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This stylish mum gave her Arrowtown cottage a bright and breezy makeover

This mum has transformed her heritage cottage in Arrowtown into her own little slice of paradise with a white palette, timber accents and lots of texture


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Meet and greet

Nadia Caldwell, teacher, and Sammy, 2.

This stylish mum gave her Arrowtown cottage a bright and breezy makeover

It was love at first sight when Nadia Caldwell laid her eyes on the Arrowtown cottage that has been her home since 2010. Like many Kiwis, Nadia and her partner arrived home from their London OE ready to plant their feet somewhere new.

“Someone once told me that you pick where you want to live and the rest should (hopefully) fall into place,” says Nadia. “We decided that place was Arrowtown. We loved the feel of the place, the relaxed atmosphere and quaintness…the year-round holiday feel.”

The couple were looking at buying another house when they spotted the cottage. “I just fell in love with the wooden kitchen and the old doors down the hallway with glass panels,” says Nadia, who has always had a soft spot for older homes as they come with character “that you just can’t buy or build new”.

It seemed like a good investment with no surprises, and the cherry on top was its situation: surrounded by nature and adjoining a reserve. “My parents helped with the deposit and it was a dream come true when we purchased it at auction,” says Nadia.

Starting over 

Big changes in life are often catalysts for even more change. After her marriage broke up in 2015, Nadia – by now a mum with a young son, Sammy – decided to give the house a complete makeover, or as much of a transformation as she could afford.

The home’s existing open-plan layout meant Nadia could focus on cosmetic changes rather than anything structural. “I wanted to create a place that felt like mine and that Sammy and I could relax in and be proud of,” says Nadia, a teacher. “It needed to be a peaceful sanctuary at the end of the working day.”

In what Nadia dubs “Project Whiteout”, the interior was completely painted white, new curtains and shutters were installed and the wooden floor was sanded back. “It became like therapy for me, like a new start,” she says.

Finding the right shade of white was vital and Nadia did her homework before choosing Resene ‘Half Rice Cake’ and ‘Quarter Rice Cake’ as her paint palette. “I knew I had to be careful as it could come off either too harsh or the opposite: too warm and cream-looking. It helps to see the colours in the flesh, so I checked out the white walls of my friends’ homes.”

Initially Nadia wanted to paint not only the walls, kitchen, ceiling and wardrobes in the same shade of white, but the polished rimu floorboards as well. After careful consideration, she changed her mind. “I had to remember that I live in Arrowtown and although the summer is hot, the winter is very cold. I didn’t want our home to look like a fridge!”

Instead the polyurethane-coated floorboards were stripped back to their original colour and Swedish wood treatment Bona Naturale was applied to protect the floor and preserve its raw, matte finish.

Prep for success 

As a full-time working single mother, Nadia decided that outsourcing the painting was the only way to go. But sometimes even the professionals get it wrong. Her painter tried out a new primer product that promised to remove the need for sanding prep work. Not long after they moved back in, Nadia noticed the paint on the kitchen cupboards was “peeling off like bad sunburn”. The painter had to come back in to fix it up, first sanding it back and then repainting.

Neutral style 

Nadia has always had a strong sense of her own style. The lack of colour in her home and wardrobe is something she is often given a hard time about, but she’s not one to be swayed by others. “I definitely have an aesthetic that I’m drawn to. Whites, natural textures and finishes. I like continuity… I don’t want any one piece to stand out in the home.” Nadia jokes that this doesn’t mean she can’t appreciate colour – as long as it’s in other people’s homes.

This clean white canvas allows for an eclectic mix of styles and eras in her choice of furnishings. French country, modern Scandi and retro pieces all work together and the space feels carefully curated through Nadia’s consistent use of colour and natural textures.

Slow and steady 

Phase two of Project Whiteout was furnishing the home, as Nadia was basically starting from scratch. She saved on pieces that “filled the gaps” – couches, bedroom furniture, beds – and splurged on items she really wanted. “I would rather go without than have something that isn’t quite right. I have saved hard for the pieces I love rather than have a house full of things I know I will get sick of quickly.”

An aversion to clutter – and having a small house – also help to keep Nadia’s shopping in check. “The easiest way to make a small house feel smaller is to have heaps in it,” she says.

I would rather go without

than have something that isn’t quite right

Art lover 

The white walls also make a perfect backdrop for Nadia’s art collection which includes Vladimir Tretchikoff, ‘sculptographer’ Anna Church and lots of sculptural pieces by Studio Ceramics and Crown Lynn. “I am completely obsessed with Anna Church. She’s not only uber-talented but one of the nicest people. I have seven of her pieces and get nervous when she has a new collection coming out,” says Nadia.

Even toddler Sammy’s room is filled with graphic art prints. It’s the one space in the home where Nadia has added more contrast by using greys and black to bring extra interest to her son’s space.

Our space

Although there’s plenty more on her to-do list (“Can a girl ever be finished styling her home?”), Nadia feels a sense of contentment with the home she has created. “I love that this is our space and it’s our wee piece of paradise,” she says. “I feel blessed to have a home in a place that people are now struggling to buy into. I love having the reserve in our backyard and knowing that Sammy will grow up with all Arrowtown has to offer.”

Words by: Kelda Hunter. Photography by: Guy Frederick.

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