A converted historic building in Auckland’s central city houses a magical home filled with an array of lush tropical plants – as well as one very stylish couple
Meet and greet
Ron Goh, digital designer, and Matthew O’Brien, customer care manager, plus Ninny the chihuahua and Teddy the miniature schnauzer.
This converted historic building is brimming with indoor plants
Behind an oversized oak door flanked by gargoyles and lion statues lies an unexpected sanctuary. A short climb up the stairs to Ron Goh and Matthew O’Brien’s apartment reveals high ceilings, glowing floorboards and up-close views of a city skyline reminiscent of a New York loft apartment.
However, it’s Auckland’s tower blocks, offices and cranes that crowd the horizon, rather than the Lower East Side’s. The apartment is located in the CBD’s Victoria Precinct, a far cry from the couple’s previous home in the Auckland region’s southernmost township.
“We were living in Pukekohe for three years while working full-time in the city,” remembers Ron. “The long commute was exhausting so we decided to search for a house closer to the city centre, but were blown away by the prices compared to what we had further out. After turning up to a few auctions, we decided to focus on a search for an apartment instead, which led us to this beautiful gem.”
Back blocks to inner city
Ron and Matthew’s new neighbourhood enables this couple to enjoy an easy-to-love lifestyle that keeps them close to work without compromising on style. Unlike many cookie-cutter apartments in the city, their new home provides an ideal backdrop to their lives.
“It’s the perfect location, being so close to the city, but it’s still so quiet most of the time,” says Ron. “We are near lots of nice eateries, restaurants, cafes and gyms. We’re within walking distance of anywhere we’d like to go. We enjoy taking the dogs for walks to Ponsonby Road, Victoria Park or even the waterfront and Silo Park. They are all just a stroll away, which is like living the dream compared to where we were before. This is the best location we could ever ask for.”
The heritage-listed apartment features an original brick facade that is in stark contrast with nearby office buildings and newly completed apartment blocks. A cantilevered deck on the north side of Ron and Matthew’s living space is accessed via double French doors, creating a perfect outdoor space for taking in the view or entertaining friends.
“The first year we lived here we hosted a cosy New Year’s Eve party for some of our closest friends,” says Ron. “We’ve got these great views of the Sky Tower, and it was fantastic to spend the evening with people who in previous years might not have been able to make it because we used to live so far from the city. This time, being right in the middle of it meant we could have people over with no worries. It was a very cool evening.”
Even with all the essential ingredients for a breathtaking space – huge windows, whitewashed walls and vistas of the Sky Tower and Waitemata Harbour – this home has been taken to the next level thanks to Ron and Matthew’s impeccable taste in furniture and homeware.
However, it’s the couple’s beautiful foliage plants that are the star of the show and lush green growth has all but taken over the living space. Clustered in various pots on every available tabletop, ledge and inch of floor space, these specimens seem so at home that it would be easy to believe they’ve always been here. Ron has created a lush, conservatory-style space enhanced by soft, filtered light from the northern windows.
“I wasn’t really a plant lover before we started living in this house two years ago,” he says. “Over time, and after many visits to various plant stores, watching trends (some quite adventurous) build and grow online really ignited a passion in me.”
Potty for plants
Now a self-confessed “crazy plant person”, Ron has amassed a strong following on social media thanks to his burgeoning plant collection and penchant for styling. It is a love affair that started with the purchase of a single plant, which interestingly is often the first one guests comment on.
“I don’t think I’d impulse-buy a massive plant from Trade Me again, thinking I could get it into my car when in reality it was way too big and messy to move on my own!” Ron laughs. “Once I got it home, I had to spend hours in the garage hacking it to pieces to get it up the stairs.”
This spectacular, and now bigger than ever, bird of paradise plant takes pride of place between the two sets of French doors.
Ron now propagates his own plants and has even begun selling smaller ones via his Instagram store, Mr Homebody. He also has a penchant for vintage cane furniture and chairs, so these items also make an appearance in the store as the apartment becomes overcrowded with finds.
Being resourceful comes naturally to Ron and Matthew – the couple also welcome Airbnb guests to stay in their spare bedroom on a regular basis. And they love sharing their little urban jungle with others. “Looking out at the cityscape surrounded by lots of plants is very special,” says Ron. “It’s a satisfying contrast: living in the city but in a home filled with lots of greenery. I feel relaxed and ‘homey’ every time I’m sitting on our couch drinking coffee or wine. I feel so grateful for it.”
A home to love
The apartment was renovated prior to Ron and Matthew’s purchase, so there is little left for them to do, apart from a plan to make the outdoor terrace a more functional space in the summer. But it already feels so complete and it’s easy to fall in love with this home’s effortless style and historic character.
“There are so many things to love about our place,” says Ron. “At nearly 100 years old, our building still retains a lot of its original charm. I love the high ceilings and all the details from its factory heritage – exposed bricks and beams and the oil-stained floorboards really give it unique character. The filtered light comes from all directions, and the glass lets in sun from dawn to dusk.”
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Words and styling by: Tina Stephen. Photography by: Helen Bankers.