Words: Bee Dawson | Photos: Jane Usher | NZ House & Garden, September Issue 2012
This Wellington villa’s glory days were long gone when 21st century owners stepped in to revive its charms (with help from architects Jasmax, builders Plan It Construction, and landscapers HEDGE Garden Design & Nursery!)
When Andrew and Samantha Murray first saw their future family home in inner-city Wellington, they needed more than the usual amount of creative vision to see its potential. It's not that the house hadn't started out well. Designed by prominent Edwardian architect William Gray Young, it had been built in 1914 for a genteel spinster who relished the idea of living just a stone's throw from the Botanic Gardens and within easy walking distance of the local Kelburn shops.
There's little doubt that it would have had a few fine decades, but by the time the Murrays turned up the formerly gracious home had endured a 1950s renovation (including the addition of pelmets, fluorescent tube lighting and boards on the banisters), seen service as a student flat (it is rumoured that up to five tenants slept in the sunroom at any one time) and then languished in an unoccupied state as it waited for someone to rescue it. The inevitable aura of neglect made it difficult to imagine the villa's original charm.
Parts of the house were so unworkable that Andrew and Samantha decided an interim do-up was in order. Sam describes the kitchen with its yellow formica bench and old grey linoleum as being "truly hideous".
"When we moved in we spent every night boiling water, which we'd pour over the floor before setting to with tungsten scrapers. It took us three weeks to remove all the lino." Bathrooms also had to be replaced because the old copper pipes burst after the water system was converted to mains pressure.
But, by the time they'd painted the house inside and out and installed new carpet and curtains, the Murrays were beginning to feel more comfortably "at home".
The house was now looking cheerful, but the layout was less than ideal for a busy family of five, two dogs (a miniature schnauzer and a pug) and a cat. Not only was the kitchen at an inconvenient remove from the living area, it was also difficult to get outside to check on the weather, not to mention sit out and enjoy the sunshine.
A garage was another priority, and not just for their cars. A keen mountain biker, Andrew needed somewhere to clean, maintain and store his precious bike. The bedrooms on the top storey also needed reworking so that the family's sports-mad sons, Fergus, 13, Thomas, 11, and George, nine, each had his own bedroom.
Architect Philip Porritt of Jasmax was engaged to mastermind the villa's transformation into a 21st century family home, plans were agreed upon and the Murrays moved out so diggers could excavate countless truckloads of earth from under the front half of the house. Recalls Andrew: "The house hung semi-suspended for months ï¿½ there's no way we could have lived there."
The massive excavation brought an extra bonus - along with the ample garaging, it also opened up plenty of space for a home theatre as well.
Described by Andrew as "the ultimate man cave", this black-walled room features a large projection-screen television, full surround sound and built-in ventilation. The richly patterned red and gold Axminster carpet ("very retro bought on TradeMe") is complemented by a red leather chesterfield couch and brown leather settees. With a kitchen area, dishwasher and bar, this windowless room has proved to be the perfect place to entertain. "When the boys invite friends around for pizzas and drinks, all the noise and mess stay downstairs," says Samantha.
Upstairs, Philip Porritt's brief was to integrate the kitchen and living area. "We were keen to have an informal eating bench in the kitchen, a walk-in pantry with a sink and a computer nook at the side," says Samantha. "It's all worked beautifully."
As with the rest of the house, Samantha oversaw the dramatic interior design in the living areas. The matai floorboards have been stained black to tone with floor-length curtains in shades of grey and bold Ralph Lauren wallpaper. Resene 'Napa', in various concentrations, appears on walls throughout the house.
Neatly recessed into the family room wall, a large television screen is made all the more discreet because all the associated "boxes" (DVD, Sky and CD) are hidden away in a centrally located cupboard under the floor. This entertainment nerve centre is effortlessly operated with just one remote control.
Andrew and Samantha also have an inviting sitting room where they can relax in front of a gas fire. "We didn't really want a fireplace at all," says Andrew, "but Philip persuaded us that no house of this era would be complete without one."
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Another challenge was to create great indoor-outdoor flow - no small undertaking when the back section consisted of a steeply banked lawn, old brick terracing, overgrown agapanthus and a collapsing garden shed. More truckloads of soil were excavated, retaining walls built, the lawns levelled and a trampoline pit dug. This was all done with the greatest of care so that five of the original trees (including a maple, walnut and flowering cherry) could be saved.
Another courtyard at the front of the house means that the family can enjoy the sun all day long. Although the barbecue is at the back, there are outdoor speakers and seating areas in both courtyards - the PVC outdoor couches at the front look especially inviting. Everything works so well, the house won the 2010 Master Builders Best Outdoor Living award for the Wellington region as well as the Wellington Region Renovation of the Year Award. It seems the glory days have returned at last.