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An Auckland couple learn the art of downsizing in their new character home

After leaving their large family home, this Auckland couple found their new forever place in a smaller character home where their art could take the stage

Make-up artist Lisette Cross is used to translating the wants and needs of clients, using her flair for colour and composition. Her creative background and years of experience came into play when Lisette and her husband Gavin Lendich moved into their heritage home in Auckland 18 months ago. “We could see this place had great bones and we’ve really enjoyed making it our own,” says Lisette. “She’s an old girl who’s had some nips and tuck over the years but she didn’t require any major work.”

Lisette has created a home where the white walls and pale timber flooring act as a canvas for her bold artworks and eclectic furniture collection – and, just like her work in make-up artistry, it exudes style, beauty and balance. “My aim was to make this place feel welcoming and casual. I wanted to maximise the natural light and create a bit of a bohemian vibe with lots of colourful art.

It’s not a precious house – I’m happy for people to leave their shoes on, or lounge on a sofa. Everything is designed to be used and nothing is put aside for a special occasion.”

Small and practical

Now that their sons Joseph and Dominic are in their 20s, Lisette and Gavin were looking for a smaller home that would work well for this ‘empty nest’ phase. “The layout is perfect for the way we like to live. We wanted enough room in case an adult child boomeranged, which is exactly what happened when Covid-19 struck. Joseph came back to live with us but there’s plenty of room for everyone. We’ve got three living areas downstairs and his bedroom upstairs has its own wing.”

Previous owners extensively renovated so they haven’t had to do too much to the house. “We like the way it’s been designed for practicality and easy living. The fact that we didn’t have to do any major work has been a bonus. I just had to decorate,” says Lisette. “We didn’t really need much new furniture. In fact, we had to sell quite a bit as we were coming from a larger home. But I did find there was more wall space and I decided to go for a gallery look and fill it with art.”

Working in a creative field has given Lisette a deep understanding of colour and the confidence to go for some strong personality-packed pieces. “I love colour, especially mixing different colours together. I’m not into matchy-matchy.

The art is all mediums and textures and styles and genres. In fact, all the art and furniture is a bit of a happy coincidence rather than anything that has been particularly planned. Some furniture was bought new, some second-hand, and some of it was even found on the side of the road back in the days when we had inorganic collections.”

Old versus new

Finding a smaller property with low maintenance grounds was a priority for Lisette and Gavin. They also wanted a character home, after a new build experience did not live up to their  expectations. “We downsized from a three-storey townhouse in St Mary’s Bay, which was the only new house we have ever lived in. Up until then we’d always had villas or bungalows.

Being a new build, we thought it would be low maintenance but we couldn’t have been more wrong. We bought it from developers and, over the six years we were there, we had plumbing and electrical fails and a never-ending list of repairs. In hindsight, older homes are much more forgiving to the everyday wear and tear of kids and dogs, and I think they suit and absorb that lived-in look,” she says.

“Plus, you can’t beat the character of a two-storey return veranda villa.”

The villa is believed to have been one of the first homesteads built on Grey Lynn farmland in the 1890s. It originally included a tennis court, but that was carved off a few years ago for a house that was being built next door. “From what we have been told, a major renovation was done a couple of owners ago. We heard that they put a lot of attention into the details and restored much of the character back into the home.

I believe at one stage it was even in two flats. They did a really great job as nothing urgently needs doing.”

The only change the couple has made was a lockdown-induced project. “When we moved in the floors were a very dark brown shellac, which looked good with the white walls, but seemed impossible to keep looking clean,” says Lisette. “It drove me mad during lockdown when there was nothing much to do but look at the floors, and we decided to go the opposite route and bleach them. The floor sanders warned us that the shellac had soaked into the boards and it would be impossible to bleach them right back. This didn’t worry me, and I really liked the rustic look that they have now. It actually gave the old girl a real facelift.”

Words by: Leanne Moore/Cave Bureau. Photography by: Helen Bankers/Cave Bureau

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