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Inside a grand Christchurch home with French country style

After the Christchurch earthquake this homeowner was looking for something petite and fix-uppable… so how did she end up here?

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Meet and greet

Denise Renalson, co-owner of a contracting business, and Mini Cooper the British Blue cat.

Inside a grand Christchurch home with French country style

When the February 2011 earthquake hit Christchurch, the two-storey, art deco-inspired home Denise Renalson shared with her partner was no match for its force. In the aftermath, Denise was content to rent somewhere smaller for a while, but in October 2012 when her relationship foundered, she made a plan to downsize further and find a cosy, single-storey place that could benefit from a makeover. But an impressive photo layout in a glossy real-estate magazine gave her second thoughts. “I saw this place advertised and I thought it looked interesting,” she says.


The colonial-style home, less than a kilometre from her former residence, overlooks the willow-lined banks of the Heathcote River and an expansive park beyond. Denise was smitten from the moment she crossed the threshold. Undeterred by the land’s TC3 rating (which means it is at risk of liquefaction damage in large earthquakes) and the identified risk of one-in-100-year flooding, she was tempted to make an offer.

The slate roof, rough-hewn brickwork and large garden were also “just a little off-putting”, but Denise was encouraged by advice from her lawyer. “He recommended I buy a place I adored rather than let perceived risks cloud my judgment.” She decided to go ahead and buy the home even though it was significantly different to the ‘ideal’ property she had earlier imagined.


Days of black and white

Four years on, Denise has made some changes to the home and garden to reflect her personal taste and lifestyle. A gravel drive on the boundary line leads to the front door, but guests are far more likely to enter via the trellised gate on the street. A path leads through the private garden, across a wooden bridge over the fish pond and up to the sun-drenched courtyard and patio area. The house forms an ‘L’ shape and multiple sets of French doors run along the inner sides of the ‘L’, connecting the beautiful tiled passageway inside to the concrete-tiled patio.


Since moving in, Denise has replaced many of the window treatments and exchanged the original green carpet for one in charcoal. The dark grey shade is more in keeping with her furnishings and the home’s black and white colour scheme. The interior has been repainted in just two tones: white for all joinery and ceilings and a combination of half-, quarter- and full-strength Resene ‘Napa’ on the walls.


Go with your heart

Denise admits to being a sometimes reluctant interior designer and often leaves design decisions to the last minute. When flooring contractors came to replace her carpet she mentioned that she might change the kitchen linoleum for tiles at some point. “They were quite adamant that the kitchen tiling should be done before the carpet was laid so I had just one day to choose my tiles,” Denise says. She is happy with her choice of white tiles banded by a line of black, but less impressed by her pick of paint for the walls. “I wanted a beige tone and this has more of a green tinge. I’m okay with it for now.”


Outside, the garden and patio have also had a makeover. Denise has planted buxus hedging and masses of roses to enhance the ‘formal garden’ theme and concrete tiles have extended the patio. At one stage Denise contemplated terracing the lawn and squaring the edges but subsequently decided to stay with the original planting. “I like the curves.”

Even though the house did not fit the criteria on her original wishlist, Denise says she has found a special home. “Sometimes it pays to go with your heart and not your head. Immediately before I moved in, I was thinking, ‘What have I done?’ That has passed. This is a nice house to live in.”


Upstairs, downstairs

At first glance it is difficult to determine the vintage of the home. The timeless colonial architecture and painted bricks are reminiscent of much older homes but this house was in fact built in 1997. Recycled bricks, painted white, have been used for cladding and red brick borders and paving insets are a feature of the formal landscaping.


The split-level home was designed to follow the contours of the gently sloping site. From the kitchen and dining area, four wide, carpeted stairs lead up to the generous tiled passageway, entry foyer and formal lounge where shutters open to the living area below. French doors into the lounge mirror the French doors leading from the passage to the patio. Raked ceilings, at double height in the central portion of the home, create a sense of airy internal space. Skylights in the kitchen and upstairs rooms provide maximum natural light.


On the upper level there are two bedrooms and a bathroom. A black wrought-iron balustrade lines the upper hallway, overlooking the foyer below. Upstairs guest rooms have steep pitched ceilings and dormer windows which provide views out over the garden to the river and park beyond.

Denise’s bedroom is located on the ground floor and – in keeping with the superb feature glazing in the rest of the home – has large windows. In the ensuite narrow French doors open into the garden. It’s a design feature that Denise could live without. “I was in the bathroom one day and looked up to find my gas man walking down the path,” she laughs. A wooden venetian blind, permanently closed, has now been installed.

Denise’s style secrets

  • What’s your advice to someone wanting to completely redecorate? Make decisions that reflect your tastes. Sometimes it helps to bring in professionals to advise on options and decor decisions, but ultimately it’s your home and if the advice you get is not a true reflection of your style, give yourself permission to go with your gut feeling.
  • Top tip for choosing colours? Get great big sheets of white paper and experiment with testpots in lots of rooms and on various surfaces. Colours look quite different depending on how the light in the room affects the space. Also, never paint test samples directly onto a wall. If you choose a lighter colour it is really difficult to get rid of the test outline.


Words by: Ady Shannon. Photography: Kate Claridge.

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