Leaving a tiny apartment in Auckland for a big house in Blenheim came with so many blessings
Meet & greet
Julian (logistics manager) and Faye Clarke (business events development manager), and son Tyson, two.
Two-storey, three-bedroom historic villa in Blenheim.
Sometimes Fay Clarke pinches herself and is reminded that the spacious historic three-bedroom villa she shares with her family is all theirs.
After struggling to enter the Auckland property market, she, her husband Julian and son Tyson found it unaffordable and had to fall back on cramped rental apartments.
But the stars aligned in 2021 when Julian, a logistics manager, was given the chance to transfer to Blenheim for work. Fay, a business events development manager, was on maternity leave at the time, and after the couple viewed the property in Blenheim, they knew it had potential.
“The home was being rented, and we had been through and loved it,” says Fay. “I grew up in the Netherlands – this house is a classic example of what I would have seen growing up in my hometown; it would fit right in.”
Placing an offer before their flight to Auckland departed, by the time the plane touched down, it was accepted.
“We moved down to Blenheim in May 2021, and the house, which was amazing on the outside – was desperate for love on the inside,” Fay says. “As soon as our flight landed, we started planning where to start renovating and what took priority. In Auckland the property market offers you a small apartment for around one million dollars whereas in Blenheim you can buy a standalone house for less.”
The couple’s two-storey, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home features a lounge, TV room, kitchen and dining room downstairs, opening to a pool area and garden.
“It was a real blessing for us,” Fay says. “A large, standalone house with a garden was excellent coming from a tiny two-bedroom rental apartment.”
Up to scratch
With stains from previous owners’ pets on the carpet, old chandeliers, maroon curtains, dated wallpaper, a leaky shower in an unusable bathroom and a dark wooden interior, the space left a lot to be desired. “It was pretty dark and needed a lot of work,” Fay says.
Fay and Julian’s vision was pragmatic: “It’s still a home; we have a toddler, so we wanted it to be light, with all surfaces washable. Our priorities were making the house comfortable, so we redid the carpet, fixed creaky floorboards, and installed honeycomb blinds upstairs to have full darkness when we were sleeping. These are all little touches you don’t necessarily see but feel when you live in the house.”
The priority list
It was April when they moved in, by which time the Blenheim winter was making itself known. “The first thing was ensuring we had a warm home,” Fay says. “Fortunately, the insulation had been done already. We got the heating guys around to install ducted heating.”
Although the couple did work where they could, they always used professionals when it counted, such as an electrician to rewire the house. “We both work full-time, so as soon as we put Tyson to bed, we put on overalls before stripping wallpaper and pulling up carpet. You’ve got to put the work in to make a house a home.”
Next was the bathroom, which had to be gutted and worked on from scratch as the couple didn’t know the extent of the leak coming from the shower. Apart from designing and painting it, Fay and Julian had to step back and leave it to the professionals.
Shortly after pulling the carpet up, they found a local contact to help sand the floors. “He was meant to stay for two weeks, but it extended to four to restore the floors to brand new – it was amazing. Now we have no creaks in the floorboards and they are silent when you walk on them. He ensured the floors were perfect.”
The villa’s character features include a door with original lead glass windows, which the couple replicated in the existing rimu doors. The new addition allows light to flow through from the kitchen to the dining room to the foyer.
Structural changes were few, except for the doors which originally separated the living and dining rooms. These were removed to create an open flow between the living areas. “We’ve got two lounges, one with a TV with couches, the other faces the pool, plus a big dining room with a log burner. On one side of the dining room is the kitchen, and on the other are the living rooms. Our TV lounge is our hang-out room, whereas when people are over, we use the other lounge.”
The kitchen layout changed, but the options were limited due to the home’s layout. While Fay and Julian had looked at extending it onto the deck or taking out a bathroom downstairs to add space to the kitchen, it proved too expensive.
The original island extended across most of the kitchen’s width, but the couple wanted it to perform like a true island. “We rejigged joinery with the help of a local joiner to make a narrower island and installed higher cupboards, replacing the black benchtop with a paler bench and cabinetry.” Soft-closing drawers were put in, as was a new pantry with drawers to maximise space. The boxed-in rangehood was a no-brainer: “We wanted a rangehood with shelves on each side, it’s an easy way to bring character into the kitchen.”
Clearance tiles were used for the splashback (costing only $100 for the lot) and were installed by Julian. “We bought a lot on clearance or secondhand, such as the secondhand fridge from Facebook Marketplace.”
With all these beautiful rooms that have been created, Fay feels torn when describing her favourite space but feels most drawn to the kitchen and living areas. “When the weather is good, which is most of the time, it is a bright space with a lovely, warm feel,” she says. Yet she also loves the feel of Tyson’s bedroom: “It’s such a cosy spot, the way his bedroom is with his toys in there and books on the shelf. It’s a cool space to hang out and spend time in.”
From dark to light
Throughout the home, Fay describes her aesthetic as minimalistic yet warm. “I like everything in the house to have a purpose. I either have to love it or have it as something we use.”
Given the family came from a two-bedroom small apartment with no furniture, they lived on outdoor furniture until things started arriving. They knew that the new furniture had to fit in with the white colours and earthy palette they envisaged. “In our bedroom, we built a headboard with plywood to bring wood in. There’s more colour in Tyson’s room, but we kept a lot of greenery on the drawers, feature wall and plants. It’s still earthy.”
The pale, elegant foyer with its detailed wall panelling is an indication of the home’s serene personality, but this hasn’t always been the case.
“This south-facing foyer originally featured a fixed gas heater and dark rimu wall panels. We had to lighten it.” The tradesmen working on the bathroom were reluctant to encourage Fay to paint the wall white. “They said, ‘Don’t paint it, there’s no coming back from that.’ We did paint it, however, and it instantly brightened that whole foyer as you walk in.”
Choosing the right shade of white paint was important to Julian and, with myriad versions to choose from, it was at the forefront of their minds. “Julian was really picky with the white colour,” Fay says. “Friends and family joke that our favourite colour is white. Julian chose a creamy white Resene Half Rice Cake on ceilings and walls throughout, except Resene Cloud, a warm grey beige, in the main bedroom. With white as your base, it’s easy to use decor and furnishings to bring colour back in.”
A lot of the couple’s decor is new, while others are from secondhand shops and garage sales. “Several art pieces tie back to experiences of our heritage. The korowai in the TV room ties back to Julian’s Māori heritage, and the Dutch KLM houses on the mantelpiece in the dining room tie back to mine. We also have a print of London because we lived there. Some items are from travels or are simply pieces that make us remember certain experiences.”
Although the inside needed the couple to stamp their style on it, the outdoors needed less work. The main priority was to make the pool area safe for Tyson. To do this, they installed a glass panel fence.
“There was no existing pool fence, so kids could fall straight in while playing in the backyard,” Fay says. “It was surrounded by terracotta tiles, which we painted. Then we installed glass panels to make the backyard a safe place for kids to run around.”
The garden was already established – one of the benefits of buying an old house – with existing hydrangeas, rose bushes, large trees, buxus hedges and nice garden foliage. “For us, it’s just about the upkeep,” Fay says.
Here to stay
Finally, after years of trying to find a home to call theirs, the Clarkes finally have one – and it’s only a stone’s throw from central Blenheim.
“When we have a date night we can walk into town, and Tyson will be able to walk to school, which is a massive plus,” Fay says. “This is a wow house, and we’ve changed it from wow on just the outside to wow on the inside too. We’ve put our stamp on it now and it feels like our own space.”
Words by: Catherine Steel. Photography by: Daniel Allen