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A 1970s-style home is redecorated with tropical-style decor

Steph Zajkowski enlisted the help of interior designers Bibby & Brady to help choose her decor scheme, and give her the confidence to make some bold changes


Steph Zajkowski’s colour confidence is on display for any admiring visitor to see, but she admits to having a few less-than-perfect results along the way. “During my ‘shabby chic’ phase I stencilled anything that wasn’t bolted down and painted an elaborate dado rail (which I loved at the time); I rag-rolled my way through the 1990s, too,” says Steph. “My husband, Richard, has been through all these phases with me, indulging my design whims. Truly, the man is a saint.”

Richard and Steph began house-hunting in 2009, looking to move into a home that had more space for their daughters Sofia, now 18, Beatrice, now 15, and their friends. They viewed this house in 10 minutes, en route to another they had seen online and which they were convinced they wanted to buy. That house turned out to be a complete disappointment, so they gave the first one another look. “I didn’t love the house when we first saw it,” says Steph, “but it had practical spaces, ticked the boxes for schools, and the rooms were all good sizes.” The elevated site looks out over the leafy suburb of Mairangi Bay on Auckland’s North Shore, towards the Pacific. “The view is one of the things we appreciate the most. Richard and I never tire of looking out across the ocean.”


Subscribing to the decorators’ mantra ‘It’s only paint’, this busy working mum admits to happily spending a weekend painting a room, only to repaint it a few years later. “It’s fair to say I am a serial painting offender – there are very few surfaces in this house that are still untouched,” says Steph.


“I love colour and I think the adage of decorating your home with the colours you wear rings true. There are definitely colours I shy away from in my wardrobe that would never make it into my home, like terracotta and warm orange tones.”

Last year, Steph was uncertain about how to update her living room, so she called in interior designers Bibby & Brady, who came up with the current scheme and gave her the confidence to make some bold changes. “It was a fabulous experience working with Vic Bibby and Dael Brady. I trusted their vision as I had seen plenty of their work for other clients. Richard and I gave them free rein and they came back with a colour scheme, furniture recommendations and – especially important for our living room – a furniture placement scheme,” says Steph.

This 1970s family home is packed full of original architectural features. Pushing the design boundaries – such as painting the warm timber accents white – took some convincing, but both Steph and Richard are thrilled with the end result. “I loved the idea of painting the lounge’s cathedral ceiling white, but it wasn’t until Vic and Dael gave us permission to do so, that I got Richard across the line,” says Steph.


The ceiling makeover saw Richard spending many a weekend up a ladder applying multiple coats of paint, but his handiwork has completely transformed the space. “We didn’t want to paint out all the wood in the home as we love its warmth and its architectural integrity, but it was definitely the right decision for this room,” says Steph.

We didn’t want to paint out all the wood in the home

as we love its warmth and its architectural integrity

Boldly patterned wallpapers maintain the 1970s vibe and have been introduced throughout, bringing colour and texture to the interior. “One of my favourite spaces is the downstairs powder room with its vintage beach decal and tropical wallpaper,” says Steph. “It was another design idea I took from Vic Bibby – she has used the same wallpaper in her home.”

As well as painting, wallpapering and installing a bathroom, the couple have replaced all the decking, rejigged some kitchen cabinets, painted the exterior, landscaped the gardens and replaced the original front door.


Although not terribly sentimental about “things”, Steph has a real fondness for their home’s authentic 1970s lights, “which look like giant jellyfish when lit up at night”. One of her favourite buys is the beautiful silk-screen print of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave Off Kanagawa’ which hangs in the stairwell. “There was a huge blank wall facing the front door and we had trouble finding art large enough to make an impact there. This screen is something that I saw on set when I was working for Shortland Street. Luckily I knew exactly who to ask in the art department!”

With an interior style that’s “eclectic, bohemian, tropical and organic”, Steph’s go-to colours are teal, turquoise, blue and green. “Green is fantastic and suits this house, which is surrounded by green-blue tones outdoors; it also complements the original timber features.”


Being the serial painter she is, the teal wall in the kitchen was a random idea. “I couldn’t bear to look at that double-height white wall any longer, so a couple of testpots later, the retro teal wall was born. Plus my parents’ carved spoon and fork, which hung in my family home in Christchurch in the 1970s, is the perfect final edit.”

I couldn’t bear to look at that double-height white wall any longer

so a couple of testpots later, the retro teal wall was born

On another occasion, Steph had been mulling over what to do with the hallway leading to the girls’ bedrooms. “It was very pedestrian. The end wall needed some kind of focal point so that’s when I decided to use the leftover wallpaper from the downstairs powder room and Richard hung it for me in a morning.”

Although always confident with colour, a little guidance from the experts has allowed Steph and Richard to push their boundaries to create sympathetic spaces with a big design impact. If you want to make a change but aren’t sure where to start, Steph’s advice is to look at your own wardrobe and pick a shade from there. “You’re pretty much guaranteed to love the end result.”

Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald.

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