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A ’70s house lacking in charm gets remodelled with hints of Mad Men

A New Plymouth couple rewrote history to give a charmless ’70s house a large dose of right-on retro appeal

Meet & greet
Blair (operator off-shore oil and gas) and Karen Prichard (owner/manager of Social Kitchen and Monica’s Eatery).

Good bones. It’s the carrot that lures would-be renovators, motivating them to pour all their passion, time and money into uncovering the beauty beneath the beast. But what if there are no good bones to be revealed? With little to redeem this 1970s house at first glance, New Plymouth couple Karen and Blair Prichard were wooed, not by x-ray vision, but by the imaginative vision of close friend and “genius” Michael Mansvelt. “He said, ‘If you don’t buy it, I’m going to. And this is what I’m going to do to it’,” says Karen. Michael then explained how he could renovate this aged ugly duckling into a retro-inspired swan, enhancing the home with some of the ’70s-style architectural gems – from a glass-panelled entryway to lush tropical landscaping – that it had missed out on the first time around.

Here’s a story…
Karen jokes, “We’re the Brady Bunch” – an appropriate comparison, given the retro flavour of their home. When they spotted the house in 2009, she and Blair were living separately – she with her two girls and he with his two boys – and looking for a home that could hold their blended family comfortably. “We needed a home we could compartmentalise,” she explains. It was also private, sunny and perfectly located, ticking every box on their list except the aesthetic ones.

Having had only two owners in its history, the home was chock-full of original features: internal rimu and glass sliding doors, a built-in bar and “one of those old ’70s kitchens with a thousand tiny cupboards”. But while it sounds fascinating on paper, Karen asserts, “It was very original, but it wasn’t charming at all. It was a ’70s house, but not cool ’70s.” It needed a practical renovation, plus a sprinkle of inspiration to drag it back from the brink of dagginess.

Diving in
The home needed a renovation, quick-smart, to make it workable for Blair and Karen’s family; practical projects, like a main bedroom ensuite and a new, modern kitchen, were top of the list. But the couple also took the opportunity to introduce Michael’s retro-style ideas, turning the home from grungy to groovy. The entrance received the most dramatic overhaul – the external wall became an internal one with the addition of a long wall of glass, creating a light-filled hallway down one side of the house. “When Mike said, ‘You’re going to build an entranceway of glass on the south side of the house,’ I said, ‘You’re mad’,” says Karen. “But it made sense and it looks like it’s always been like that.”

Outside, a new carport rounded out the home’s distinctly mid-century look, while landscaping took the exterior from a nondescript nana-style block of lawn and wire fences to a lush paradise of paved patios, layered foliage and even a fully-plumbed outdoor bath.

Renovation II, the sequel
Fast-forward a decade or so and the kids no longer at home, Karen and Blair questioned whether to stay or to move on from their family nest. “We had discussed downsizing and buying an apartment, and we thought, why don’t we turn this into an apartment? Because we don’t want to move,” says Karen. The home’s ‘compartments’ – including a separate grown- ups’ lounge and kids’ lounge – had been exactly the right layout for a big family, but what they were searching for now was open-plan living, a clear line of sight and a sense of connection between the kitchen, dining, living and outdoor spaces. The solution was to knock through a load-bearing wall – an engineering challenge requiring huge metal beams to be craned in – to create one huge kitchen and living space, connected to the sun-drenched outdoors via massive sliding glass doors.

It was also an opportunity to fix things that hadn’t made the priority list on the first renovation, like replacing the perforated ceiling tiles, and to redo bits they had cut corners on, such as the glass walkway. “We did it in the first renovation, but could only afford cheap glazing,” says Karen. “With the second renovation, we double-glazed it and it’s made a big difference in warmth.”

Just for themselves
“For both of us, our vision was to come home to our own peaceful place, which was calm and just for us,” says Karen. To create a space that was easy on the eye and soothing to the soul, the couple called on another family friend, interior designer Alisha Barnes of Plantation Design Store. Out went the old family-friendly (and budget-wise) finishes, such as the timber-look vinyl floors, in favour of stunning travertine-style porcelain. The dated orange rimu timber was painted white and the walls covered in beautifully textured synthetic grasscloth wallpaper. “I’ve always been obsessed with it. I always said when I grow up, when I’ve arrived, I really want grasscloth wallpaper,” Karen jokes.

The latest renovation also gave them room to indulge their passions, including converting their family-sized kitchen pantry into a miniature bar, with racks and a fridge for wine, fluted glass cabinets for their glassware, and bench space for Blair to mix and muddle his own delicious cocktail creations. “In the past few years, he’s done a deep dive into the peculiar world of cocktails. He’s so passionate about the knowledge and the history behind them,” Karen explains.

Eye of a collector
Blair’s other obvious passion is for mid-century furniture, with his collection dating back to well before this home purchase. “When I first met Blair, he had the Le Corbusier (chaise longue) and
all these beautiful pieces,” says Karen. “While we were fumbling around with growing children, they were all part of our home. But they got lost because of all the stuff that you put up with when you’ve got kids in a house.”

Despite competing for real estate with family-friendly furnishings, the couple’s collection of prized pieces has quietly grown over the years – a Kartell Kabuki lamp here, a Magis Puppy there – and the clean lines and calm palette of the post-renovation house is finally giving them room to shine. “Blair’s beautiful pieces, like his lovely chairs, are coming into their own because they fit now. They were lost before, but now you walk in and notice how beautiful they are,” says Karen.

“We’ve reinvented our lives so many times, both of us. Life throws curveballs and you think, ‘How did I survive that?’ So there’s no guilt in this,” Karen says of their ‘just for themselves’ renovation. From her contented sigh, it’s clear the home has delivered this busy couple a well-earned dose of tranquillity. But is it their forever home? “We’ve worked out how to get wheelchairs into the house, so that’s a yes.”

Words by: Shelley Tustin. Photography by: Gina Fabish.


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