Redesigning their Remuera villa for modern family life ignited new creative passions for this couple, who are now celebrating in classic Christmas style
Meet and greet
Reuben Lamont, Fiona Lamont, Harriet, 4, and Teddy, 2.
A grand Remuera villa is decked in traditional Christmas decor
After a fruitless search that seemed to go on for an eternity, it was as if divine intervention played a part when Reuben and Fiona Lamont bought their character villa in Remuera, Auckland, in mid-2014. “When Reuben was a boy he lived in the same neighbourhood and my grandmother lived just up the road when she was a child,” recalls Fiona. “It was as if fate brought us here.” The couple just happened to be passing one Sunday, spotted the open home sign, walked through and before they knew it, they had made an offer that was accepted later that afternoon.
Typical of its era, the villa had a beautiful character facade complete with a large bay window and a quaint front garden. The interior was as you would expect from a turn-of-the-century villa – lots of small rooms accessed by a long, central hallway. Although the layout wasn’t perfect, the home’s location and the thought of what could be achieved by renovating it sealed the deal for the couple.
Christmas is a time for family, friends and traditions – following the old and creating the new. Fiona has attended a vigil mass on Christmas Eve with her family since she was a child. “It’s absolutely my favourite festive tradition,” she explains. “All the aunts and uncles, grandparents and grandchildren, great-aunts and cousins come together. It’s a wonderful way to start the celebration of Christmas.”
A more recent tradition is ‘Elf on the Shelf’. “Our elf, ‘Ralph’, comes to stay on 1 December, the day we put up our tree,” explains Fiona. “He moves around the house each night after his visit back to Santa to report on the children’s behaviour for the day,” says Fiona. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, ‘Elf on the Shelf’ is a delightful and magical way of encouraging good behaviour, although it’s not always potent enough to get excited children into bed on Christmas Eve.
Try and try again
After living in the house for nearly two years, it became apparent that the gorgeous old villa was not designed for modern family life. “Unfortunately, all the living was situated on the south side of the house so it often felt cool and uninviting,” says Fiona.
Recognising that a renovation would fix the problem and open up all sorts of other possibilities, the pair spent almost a year drawing, critiquing, scrapping and re-drawing until they came up with a new floorplan. They sought help from friend and realtor Roy Champtaloup to ensure their ideas would work for them and would provide a return on their investment should they decide to sell.
“Roy came over with an architect friend to view our plans and they were completely onboard with our ideas,” says Fiona. Reassured that their ideas were sound, Reuben and Fiona went ahead and employed subcontractors to manage the drafting, consent and building process.
Under the renovation, three bedrooms were transformed into an open-plan dining room, lounge and kitchen. The space where the old kitchen once stood is now the family room and the old stairwell has been repurposed as a scullery and office. An extension at the rear of the property houses two large kids’ bedrooms, complete with a whimsical secret passage that is accessed via their separate wardrobes.
With the living spaces now situated on the sunny side of the house, large French doors were installed to create that all-important indoor-outdoor flow, with access to the new deck, swimming pool and spa.
While working on their floorplan, Fiona discovered a passion for interior design so she enrolled at the Nanette Cameron School of Interior Design. “The modules helped me design the kitchen, choose a colour palette and map out a lighting plan,” she says.
Although the interior has a strong French provincial feel, the couple have cleverly paired antiques with more contemporary pieces, lending freshness to the traditional look. “We have repainted numerous old pieces of furniture, giving them a new look,” says Fiona, “but they still work with our traditional decor.”
After the hard work
While Fiona was discovering a love for interior design, Reuben found a knack for all things DIY. He modified the mantelpiece and created the hearth, wallpapered the children’s rooms, laundry and staircase (oh, how we love those stairs!), built and fitted out the wardrobes and created the canopy in the master bedroom.
Now all the hard work is over, the Lamonts are looking forward to a relaxing summer in their beautiful home. The renovation has only recently been completed and, although the family had Christmas in the house last year, it was slightly shambolic as the builders were still on site. This year’s festivities will be the family’s first ‘proper’ Christmas in their finished home, with many more to look forward to.
Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Helen Bankers.