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This beautiful renovation is a lesson in what you can achieve on a budget

‘Ingenious’ and ‘Undaunted’ could be the middle names of these first-home owners who worked wonders on their little Birkdale brick beauty with just $12,000

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How many times have you driven past a beautiful house and dreamed it could be yours? Many of us harbour house crushes for years, but only a few can boast of spotting their dream home, and owning it a few weeks later. It was love at first sight when Maiko Nagao Irvine and husband Mike set eyes on the 1940s art deco house which would become their first owned home. Located in Birkdale, Auckland, close to where they both grew up, the building’s picturesque brick facade seemed to call to them. There was just one problem: it wasn’t for sale.

“We were actually at an open home across the road,” remembers Maiko. “We parked our car and, as we were entering, Mike turned around and pointed across the street, and said, ‘Check out that house – would you live there?’

I answered, ‘It would be a dream.’” Two weeks later, the house came onto the market and Maiko’s dream became a reality.

A different approach

Their wish had suddenly come true but Maiko and Mike’s home ownership journey had not been an overnight affair. They had been saving hard for four years after a long spell out of the country. “We travelled the world and lived overseas for seven years; then, after falling pregnant with Kaito, we returned to New Zealand,” says Maiko.

“We were so overwhelmed by the housing market. It took us four years after we got back to finally be in the position to buy our first home. That, plus help from both sides of our family, which we are so very grateful for.” Finally settled in their first home, Maiko and Mike decided on a different approach to renovating, one with a strong focus on reusing, repurposing and recycling – a philosophy that Maiko, in particular, had grown up with. “My mum taught me from a very young age to get creative with what we already had,” she says. “I never thought much of it before renovating, but it’s really the way forward. I think this house is a true reflection of this.”


Artist and graphic designer Maiko has always had a passion for style, colour, fashion and interiors. Through her blossoming business (maikonagao.com) she sells her own art prints, pet portraits, tattoo designs, custom prints and children’s decor. Instagram became a creative outlet for her during the renovation and she struck a chord with followers for her styling ability and knack for finding a bargain.

The results of the home makeover are not only pretty, but they are also practical and budget-friendly. A case in point is the kitchen. Financially unable to even consider a new kitchen, the couple put on their thinking caps and rolled up their sleeves to transform the tired area into a bright and light family space – all for under $1500.

“Our kitchen was that super-basic, cheap 1990s kitchen you’d find in a flat or a rental property,” says Maiko. “It had a hideous brown Formica benchtop with beige cabinets. Then we came across an amazing company called Vinyl Home. They have heaps of cool products for DIY home projects. We used their ‘sticky-back plastic’ range to cover our benchtop in white. It cost us just $90 and it changed everything! We also used their ‘self-adhesive tiles’ to cover our existing splashback.”

The cupboards were updated with white paint and new handles bought on Trade Me. Maiko also scored a lovely butcher’s block and a huge set of open shelves, both of which take pride of place in what is now the warm, welcoming hub of family life. Maiko keeps her shelving tidy with the help of some cute canisters, while cool plants add a fresh touch.


With a tight budget of $12,000, the couple had to concentrate on what they could realistically achieve without compromising on style. Maiko’s creative vision coupled with Mike’s practical competence made them an ideal team. As soon as the couple were handed the keys, Mike ripped out the ageing carpet, revealing the original rimu floorboards. After that, the focus shifted to opening up and simplifying the floor plan which had become muddled over the course of multiple past renovations.

“The house had the strangest layout,” says Maiko. “You had to first walk through the dining room, open a door into a corridor, then walk past the bathroom/laundry to reach the kitchen. Mike’s best buddy, Ryan from Hale Carpentry, guided us through all the changes needed.”

The result is a light-filled, open layout. The living and dining area, albeit small, has been cleverly thought out, with a large mid-century table and bentwood chairs at one end, by the front door. The lounge, at the other end, features a large window with views to the city, and plans are afoot for French doors and a large deck.

“We’d love to turn one of the wide windows in the lounge into French doors that open out to a deck for indoor-outdoor flow. And do some landscaping, build a fort, a sandpit and a mini skate ramp so Kaito can spend all day outside!”


The floors throughout the home were sanded by Mike in three days for the grand sum of $400 – the price of hiring a sander. Doing it themselves was the only option after professional quotes came in at a budget-crushing $4000-$5000. However, while Mike and Maiko have a strong ‘give it a go’ attitude, they’re not afraid to put their hands up when something is beyond them.

“Definitely don’t even attempt plastering!” says Maiko. “You can save a lot by prepping, sanding and painting yourselves but plastering takes so much skill. Luckily, we have an amazing ex-professional plasterer buddy who came and fixed our mess of a plaster job, then worked his magic. Never again!”

My mum taught me from a very young age to get creative with what we already had…

I think this house is a true reflection of this

With their first DIY disaster out of the way, Maiko and Mike chose to paint the entire house in simple white, resulting in a modern interior all ready for their personal style.

“I read that this is quite common in Scandinavia, but really we did this to save money and time spent masking off skirtings and ceilings. We actually love the whole effect now and would definitely do it again,” says Maiko.

Uniquely theirs

The couple have filled their home with personality, piece by piece: a practical leather sofa, a new plant, an artwork from a friend, and so on. A gallery wall in the entryway displays several of Maiko’s works, while the window ledges and mantels are dotted with trinkets and keepsakes. The home radiates creativity and warmth, reflecting a family who are finding joy in what they have achieved so far.

“We love that our home is so unique,” says Maiko. “Pretty much everything you see is an eclectic mix of pre-loved items from family, Trade Me and op-shops.”

Mike and Maiko’s home shows that when you combine unconventional thinking with ingenuity and artistic skill, great things can be accomplished, even on a tiny budget. This family have claimed their little piece of paradise and created a home filled with love.

Words and styling by: Tina Stephen. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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