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Optomistic Thorndon villa

Words Kylie Klein-Nixon | Photos Tommys | Life & Style 2022

Built in the 1890s, this Wellington home is crisp and modern without losing any of its character and historical details.

Italian villa garden.jpg

This 1890 villa is a crisp, white sun-trap inside

It's not often you hear a house called optimistic, but that's the first word that comes to mind for owner Sally Fisher.


Fisher and her husband ,Guy Vasey, have lived in the Victorian villa, in one of the capital's most prestigious neighbourhoods, Thorndon, since returning from a stint in Melbourne 11 years ago.

"We came back and we were lucky enough to find this house," says Fisher.

Italian villa garden

The home was renovated by the couple who lived there before the Fisher-Vaseys.

"The people we bought it off had completely renovated, from top to bottom. They had stripped it and started again. They described it as a labour of love, and you can see that it was. The detail is just exquisite."

The couple wanted to put their own mark on the home, "but with absolute reverence for what had been done".

Italian villa garden

The kitchen and living rooms open onto the private, Italianate garden.

Their contribution was the chic, modern kitchen and open-plan reception room.

Vasey, “a great cook”, has a background as an industrial designer. He worked with the team at Wellington interior design firm Design In Residence to create a kitchen that: "really had to feel like it was one connected room, rather than a kitchen in the living room".

The result is a beautifully balanced space, which blends crisp, clean, modern convenience, with turn of last century elegance – it's not every day you see a stainless steel counter working in concert with ghost chairs, industrial work lamps and a vintage French chandelier.

"It's the most optimistic house I've ever lived in, in my life," says Fisher.

"The dimensions are all lovely. And because everything's white, white floors, white ceilings, white walls, any sliver of light that comes into this house bounces off every surface. So you walk around it, and it's just incredibly uplifting."

Italian villa garden

An upstairs study has views over Thorndon.

One of the capital’s oldest neighbourhoods, every old villa in Thorndon has a story and 10 Newman Terrace is no exception.

One former resident, Fisher was told, called himself the prince of Denmark. He and his wife were an eccentric couple who were quite well known to locals.

When Fisher was cleaning up the larger storage area under the house, she found an old Queen Anne Chocolate box from the 50s or 60s “tucked up in the rafters”.

"I opened it up, and it was full of shells with little notes about the date and the beaches where they were collected. It must have belonged to that couple who lived here.

"I put them right back in the rafters and decided it's a lovely piece of the personal history of someone who lived here, and it should stay here."

Italian villa garden

The master bedroom has a Juliet balcony.

The couple describes the home as "a big small house or small big house", as the layout never feels imposing, or ostentatious, and yet there is more than enough room for a family to have plenty of space.

"It expands and contracts however you want it to," says Fisher.

"It's one thing that everyone says who visits, when they walk in they just feel comfortable and that's what you want in a home, isn't it?"

Italian villa garden

The garden is small enough to be no trouble, but large enough to enjoy.

The "little, exquisite garden" (designed by Hedge) is unusual so close to the capital's CBD, has an Italianate feel, with manicured hedges, geometric brick and stone patios and a creeper covered loggia. Fisher wanted a “picking garden” so classic blooms such as hydrangeas and roses abound.

Now, the couple reluctantly put the house on the market as they are moving back to the Hawke's Bay to be nearer friends and family.

“As we've been preparing the house, we both felt we do this to honour this beautiful house. We honestly feel like guardians, and you would hope the next people feel like Guardians, too. It’s just enormously special to live in."

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