From the yellow front door to the yellow staircase and even the yellow awning on the deck, this warm and friendly feature accent glows throughout this New Plymouth home
You quickly get the feeling that the cheery yellow accent colour in Anja Niechziol’s house is a reflection of her personality. Usually homeowners who have completed a major renovation have a few stories of woe to share. Not Anja. She shakes her head when asked about the challenges of the project. Instead, she looks on the bright side, even when it comes to the unenviable task of painting the interior. “I painted what must have ended up being hundreds of square metres. I certainly learned a lot about interior decorating first hand. It was my fitness regime over four years!” she laughs.
It’s just as well she has a glass-half-full mindset because that was probably the only way she could have seen the potential in her New Plymouth house. Anja, who is German, and her Kiwi husband, Andrew, bought the 1970s “white-brick monster” five years ago over the internet when they were based in the UK. From the photos, it appeared dark and austere, with dated and worn interiors. There didn’t seem to be much interest in the house from other parties, but Anja and Andrew detected promise in the large terrace and big windows that brought in an abundance of light and sea views.
Anja drew up a floor plan based on the real estate agent’s images to get an idea of the layout and flow and was happy with the result. After a quick inspection by Andrew’s parents and their subsequent thumbs-up, the couple went ahead and ‘added to cart’, so to speak.
The renovation plans
One of the major pluses of the house was that it wasn’t going to take much to modernise it and turn it into a warm, liveable home for this family of five.
“In London, we’d renovated a Victorian terraced house which was practically rebuilt. There was a lot of structural work involved, plus quite a bit of dealing with the council over building-regulation compliance, so with this house we were happy not to do any structural changes,” says Anja. “We would have gone down that road if it was necessary, but we found we could work within the confines of the existing building. It’s quite liberating having constraints when you redesign your own home – it makes for a faster design process!”
Their plans included insulating throughout and replacing the old windows with double-glazed, thermal-break aluminium joinery to create a cosier home for those Taranaki winters. The three-bedroom, one-bathroom, one-toilet property would be transformed under Andrew and Anja’s scheme, to give them four bedrooms, one study and two bathrooms, partly as a result of reworking the large open-plan space downstairs.
Stripping it back
First, though, they had to deal with the metres and metres of heavy, worn-out carpet and wallpaper, dingy and dusty window pelmets, and the ornate chandeliers that decorated the lounge and dining area. “The kids adored those chandeliers but Andrew and I weren’t very keen,” Anja recalls. “They came down pretty early on and I think some of the dangly bits were repurposed as earrings for a while.”
A few working bees with family and friends saw the carpet pulled up, the wallpaper ripped down and the windows freed from the heavy burden of their pelmets. Immediately the house felt lighter and brighter and the renovation strategy crystallised.
Phase one included replacing the upstairs windows and insulating. The family lived downstairs for this stage and particularly recall the week when there were no windows at all on the first floor. “It was quite cold but we made it into a camping adventure,” says Anja cheerfully.
During phase two, which took around two months, the kitchen, bathroom, downstairs windows and several internal walls were replaced. This left the family without a functioning kitchen, so they moved their camping table onto the terrace, bought a freestanding stove and turned the experience into another adventure. “Luckily we had a nice summer and we have fond memories of that time,” says Anja. “With no shower or bath at home, we had to use the showers in the local pool. We went swimming a lot!”
Next, the family renovated the downstairs bedroom and added wardrobes in the girls’ shared room. Last of all, they created a downstairs bathroom.
Anja and Andrew painted the existing strandboard flooring on the first floor in a light grey semi-gloss. Having seamless flooring makes the space feel more generous and uninterrupted. The first paint product Anja used was a bit of a disaster – the floor looked dirty straight away and was really hard to clean. Two coats of Resene Lustacryl gave a much better result. She says the floors do get dirty, with kids, cats and constant traffic, but they come up gleaming when cleaned.
They painted all the interior walls plain white, which Anja says is a great backdrop for the art they’ve accumulated over the years. “Most of our works have been inherited from family members or found while travelling. Nearly every object has a history,” she says.
Anja says her main aim is to achieve a high level of gemütlichkeit – the German word for cosiness. “It’s similar to the Danish hygge but not marketed as well,” laughs Anja. To achieve this she incorporates a lot of texture, including wood, artwork, rugs and sheepskins (which also helps with the acoustics). They have hardly any ceiling lights, relying on a mixture of low-hanging pendants and table and wall lights to create a cosy ambience. The exception to this is the kitchen, which needs good task lighting.
Splashes of yellow keep the home from looking too clinical. “It’s a colour everyone seems to like,” explains Anja. “It’s not gender-specific, it’s friendly and – depending on the shade – reflects a nice glow when light shines on it.” They’ve used yellow on the interior doors and an awning over the upstairs balcony. Anja chose a shade that’s not too loud but instead has a warm tone “which is almost like a material in appearance, rather than a colour”.
Having yellow throughout the house, instead of just in a few rooms, creates a uniform vibe, says Anja. The interior designer suggests having colours and themes that carry through the house to keep things calm and grounded. In her home, that’s the white walls, light grey floors and yellow doors.
After three and a half years of renovating, the “white-brick monster” now looks more like a friendly family home, but these days a different family is living under its roof. Anja, Andrew and the kids have recently moved back to London and it’s their friends (now also their tenants) who are busy enjoying the fruits of their labours – and that cheerful yellow.
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photography by: The Virtue.