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Where The Heart Is

Words Sarah Catherall | Photographs Paul McCredie | NZ House & Garden, 2020

There’s no place like Kelburn for these US expats.

Urban organic garden, Kelburn Wellington
Garden rooms & garden design Wellington

LEFT: Phlilip, Hadley & Emory Fierlinger with dog Sadie in the outdoor dining area under the chestnut tree. RIGHT: The leather chairs in the living room are a favourite spot for the Wellington homeowners Hadley & Philip Fierlinger to watch the garden change by the season;

It was 2001 when US couple Hadley and Philip Fierlinger moved from San Francisco to escape the Bush regime. Their eldest son Emory was two, and the Columbvine High School shooting had not happened. “As soon as we had our son, we realised California wasn’t great to have a have a family,” says Philip, who was working in technology as a designer.

Their neighbours had recently returned from a trip to New Zealand and suggest they emigrate here. “They made all these comparisons between California and New Zealand and it sounded too good to be true.”

Large family garden, Kelburn Welligton city

The garden is protected from the elements and is a haven for the mature damson, walnut and plum trees; the corten steel raised garden boxes were designed by Rachael Matthews at Hedge.

About five years ago – after living in Khandallah in Wellington for 10 yerars – the time came for the couple to downsize. Their sons Emory, now 20, and Jasper, 17, were growing up so they sought a new house for their next chapter. They struggled to find anything suitavble until they lifted their budget and aspirations and came across this three-storey house in central Kelburn designed by early 20th century architect William Gray Young

Roses, corten planters, lawn, concrete paving

The garden redesign has provided a sunny and sheltered open space surrounded by flowers and mature fruit & nut trees; herbs grow in tubs and garden beds, guaranteeing a ready supply of parsley, mint, oregano, thyme and rosemary for tea and meals.

Hadley, a mind-body life coach, instantly fell in love with the flat section with an overgrown garden imagining she could turn it into the organic vegetable garden she had always hoped for.

Located on a busy road, the neo-Georgian house reminded them of ta New York apartment in a buzz in an urban environment, with the dded bonus that It had the Wellington Botanic Garden on its doorstep.

he 1915 house was once divided into flats, before the previous owner returned it to its original form. As part of the renovation, the former owner overhauled the rear exterior of the house, replacing old laticed windows with contemporary joinery in keeping with the original.

“The house was a little too big for us to be honest,” says Hadley. “We were like, there are three lounges and we have two kids. But then we overlooked that, and realised it was perfect.”

Corten vegetable planters

Tall leaves of kale punctuate the vege garden beds. Colourful dahlias come to life in summer. Pink and white roses tumble over the fence from a neighbour's garden.

Originally from Philadelphia, Hadley has always been drawn to green spaces and describes the garden here, reworked by landscape designer Rachael Matthews, as her happy place. Kale and spinach desnely fill planter boxes and when she is not in the garden Hadley is often cooking meals and developing recipes in the kitchen.

Interior & garden design, Kelburn Wellingtonn
Home office, working from home
blue tiled bathroom, fiddle leaf fig

LEFT: Custom painted blue walls in the stairwell feature photographs of family forebearers; the 1970s pendant from the Czech Republic is a nod to Philip's Czech family. RIGHT: The bathrrom was refreshed with white paint over the existing brown-stained walnut joinery.

They completely refurbished the home, aided by interior designer Kerryn Dunshea. Hadley describes her own style as clean lines and a little bit of craziness. “I wanted this look that is modern organic. Showing wood that is in its natural state, that kind of thing.”

The house is filled with treasures Hadley and Philip have collected over the years as well as pieces handed down from relatives: ceramic teacups Philip found during a trip to Sydney sit by Hadley’s cookbook collection. She says: “When I travel I usually bring back something …. If I buy a kitchen spoon, every time I use it I remember the trip.”

The coffee table they designed is made from an unearthed slab of totara from Haast, and every item on it has a story: when Hadley was five, a taxi driver gave her a gem that she has carried everywhere since; a piece of jasper is so special to the couple that they named their second son after it; an ancient axe from South America was handed down from Hadley’s father, who grew up there.

Mid century modern design

The burlwood sideboard is from Mrm Bigglesworthy in Auckland; above it hang botanical prints acquired from Philip's great-aunt; Hadley's heirloom family photo albums sit next to Tom Dixon bowls.

Hadley is a second-generation only child so she has acquired photographs, paintings and treasured from her family. Her maternal great-grandmother was a house servant for a couple who left everything to her when they went into care, including one of Hadley’s favourites – an oil painting by American impressionist John Jodeph Enneking. Pictures of botannical plates came from Philips’s great-aunt who acquired them from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Hadley fell in love with hand-painted walls in a Santa Monica hotel they once stayed in, and decided to replicate them in this home’s grand stairwell and entrance. Once they pinned down the exact shade of blue, a painter applied three different colours on the walls with a broom. “It was the most stressful thing I have ever seen. He had to do it so quickly,” says Hadley with a laugh.

Outdoor living & garden design
Black outdoor French furniture
White hydrangea classic urn

Urns  of Hydrangea "Bridal Bouquet".

Both working from home, Hadley and Philip often spend their days on video calls with clients. And when the work day is over – they retreat to their favourite room – the living room – recommecting in armchairs and gazing over the garden, enjoying the family friendly home that ticks all the boxes they came so far to find.

Shadey garden, fruit trees, nut trees

The couple spend a lot of time in the shady garden where a white rose adds brightness; the path is made with small white Awarua pebbles.

Q & A 


BEST MONEY WE SPENT: We redesigned the garden as it was overgrown and not family friendly.

RE-NOVATION LOW POINT: Moving into this house and discovering that the entire heating system and drainage system needed remediation.


FAVOURITE KITCHEN APPLIANCE: My Thermomix. I am a reluctant convert and now travel with it.

WE LOVE THIS PART OF NEW ZEALAND: It’s the best Wellington has to offer. Views. The botanic garden, walk to the city, the cable car, shops and Victoria University.

FAVOURITE LOCAL RESTAURANT: Yellow Chilli INdoan on Upland Rd in Kelburn


fAVOURITE LOCAL STORE: The Four Square. It’s the best in New Zealand.



Hadley Fierlinger

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