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Inside artist Maiko Nagao’s newly renovated home decorated for Christmas

In artist Maiko Nagao Irvine’s newly renovated home DIY comes naturally – as do the Christmas decorations

In 2018 Maiko Nagao Irvine and Mike Irvine’s Birkdale home in Auckland graced the cover of Your Home and Garden magazine. Small, cosy and filled with Maiko’s ingenious DIY projects and interior hacks, it was perfect for their family of three.

Today their family has a new member and, while the house appears relatively unchanged from the street, it’s a completely different story inside.

“When we first bought the home, we hadn’t really thought very far in terms of renovation plans,” says Maiko. “All we were really focused on was getting it liveable.”

Yet, when asked about future plans in her house feature three years ago, Maiko said, “We’d love to turn one of the wide windows in the lounge into French doors that open out to a deck for indoor-outdoor flow. And do some landscaping, build a fort, a sandpit and a mini skate ramp so Kaito can spend all day outside.” And if they could change anything? “We’d love to be able to add an ensuite or another toilet one day.”

At the time those questions were more like a fun game of ‘what if’ than actual plans, but fast forward to 021 and they have done exactly that.

While the fort, sandpit and mini skate ramp are still pending, Maiko and Mike have added an extension that now encompasses a new living room with large sliding doors leading onto an expansive deck – and a great view of Rangitoto they never knew they had. A new bathroom and ensuite have been created within the original structure of the house and – it wasn’t on the wish list back in 2018 – a bright new kitchen has been built inside the extension too.

“I was most excited to redesign the kitchen,” says Maiko. “To have a space where everything functions is amazing. It’s really nice to have high-pressure water and cupboards that close properly.”

Custom on a budget
Function aside, the kitchen was also a space where Maiko could use the full force of her creativity.

“I didn’t want just another white-on-white kitchen,” she explains. “We managed to do it all for $19,000, which people are always shocked by.”

Standard white cabinetry lines the back wall of the kitchen and a white engineered stone benchtop sits on the island. But that’s where the conventional stops. Striking marble tiles with a hint of moss green vein make a highlight of the splashback and the stone benchtop curves gracefully at one end. Beneath the bench is Maiko’s favourite feature – the rounded dowel lining, which was sized and cut especially for this island by timber manufacturers Genia.

This look is mirrored on the living room wall with slightly thinner dowel. “I thought it might be a bit boring to have the same profile on both feature surfaces,” says Maiko. “The smaller size difference enriches the texture in the space.”

The main bathroom presented a similar challenge. “I found the search for bathroom vanities in New Zealand quite difficult,” says Maiko. “There are heaps of lovely higher end options and the lower end options weren’t very exciting design-wise. There was no happy medium.”

After voicing this frustration on her Instagram account, New Zealand business The Custom Creative got in touch and they collaborated on a custom vanity, which Maiko designed, and is now available to buy from their website as the ‘Maiko Curved Vanity’.

“We were very fortunate to be able to collaborate with a few local businesses, which helped cut costs for us,” says Maiko.

There are few items in Maiko’s home that have remained in their original purchased condition. In fact, you’d struggle to directly ‘shop the look’ of this home as most of pieces have been upcycled, modified, or created by the artist herself.

There’s the mirror in the main bedroom, which many mistake as a high-end buy, but is actually just a budget-friendly one from The Warehouse with little wooden balls stuck to the sides with shoe glue. The cabinetry running down the hallway from the front door is three Ikea shoe cabinets with their legs taken off and attached to the wall off the ground so the vacuum cleaner can get underneath. Maiko repeated this idea in the lounge with the white entertainment unit that runs from wall to wall, which is made of three Mocka cabinets with their feet removed.

The decorative vases and interesting pieces lining her shelves and the entertaining unit are lockdown creations, all of which started out as unused vessels, dishes and bowls lying around the home. Maiko explains, “I needed some new vases, but we couldn’t buy anything new when we were in level 4, so I went around the house and found all these little items we weren’t using.” She then transformed them into chic decorative pieces using shoe glue, cut out cardboard shapes and paint. “I mixed baking soda and paint to get some texture – on one of them I even used coffee grounds to get even more texture and it worked really well.”

Other DIYs include the wooden nesting tables in the lounge, which originally had thin black metal legs but now sport on-trend tubular feet made from PVC pipe finished with chalk paint.

And it seems the mum-of-two’s creativity gene has been passed on to six-year-old Kaito, who has just launched a print collaboration with his mother. “It’s been a really happy experience for us to be able to spend time together and be creative,” says Maiko. The Kaito x Maiko Nagao prints feature positive phrases such as ‘human kind’ and ‘cover me in sunshine’ – which is one of Kaito’s favourite songs – with $1 of each sale going to KidsCan, and $1 going to the artist himself (order from maikonagao.com). “It’s also been great to be able to teach him about giving back to others too,” says Maiko. “Positive affirmations for my sons sparked the inspiration for this.”

On the bright side

These core family values; repurposing old into new and being kind to one another, make their way into Christmas traditions too. Their Christmas tree is a $2 find from an op-shop and is normally decorated with dried flowers.

“We try not to buy anything new, there are lots of DIYs and we always make our own decorations,” Maiko says. The children’s advent calendar is another DIY treasure, it’s made from brown paper bags and filled with creative tasks and games.

You wouldn’t expect anything less from this DIY queen, who says, “For me, what sparks joy is staying creative.”

Words by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Helen Bankers. Styling by: Kate Alexander and Shelby George from Places & Graces

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