This English-style manor house in Remuera was transformed into a modern home using black, white and more than a little glam
This grand English-style manor in Remuera is the definition of luxury style
Renovating an iconic English-style manor into a luxe mansion with an international feel is no easy feat, but for Paula Herbert it’s par for the course. With an eye honed by years of interior design experience, the former Mrs New Zealand is a savvy stylist who is unashamedly true to herself when it comes to creating her home. Monochromatic is her favourite theme and while this is more often associated with contemporary abodes, the finesse with which Paula has applied it to this grand old dame, in Auckland’s Remuera, shows how modern and classic styles can combine.
Designed in the early 1900s by Roy Binney, who studied architecture with famed English architect Edwin Lutyens, the house was commissioned by prominent businesswoman Amy Hellaby and has since passed through the hands of various prominent business people. Property investor Simon Herbert and his wife, Paula, bought the estate in 2010 and soon found themselves planning how to modernise it to their own exacting standards. First, they wanted to increase the light and sense of space by opening up rooms to create more indoor-outdoor flow and maximise sunshine from the north-facing aspect.
The formal dining room was turned into the family room. “We removed the east and south walls and fireplace, and opened up the kitchen and double-height atrium to create one beautiful open space,” explains Paula. “We also replaced the double-hung sash windows with French doors so that all the living spaces of the house now open out to the northern terraces.” The terraces receive all-day sun and have elevated views to Devonport and Waitemata Harbour beyond.
The atrium is one of her favourite spaces in the home and has hosted many jaw-dropping parties. “I like the light and windows and I love the double-height, open space – it’s quite a special room.
“For my 30th birthday we transformed the atrium into a forest with 30 oak trees which created a big canopy, and then had a long mirrored table on a white carpet and a smoke machine to create the feeling of being in a forest. The table was set with hundreds of crystals and flowers. I like creating an experience – people walk in and get moved by something different.”
A second living area has been transformed into the ultimate retreat and is also a favourite space. “It’s got a collection of pieces – including one of my favourite chandeliers, a French one – and the original fireplace, and these have then been mixed with modern furniture, some of which I had made to complete the room.”
The sitting room flows through to a bar and billiards room. “The bar used to be a small study. We opened up the north side for better light and brightened it further with the antique-mirrored bar and a Carrara Statuario marble bar top.”
The Italian marble is continued in the high-spec kitchen, which features European appliances, plenty of storage and a metres-long benchspace. “The windows are still the same but we added texture with white shutters. The mirrored splashback runs the full length of the kitchen, providing a beautiful reflected view of the garden and harbour beyond. It’s one of my little tricks to mirror the opposite wall to the view which can often make a cold southern wall into a feature.”
The butler’s pantry was previously a powder room, which was relocated to a more generous space under the stairs. Upstairs the master suite is luxe – a bedroom was turned into the walk-in robe and the ensuite features floor-to-ceiling marble.
The robe is a dreamy space filled with Paula’s to-die-for bag and shoe collections. Her favourite designers are Givenchy, Gucci and Balmain with accessories by Valentino and Chanel. “I’ve been to Paris Fashion Week for the past three or four years – it’s around my birthday and Simon always takes me.”
Paula knew she wanted to work in interior design from a young age. “I always felt that I was quite good with spaces so I just went and asked for a job at a home-staging company and worked there for about a year.”
An offer to invest in her own business led her to start what became one of the biggest home-staging companies in New Zealand. She was just 23 at the time. “At one point I think we had 50-60 homes staged at one time,” she says. “We had a lot of inventory – all sorts of furniture: French, modern, Chinese, antique. It all depended on what the client was after. It was pretty amazing; I loved it.”
She sold the company 10 years ago and now works alongside Simon at Empire Capital where she oversees all the interior design plus the creative brand marketing.
“I don’t really have a typical day – it depends on which projects we are working on. Last year was a huge year as we launched Pine Harbour [a 28-apartment waterfront development at a marina in East Auckland] and I’d go to work at 7am and we’d leave at 8 or 9pm.” She also found time that year to redesign the company’s offices: “It’s all marble and aged mirror – a bit of a favourite of mine.”
The pair don’t sit still and are already planning their next projects as well as their usual four months in Europe. Paula appreciates how charmed her life is – and the international travel certainly helps to inspire her interior-design work.
The Herberts also have a beach house in the Bay of Islands, with decor of concrete and glass, and previously built a new home in Queenstown which was later sold (“We had an offer we couldn’t refuse; the lady bought the home and everything in it. We figured we can always do it again,” says Paula).
Whatever the interior style she is working with, though, Paula has a guiding principle that also informs her fashion sense: less is more. “Get rid of the clutter,” she says.
For her personal look, she again favours a monochromatic palette. “I love black and white and maybe a bit of tan or taupe. Black and white are so easy to mix and match.” As for her beauty routine, she uses the full La Prairie skincare regime from cleansers to serums – “This has changed my skin and reduced pigmentation.” Her make-up is always MAC. “I’m pretty natural. I don’t really wear a lot, just sunscreen, base and bronzer with a bit of powder. I tend to always do a neutral eye using browns.”
Whether overhauling your wardrobe or interior, Paula recommends simply finding your style and sticking with it. “I think you can lose who you are and what you’re about if you try to follow trends and keep up with what’s going on. Just be comfortable in your own skin.”
Words by: Tamsin Marshall. Photography by: Helen Bankers.