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Inside an inner-city oasis inspired by overseas trips and a love of Star Wars

A well-travelled Auckland family’s light and airy home, which overlooks a valley, features beautiful reminders of their overseas trips

Far-flung destinations might be off the table for now but for freelance writer Helene Ravlich and her family, every day at home reminds them of their travels. She and husband Jooles Clements bought their early 1900s Freemans Bay house in Auckland six years ago, drawn to the verdant green valley it looks out on. They’ve since transformed what was a fairly blank canvas into an eclectic city-fringe oasis, inspired by their international getaways.

For the love of plants

Prior to living here, Helene, Jooles and their son Wolf lived in a villa on Ponsonby’s Richmond Road. But Helene had always fantasised about living on this particular street, a grand, leafy thoroughfare framed by trees. And although Richmond Road had been a great family home, one that Helene had owned since she was in her 20s, when this house came on the market, she thought there’d be no harm in looking.

“From growing up in a pole house out west, I’ve always loved lots of space and greenery,” Helene explains. “I walked in here, and even though I was minutes from Ponsonby Road, it felt like I was back in Titirangi.”

The house is positioned down off the road, meaning the entrance side is sheltered, yet the open-plan living space is elevated, with views over a spectacular grove – the neighbour to the north side has never subdivided and has instead worked to regenerate the native bush.

“We get everything swooping through here, from kererū to pīwakawaka and ruru,” says Helene. “Unlike our old place, we don’t see any cars. It’s nice and quiet.”

While the outdoor space is low-maintenance, with just a small strip of lawn on the north side, and a tiered garden of natives Jooles has replanted on the other, the couple have worked to bring the outdoors inside as much as possible. Jooles has nurtured a burgeoning pot-plant collection, with a propagating project always on the go, hence the array of monstera, hibiscus and various palms on the deck and living areas, many of them planted in pots he’s painted himself (as well as a repurposed washing machine).

“When Jooles went to the UK for a couple of weeks to see family, it was up to me to water all the plants,” says Helene. “I’d go round and round watering everything, and just when I thought I was done, I’d spot another one.”

Small touches

Because the house had already been extensively renovated from its former configuration as a block of flats, there wasn’t a huge amount to do once the family moved in. Helene and Jooles used vinyl wrap to take the kitchen cupboards from black to green to fit in with their love of plants, and gave the TV lounge a cosy, charcoal shade and charming white shutters. Upstairs, they renovated the bedroom ensuite, updating the floor tiles and adding a new mirror and freestanding cabinet – Helene now hopes to do something similar in the downstairs bathroom.

Perhaps the most dramatic alteration they’ve made, however, is to install a partial roof on the living room deck, allowing for just enough sun to peep through at the end for washing. Before that, the north-facing deck was almost too hot to enjoy in the height of summer.

“Now we can actually use it as another room, even when it rains,” says Helene. “And the plants are much happier.”

The permanent roof has helped to keep the living room cool too, making it a more tempting proposition to lounge on the daybed with a good book. Elsewhere, many of the decorating decisions were dictated by size.

“Because this house has so many white walls and so much more space than the old house, we had to get things that were bigger and made more of an impact,” says Helene. “We had to buy a bigger bed and a bigger couch. Some of the artworks that were too big in the other house fit in really well here.”

Global inspiration

The home is a treasure trove of eclectic finds, including vintage prints sourced from antique shops, street art created by friends and furniture pieces inspired by time spent in Bali, Thailand and Morocco. The collection of Buddhas look right at home perched on the leadlight window sills and wooden shelves, as does the glamorous rattan peacock chairs on the deck and in the bedroom.

“Travelling has always been my thing and that’s what I like to spend money on,” says Helene. “We’ve tried to create a little of that at home, which is especially great now because we can’t go anywhere.”

Memorable holidays also inspired the living room daybed – which Jooles reupholstered in a resort-style fabric – and all the plant life, whether hanging from the ceiling or positioned in pots on the wooden floors.

“As much as it drives me mad, it does take me back to those sorts of places,” says Helene. “I loved the colours of Marrakech and the earthiness with bright pops of colour here and there. We’ve definitely tried to bring that into the house. None of it has been planned – it’s just arrived.”

Ponsonby life

The beauty of this five-bedroom, three-storey home is its 200sqm living space – there’s plenty of room for each member of the family to find solace. Although Helene often prefers to sit at the dining table and work with the green outlook as her backdrop, she has a separate office upstairs with its own veranda, should she need extra peace and quiet. The main living level has a small coat room that Jooles has turned into his workshop – it’s in here, he and Wolf create Star Wars and video game-inspired cosplay outfits. Downstairs has a self-contained apartment for guests.

Living where they do ensures Helene hardly ever needs to use her car. Even the supermarket is walking distance away.

“It does mean we end up being real creatures of habit – we find excuses not to go anywhere else. That’s the only drawback about living here – that it’s too easy.”

Words by: Carrie Bell. Photography by: Babiche Martens.

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