age of six, Daniella Norling remembers accompanying her father on drives around Auckland’s picturesque Herne Bay just so she could study some of her favourite houses. So the design director of Ponsonby’s Trove Interior Design was delighted when she was asked to work her magic on one of the beloved 1920s villas on her childhood wish list.
Norling was also no stranger to the villa’s new owners – a well-travelled, professional couple who no longer have children living at home – as she had already completed a five-star boutique hotel on the South Island for them, as well as their previous home on the North Island. Like Norling, they are passionate about beautiful design and craftsmanship, and sharing her love of art deco, they too wanted the interiors in this house to remain somewhat faithful to the period in which it was built.
Originally commissioned by a high-ranking naval official in the 1920s, the house is an exceptional example of New Zealand’s art deco style, with original mouldings and pillars and stunning double stained glass windows that go all the way up to the third floor gallery and bathe the antique piano and the large formal entrance beyond it in an almost celestial light.
Recent additions to the house – extending the kitchen, building a two-car garage, and adding a front deck – are so sympathetic to the original architecture it’s hard to tell they weren’t always there. The owners even went to the trouble of sourcing original 1920s roof tiles from Iona College in Hawke’s Bay, complete with existing lichen.
Inside, Norling sourced art deco pieces to mix with two more of her favourite styles – 1930s Hollywood regency and chinoiserie. “I love the way these styles ping off each other adding luxury, texture and interest,” she says, standing in the entrance of the house, a space that boasts an impressively large engraved mirrored art deco cabinet by Arte Veneziana, and a caramel-hued Murano chandelier.
No one wants to livein a bowl of porridge
While Norling is usually known for her fearless use of colour, the palette here is muted. Still, she says, she refused to embrace beige. “No one wants to live in a bowl of porridge.” For her, green is a more palatable neutral, so she used grey-greens and mixed them with silver and gold metallics, smoky purples, natural timbers, licorice blacks and sharp, lacquered blacks.
“You can have beauty in subtlety without going the safe route of utter neutrality,” she says.
Case in point: the soft, pearlised chinoiserie wallpaper by GP & J Baker. “It’s what we call ‘gilver’ – gold and silver. Depending on where you walk and where the light is, you get a lot of movement.”
In fact, the wallpaper became a décor solution too, extending the entry hall all the way to the stairs and transforming it into a space that is perfect for a cocktail party. You can almost hear the tinkle of piano keys and the antique loo table (originally designed for playing the card game loo) begs for a plate of canapés. Elegant black lacquered bookshelves display gleaming gold and bronze objects as well as books that hint at the library beyond.
Through the pillars is the formal lounge, a room that is devoid of a television. “It’s about sitting around the fire and spending time getting to know people. Talking, laughing and drinking,” says Norling. To that more convivial end, a deco-esque cocktail cabinet designed by James Salmond is the centre of entertainment for the room. The owners have filled it with Waterford martini glasses in jewel colours.
The coffee table with its glorious veneer is flanked by art deco-style chairs by La Galeria of Ecuador upholstered in a floral velvet by Catherine Martin from her Gatsby collection (Martin won two Oscars for her work on the set of the film The Great Gatsby). Norling left the original tiling on the fireplace as well as a couple of burns on the wooden floor in front of it. “It’s part of the provenance of the house,” she says.
One room Norling cannot take any credit for is the kitchen. Aside from the three shiny black pendant lights that hang over the island, the husband took charge and directed it from start to finish. “The house was designed in three stages,” explains Norling. “Sometimes people can go ‘off piste’ in their own homes and end up with something really disparate. He designed the kitchen after I had finished stage one and I was so touched that he worked with the ethos of what I was doing in the rest of the house and executed it here so beautifully.”
Solid oak cabinetry offsets the thick, delustered marble bench that doubles as the dining room table. “When you come here for dinner, you sit around one end of it,” says Norling. “He’s an excellent cook and it’s really friendly and full of soul.” Tucked away, perpendicular to the kitchen island is a butler’s kitchen with a walk-in pantry, refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, and oven.
Three guest bedrooms take up an entire wing of the home and are illuminated by refurbished original art deco light fittings and lamps. “I will literally search the world for my clients to find the perfect object or piece of furniture,” says Norling. “It’s a pleasure for me.” The feminine ‘rose room’ features a pale pink watered moiré silk headboard with nailing detail and metallic chevron wallpaper from Catherine Martin’s Gatsby collection.
I think the layering of textiles and texturesgives it depth
The masculine counterpart, a room Norling affectionately refers to as the “50 shades of grey room” has three painted pale grey walls and a fourth wallpapered with another silvery art deco-inspired pattern by Martin. The largest of the guest rooms features an array of textures from heavy Edo by Mokum linen curtains and velvet throws, to cottons and embroidery. “This is possibly the most neutral room in the house,” says Norling, “but I think the layering of textiles and textures gives it depth.”
Upstairs is a nursery for when the couple’s two-year-old nephew sleeps over. Original mouldings resembling a circus tent set the tone for Catherine Martin’s Circus Parade wallpaper, filled with big top imagery. “You can sit in this room and tell a story to a child just by picking out a character from the wallpaper,” says Norling. “It’s magical.”
Across the passage, the master bedroom boasts a spectacular view of Cox’s Bay and beyond. It is here that Norling’s love of chinoiserie is given its full expression via a custom-designed pagoda-style headboard upholstered in a linen pattern featuring egrets, and black lacquer side tables with oriental-inspired handles. An armchair in one corner has part of an obi over the back. “I’ve used subtle oriental motifs quite heavily,” she admits. At the foot of the bed, a vintage shaved oriental rug adds warmth to the original wooden floors. “I like my interiors to look like they’ve been built up slowly and lived in and loved.”
Words by: Nadine Rubin Nathan. Photography by: Belinda Merrie.