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Why this family bought this sweet little villa in Devonport twice

After living in this exact villa a decade ago David and Lea Eaton jumped at the chance to buy it again and transform it into their forever home

Meet and greet 

Lea Eaton, museum guide host, David Eaton, firefighter and karate instructor, Laura, 25 (human rights lawyer and masters student), and Daniel, 17, plus beloved pooch Frankie (she rules the world!).

Why this family bought this sweet little villa in Devonport twice

Finding a home can be serendipitous for some, but for David and Lea Eaton, taking ownership of their villa, tucked down a quiet cul-de-sac near Cheltenham Beach in Devonport, Auckland, was anything but a chance event.

In a game of two halves, the couple first bought the house in the late 1990s, but sold up four years later, only to take possession a second time more than a decade later. “After purchasing in 1999, circumstances led us to leave in about 2003, and we always regretted selling,” Lea recalls. “When it came back on the market in 2015, we jumped at the chance to buy it again. The spacious outdoors, privacy and its charm have always wrapped itself around the family.”

Moving back into the neighbourhood has been a revelation. The family has embraced the quiet, village atmosphere and natural landmarks.

“We go to Chateaubriant every day except Monday – only because it’s closed on Monday. They bake the best baguettes and French pastries in Auckland!” Lea enthuses. “Our morning and evening walks with Frankie, our beloved bichon-shih tzu cross, are full of surprises. The beauty of this area is unsurpassed and we cannot imagine living anywhere else.”

First things first 

Once it was back in their hands, the Eatons unleashed their long-held vision on the property, and immediately engaged a local architect for the first phase of renovations: a new ensuite. With the villa’s Heritage Zone listing, the council consents process proved slow and arduous, taking several months to complete. “This is where a good architect is worth every cent,” says Lea. “Matthew [Bates] from Leading by Design ensured all the boxes were ticked and everything ran as smoothly as possible.”

Meanwhile, they set about taming the overgrown gardens, engaging another local creative, Robin Woods from Muddy Wellies. “Work on the gardens took around six months, as we had to get a seven-tonne digger up the bank, move truckloads of clay, then barrow the good stuff back in. Work on the ensuite and laundry also took around six months. The roof desperately needed replacing and when we lifted it, we were told the whole of the lean-to needed replacing as well!”

Stylish simplicty

With a little over 110 square metres to work with, each stage of the renovation focused on maximising the feeling of space. White is key to the interior, along with washes of crisp grey, while the original kauri floorboards bring warmth and balance to the scheme.

While most people increase their living space when moving house, the Eatons downsized, which naturally led to a more minimalistic approach to living. “You don’t need a big house to have a beautiful and comfortable home,” says Lea. “This has been a journey to start again with only what we love or need.”

Inspired by local homeware store Father Rabbit, which subscribes to a simple and considered approach to life, Lea and David have streamlined their home by applying this philosophy as the renovation unfolded. “We got rid of a lot of stuff, and after a trip to Stockholm were inspired by the simple and pared-back style there,” Lea explains. “It is so cathartic getting rid of stuff you don’t need or don’t consider to be useful or beautiful.”

Additions and interior elements have been carefully chosen, resulting in stripped-back, simple forms and fabrics, including a deep-set sofa which takes pride of place in the family’s favourite space, the living room.

“The lounge is hard to beat! We have a super-sized linen couch and a gorgeous open fire. A painting of Mount Victoria, where we often walk, in beautiful muted colours, by our dear friend Greer Clayton, hangs above the couch. It’s a lovely place for reading and chatting with mates after supper.”

The whole nine yards

Builder Reece Watson dubbed the project The Big Little Build, which aptly conveys the scale of work done on the property. Outside, extensive retaining was required to prepare the backyard for the picture-perfect lawn and flow to the back deck. “Reece organised the laying of a beautiful new driveway, and floating stairs up to our front veranda, which is painted white to extend the living area and contrast with the backdrop of the garden.”

A haven for native birdlife, an ancient pohutukawa frames the property, while the front garden is a delight all year round. “I often have people walking past and literally stopping to smell the roses,” says Lea. Sitting under the grapevine, pottering in the vege garden and watching the seasons come and go are ongoing pleasures for the family. In their big little home, Lea and David have created a thoughtfully considered sanctuary that they love.

Easy breezy

The addition of the ensuite has dramatically changed the way the Eatons live, and given them the luxury of much-needed space and privacy in a busy household. Even small changes, such as enlarging the doorway between the lounge and kitchen, have had a huge impact on the villa’s overall look and feel.

Savouring the extra breathing space afforded by the renovations, Lea loves her home all the more and finds satisfaction in everyday activities. “Something as simple as a new bunch of flowers or rearranging the ‘still life’ on your dining room table is such fun,” she says.

Pre-dinner chats are another feature of daily life and also a constant source of renovation inspiration. Son Daniel, who is still at high school, has embraced his parents’ love of design. From each completed project springs a new idea to improve the property – all part of the beauty of living in a home and understanding its nuances.

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

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