Moving the kitchen from one end of the house to the other is no small feat but it turned this beautiful Wellington villa into a fabulous family home
Meet and greet
Anji Foster, real estate salesperson and co-owner, Jason Lowe, business consultant, Bella, 15, and James, 12, plus Jock the miniature schnauzer.
A major kitchen renovation completely transformed this Wellington villa
Anji Foster has something of the gypsy about her. Not only was the Wellington real estate agent born in Japan (her mother and father, well-known photographer Bruce Foster, were teaching English there), she has also spent time travelling around New Zealand in a house bus and estimates she has lived in 30 homes so far.
“My husband, Jason, and I tend to move every two years,” she says. “Our daughter Bella is 15 but she’s already lived in 15 houses!” But the family’s current abode, a 150-square-metre, four-bedroom villa high on Mt Victoria, is Anji’s favourite, not least because she sold it to the previous owners in 2012.
“We were renting nearby and although I really wanted to buy it back then, it wasn’t in our price range.” Two years later Anji was on the hunt for a property for a client. “I stopped to chat to the owners and asked if they’d be interested in selling.” They were, but this time around the stars aligned sufficiently for Anji to buy it.“It feels like we were supposed to be here,” she says.
A common complaint from potential buyers in 2012 was the disconnection between the kitchen and living spaces. “The layout didn’t work,” says Anji. “The kitchen was at the shady rear of the house, while the afternoon sun and sweeping city views were in the living-and-dining space at the front.”
The couple knew they would have to flip the spaces for the home to work for them, so Anji drew up plans to move the kitchen to the front of the house and to create a formal dining/office/living area opening onto the sheltered, sunny rear courtyard.
The kitchen design was based on a London kitchen Anji had seen in a magazine and features floating shelves with sliding glass panels which run the length of the eastern wall.
Cupboards on the adjacent wall help to disguise the rangehood and provide much-needed storage. Anji opted for Shaker-style cupboards which were meant to be matte black, to contrast with the reflective black floorboards and white walls painted by the previous owners.
“The cupboards are the same colour as the bookshelves in the front living room. But when the bookcases were being installed, I realised they were actually a dark grey. However, it’s a slight mistake that’s turned out for the best, because the contrasting shades work well.”
While the couple chose hard-wearing stainless steel for the working part of the benchtop, a lengthy hunt uncovered the adjoining slab of Italian marble, which started life in a showroom. “We had to remove some of the fence palings to get it in. I was terrified it would be dropped or chipped so I refused to be here when they installed it!” says Anji.
Subway tiles are used on both kitchen walls while the space under the breakfast bar was the perfect spot for the Middle Earth tiles in ‘Sterling Moss’ green that Anji had admired in a Wellington eatery. “As it turned out, our architect had also designed that cafe so he knew exactly the right ones to get.”
Unsurprisingly for someone who sees a lot of homes, Anji had a strong design aesthetic when it came to renovating.“For the kitchen, I wanted a space that looked as though it had always been there. I see a lot of kitchens but wanted something a little different.” Helping her translate this into a design was Wellington architect Sam Martin from Foundation Architecture and Wairarapa company Pete’s Joinery. “The builders had a bit of a challenge working out how to secure the floating shelves, but we got there in the end!
Anji’s love of a dramatic feature wall was achieved in the main bedroom with a striking blue and gold floral wallpaper, which she sourced from the States. “The gold picks up on the tiles in the adjacent ensuite. We’d eventually like to redo the ensuite but for now we’re working around it.”
The dark grey velvet headboard came from local shop Stacks Furniture, while the origami light, which Anji likens to a cloud, is from YOYO Furniture.
Both Bella and James inherited their parents’ passion for design, with James, 12, planning on adding a mezzanine level to his room to accommodate sleepovers. Bella, 15, regularly haunts local and online design stores, picking up tips on how to style her room and, in particular, the pegboard she saved up for, which features a revolving cast of interesting objects.
Keen to start with a blank slate, the couple sold most of their furniture before moving in. One of their favourite new pieces is the Tom Dixon smoked-glass coffee table in the living room which is helpful in deflecting the shiny black floorboards. Black was also the theme when it came to selecting a formal dining table; Jason finally settled on a Kartell design, which also works well with the dark floors.
Another favourite buy is the copper Douglas and Bec light that hangs above the marble benchtop. Similar tones are picked up in the BoConcept light which illuminates the small Citta table tucked into the bay window in the adjacent living area.
Providing access to the courtyard garden was the focus of the second stage of the renovation at the rear of the house. French doors and a window were replaced with custom-made three-metre-long black bifold doors, and white, Shaker-style, floor-to-ceiling cupboards were built into a corner of the dining space, cleverly concealing the laundry and mirroring the black kitchen cabinetry. A compact office was tucked under the window and provides the ideal workspace for this couple, who are both self-employed.
The gallery wall at the back of this room showcases the work of Anji’s photographer father, and features two images of Anji as a child.
The 25-square-metre courtyard garden was “bare and unloved” when the couple bought the property. They’d always wanted an orangerie-type space, so set about installing raised decking and planter beds, which they planted with a mix of trees and box hedging. Anji is also patiently training star jasmine to climb up a wall.
The concrete wall was painted black and the area around the peach tree was reconfigured to provide an additional seating zone. The final touch was the addition of copious outdoor lights, to ensure the sheltered space is usable all year round.
A year and a half after the renovation was completed, the couple say they wouldn’t change a thing. “We were lucky in that we had three months to plan the renovation so we had a clear idea of what we wanted and how to execute it,” says Anji. “But it was a pretty painless process and we’re really pleased with the end result.”
So much so that this serial mover says she’s happy to stay put – perhaps for ever. “I know it sounds crazy, but I cannot imagine ever moving from here!”
Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.