A New Plymouth couple’s arts and crafts home is the result of time, patience and meticulous attention to detail
Ros McKenzie hadn’t even driven all the way up the driveway when she realised she’d fallen in love.
She and husband Craig had been alerted to the New Plymouth arts and crafts home where their good friend, interior and landscape designer Michael (Mike) Mansvelt, had designed the garden. Mike knew the owners were keen to sell privately, just as he’d anticipated how much Ros and Craig would appreciate its historically important architecture.
“We call him the house whisperer,” laughs Ros.
The couple and their two children lived in the house for several years, enjoying the renovation and extension the previous owners had done, along with Mike’s beautiful landscaping. That gave them the time to think about the changes they wanted to make – and to save and plan – before embarking on the home’s next phase.
“I was so grateful to be living in such an incredible property,” says Ros. “We didn’t take it for granted and I think we felt a sense of not wanting to touch it too much.”
The eye has to travel
Eventually, however, while they loved the layout and the “substantial” quality of the home, its beige and white walls didn’t satisfy Ros’ preference for colour.
“I don’t like things to be too matchy-matchy,” says Ros, who typically dresses in colour as well. “I like things that are unusual, where you can’t necessarily pick where they came from.”
With Mike’s help, along with interior designer friend Alisha Barnes of New Plymouth’s Plantation Design Store, Ros started the meticulous process of injecting colour throughout. The idea was to create a personal sanctuary, somewhere soothing yet interesting.
“I wanted a space where I could sit and feel very relaxed,” says Ros. “I like finishings to be very soft but with personality.”
Ros and Craig had travelled extensively throughout Europe, and had not only amassed several large-scale artworks, Ros had developed an affinity for Georgian townhouses. Wherever possible, she’d try to book boutique character hotels when they stayed in London, coming away in awe of the decor’s sumptuous detailing and unexpected mix of patterns and colours – a look she was keen to imbue in her own home.
“A property like Claridge’s of London inspires me,” says Ros. “The quintessential Britishness of it is a style I’m drawn to. It’s very cosy and relaxed, and these houses often sit well in formal gardens similar to the one we have.”
Alisha set about upholstering Ros’ favourite chairs with patterned fabrics in rich golds and reds and creating a quaint windowseat with carefully selected fabrics and cushions in the living room. Even the black and white tiles that demarcate the kitchen and hallway, which are softened by cabinetry painted in denim blue, reminded Ros of the kitchen from Mary Poppins.
“Mike and Alisha chose the tiles and they immediately felt right to me because they were reminiscent of that particular look.”
Mike also suggested they use grasscloth for the walls throughout the house, which brought back memories of the lodges they’d stayed at on an African safari.
Outside in, inside out
Although Mike had already established a beautiful formal garden, its sheer size means it requires constant maintenance – and Craig keeps it in top shape. Since they moved in, Craig has planted ferns and orchids, and installed a derelict greenhouse, which he brought onto the property piece by piece, before painting it jade green. Craig now grows herbs and vegetables in it. “He has turned it into a thing of beauty,” says Ros.
Meanwhile, the decor brings much of the greenery in. In the main bedroom, Ros and Alisha chose a botanical print for the chairs. “I’ve always loved green, and I love the way the print reflects the surrounding green belt,” she says.
One room at a time
There was no grand plan when Ros and Craig set out to add personal flair to their home – other than to ensure they made considered choices that were in keeping with the style and history of the house. They worked extensively with Mike and Alisha, whose expertise they implicitly trusted, having worked with them both in their previous home. They decided to tackle the house room by room, approaching each area and designing the bespoke fittings and textiles additions for each space. That meant they wound up with exactly what they wanted, Ros explains, rather than settling for something they might have otherwise seen on the shop floor. “I realise what a privilege it is to be able to do that, and much of it comes down to our life stage. Ten years ago it’s not something we could have afforded to do.”
It also allowed them to work with some of the challenges the home’s layout provided. For instance, the living room is such a shape that putting a traditional couch into it would have blocked off the entrance; instead, they had a custom settee made to fit the corner.
It also helped that Alisha was able to lend Ros a few pieces from Plantation Design Store, including the coffee table and the rug, before purchasing. “Because [the rug] is a bold statement with a busy pattern, it had to be exactly right – and I like a room to be restful and comforting, not loud.”
Ros says their approach might have taken a little longer than some might like, but it’s resulted in an interior she truly loves and is one the whole family “continues to feel energised and grateful for every day”.
Words by: Carrie Bell. Photography by: The Virtue.