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This art deco dream has been lovingly, and boldly, restored

This art deco home in Palmerston North was renovated over 10 months by an owner with creative flair and a no-fear approach to decorating


Who lives here? 

Julie Atwell Roberts (florist), Anthony Roberts (pharmacy owner), Jackson, and Julie’s mother, Joan, plus Penny the Staffy, cats Timmy, Goose and Stella, and four chickens.


Julie Roberts has always enjoyed swimming against the tide. In the 1980s, when others were wearing puffball skirts and fingerless gloves, the Palmerston North florist was sporting a mohawk and ripped jeans. And while most homeowners got busy knocking down walls to create open-plan kitchen/living spaces, this mother of two insisted on finding a house with separate rooms. It’s one of the features that attracted her to their 1926 art deco home when she and pharmacist husband Anthony returned from living in the UK 10 years ago.

“I’m not a fan

of big, open spaces

“I’m not a fan of big, open spaces,” says Julie. “My preference is for distinct rooms that allow each of us to have our own space.”

The couple also liked the no-fuss art deco style and the fact that when they bought the house in 2006, they were able to move in without making major changes. “Instead, we spent our money on buying Anthony’s pharmacy. Our plan was to do the renovation over a number of years but when my mother, Joan, moved in with us in 2014, that put a rocket under the whole project.”

Bold colour 

If there’s one thing Julie loves more than distinct living spaces, it’s the colour black. Not only does she like dressing in it, she’s always hankered after dramatic black walls. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the chance to put her plan into action in any of her three previous homes in the UK.

As luck would have it, there were a couple of tins of black paint left over from painting the pharmacy, so Julie leapt at the chance to apply her favourite colour to the living room’s west wall. It proved an immediate talking point.

It’s so dramatic

that it hits you as soon as you walk in the front door

“It’s so dramatic that it hits you as soon as you walk in the front door. In a practical sense, it also provides a great backdrop for the many treasures I’ve collected over the years.”

Plus it allows Julie to accessorise with colourful cushions and flowers – temporarily. “Whenever I buy anything too colourful my friends laugh and ask when they can have it because they know that I’ll soon get tired of it and replace it with something black!”

The leftover black paint also found its way into the revamped kitchen, onto half a wall inside the entrance, and behind the bed in the master bedroom.

When it came to the exterior colour, the former “insipid” grey-blue shade was never going to last long under Julie’s watch. Having once painted the walls of an Irish garden centre, where she was working, in a vibrant green, she was determined to recreate the effect.

“It’s such a happy colour and makes the garden planting stand out more.”


Making room 

Having an elderly parent move in required some rejigging of the living spaces. Fortunately, daughter Georgia moved to Nelson, freeing up her room for the new arrival. Julie’s builder clawed space from the family toilet to install a small ensuite and walk-in wardrobe. Moving a door and a wall by 20cm in the main bathroom enlarged the neighbouring toilet and made for a more efficient use of space.

Julie also converted her office into a living room for her mother, then got her builder to construct a nine-square-metre building in the back garden, which both she and Anthony now use as their office.


Kitchen renovation

Julie wasn’t keen to fork out thousands on a new kitchen benchtop. Instead, she had her builder cut wooden tops to fit around the windows, which cost around $400. She also painted the cabinets black and replaced the handles.

A custom-built cabinet housing the cooktop, oven and microwave was built in the same timber at a fraction of the price Julie was quoted for a bespoke kitchen.


Designer style on a budget

Although Julie brought a few things back from the UK, she used the move as an opportunity to indulge her magpie gene. Being addicted to op shops and Trade Me has allowed her to furnish the house well within budget.

One of her most treasured finds is the black leather chesterfield sofa in the living room. Not only did it go with the red leather chesterfield she shipped back from the UK (which is now in the sun room), it also turned out to have an interesting history.

“We drove to Wellington to pick it up and the sellers told us their parents had received it as a wedding present in Palmerston North 40 years ago. It felt good to be bringing it back to its home city.”

The pendant lights hanging above the dining room table were a fortuitous find, swapped at a secondhand store for an old leather chair, while the vintage medicine bottles and scales in the kitchen were found in a dusty back room at Anthony’s pharmacy.

Julie is also a dab hand at unearthing hidden treasures, including two chairs she found in a local op shop that sported bright red vinyl coverings. “I started to peel the vinyl off and discovered this amazing, suede-like grey fabric underneath. It took hours to peel it off but it was worth it.”


The 10-month renovation process

Along with modernising the dated kitchen, the plan was to turn daughter Georgia’s bedroom into a space for Julie’s mother by adding an ensuite and walk-in wardrobe, as well as enlarging and reconfiguring the family bathroom. Julie drew up the plans and had them refined by a local draughtsperson. But on day one of the renovation, their builder realised the entire southern wall of the house was rotten and had to be removed.

That added time and cost to the project but the ever-resourceful Julie managed to claim back some money by double-glazing most of the windows herself.

“I did a lot of research and ended up getting sheets of Perspex cut to size which I screwed to the window frames. It’s made such a difference in terms of warmth and condensation.”

The 10-month renovation also turned an awkward cupboard space into a media storage room which hides all the plugs and cords that Julie hates, as well as recessing the wall next to the entrance to accommodate a filing cabinet bought at a secondhand store which now holds the family’s shoes. “Previously, the filing cabinet used to stick out and people would bang into it, but we got our builder to recess it slightly to streamline the space.”

And while most architectural epiphanies don’t usually happen in the bath, Julie hit on the idea of moving the toilet door in the master bathroom while soaking in the clawfoot bath she painted black.

“I was staring at the wall and realised that if we moved it by 20cm, not only would it give us a larger toilet it also meant we could installa large external window in the toilet.”

She added a new shower with a generous double head and converted the tiny former shower into a make-up cupboard.

Words by: Sharon Stephenson. Photography by: Nicola Edmonds.

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