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Why this family’s landlord paid for them to completely makeover their rental

All it took to transform this tired rental property was a creative eye, plenty of hard work and an unusual agreement with the landlord

Four years ago, Tash and Arie Stokes made the decision to start a family and grow their photography business instead of buying a house and taking on a mortgage. But when their landlord announced he’d be selling the property they were happily renting, they found themselves in the stressful position of having to find another home – and fast. Tash was pregnant with their second child, George (now 1), and they were underwhelmed by the rentals available.

“We visited this house and loved its bones, but that was about the only thing it had going for it,” recalls Tash. The interior was characterised by shabby, old-fashioned wallpaper and interior paint colours straight out of the 1980s. The curtains and blinds were old and the house was tired and in dire need of an overall update. After the viewing, the couple wrote the property off. “I couldn’t imagine living in a house that was so colourful,’’ says Tash.

A cheeky proposition

However, a few days after the viewing, Arie and Tash were contacted by the landlord. “He was a lovely family man who was really impressed by us,” explains Tash. “He offered us the property on the spot.” But before accepting, the couple discussed at length how they could make this house work for them as a family.

Putting aesthetics aside, the home did have some redeeming qualities. It had decent-sized rooms, was dog-friendly, had a large, functional home office and was centrally located in Fairfield, Hamilton.

After nutting out the pros and cons, the couple put forward a cheeky proposition to the landlord. If they accepted the property, could they make improvements? And would these be reimbursed? “For the landlord it was a win-win,” explains Tash. “He would have a house-proud family move into his rental property, who would update his house for the simple cost of materials. We also saw it as a positive for us, as we would get to make this house our own.”

There were a few conversations back and forth, working through the finer details, but in the end, both parties were very happy with the arrangement.

The reno race

Six weeks before George was due, Tash, Arie and Ruby moved into their new home and the makeover began immediately. With George’s arrival imminent, the couple couldn’t waste any time and threw themselves into the project, starting with the worst rooms.

Shelves are a fabulous way to personalise a room and I often shuffle the contents around…

Our favourite artworks are the family photos.

“As soon as we had been handed the keys, I got to work removing all the wallpaper from the master bedroom,” says Tash. “Unfortunately, it was hiding a multitude of sins, so there was a lot of patching up of uneven surfaces to be done before we could begin painting.”

Each room required layers of old wallpaper to be removed by hand before priming and painting could begin. They painted all the rooms in neutral, easy-to-live-with white and grey (Resene Triple Sea Fog for the bedrooms and bathroom; Resene Half Merino in the kitchen and living room), updated the window coverings, installed lightshades and personalised spaces with shelving, photography and artworks.

In just four weeks, the couple had made over the master bedroom, nursery and bathroom. The rest of the home was tackled over a period of months after George was born.

Making it personal

Even though they don’t own the house, Arie and Tash have created a wonderful family home that oozes their own style. Arie – a dab hand at carpentry – made the coffee table, the bedside tables in the master bedroom and the shelves throughout the house.

These pieces each display cherished trinkets and mementos the couple have collected over the years. “Shelves are a fabulous way to personalise a room and I often shuffle the contents around,” says Tash. “The art is carefully considered, but this is also something we change often. Our favourite artworks are the family photos.”

Creative spaces

The couple’s business, Black Robin Photography, is run from their bright and spacious home office/studio. “We wanted the space to be multipurpose,” says Tash. “The white walls and floor mean we can use it to shoot in, but it also gives the space a light, airy feel for when we meet our clients here.”

While Tash and Arie have their own workspace, they’ve created a gorgeous craft nook for their children to play and create in. “It used to be a totally underutilised space,” says Tash. Initially, they considered putting additional shelving there, but instead decided to make it a special spot just for the kids with a built-in desk and adorable little chairs found in the Hamilton store Needle in the Hay.

Kids’ rooms

A house feels like a home when it expresses the character of the people who live there, and Tash has styled her children’s bedrooms with this in mind. “Sure, it would be nice to have their rooms styled minimally but that doesn’t reflect them as people. They are young for such a short period of time, so I fully embrace that.”

Tash found the drawers in Ruby’s room in an op shop and painted them in the blue shade that Ruby picked out herself. The reading nook in her room is a space where she can snuggle up with a book and have some quiet time with her teddies.

The nursery has evolved as George has grown and the couple learn more about him and what he likes. He loves animals, cars and bright colours so they have tried to incorporate these into his bedroom design.

“The toys on his shelf were mostly all vintage finds that I collected while I was pregnant with him. Same goes for the book basket and bedside cabinet,” explains Tash. “I painted the cabinet the brightest yellow I could find as he loves opening and closing it and hiding things inside.”

The Happy ending

This unique situation has allowed Arie and Tash to focus on growing their family and their photography business, rather than paying off a mortgage. “Thanks to our landlord, we still get to live in a home that feels very much ‘ours’ but without the financial pressure,” says Tash. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement that might just inspire a few others.


Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Alice Veysey.

This article was first published in Your Home and Garden. Follow YHG on Instagram, Facebook and sign up to the fortnightly email for inspiration between the issues.

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