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This cottage proves that a neutral palette doesn’t have to be boring

This colour specialist gave her heritage cottage a light and bright makeover – with one eye on its future market appeal. We discover her neutral colour styling tricks


This heritage cottage proves that a neutral palette doesn’t have to be boring

Who lived here? Davina Harper, colour specialist at Dulux and Simon Hornby, sales manager, plus Olive the cat.

Where is the home? Owairaka, Auckland.


When did you move in? Davina: I bought the house in 2009 and have recently sold it.

Why did you decide to purchase your home? I thought it would be a good long-term investment as it was reasonably priced, in an up-and-coming area and only 15 minutes from the city.


First impressions 

What drew you to this home? The character of the house, its sunny outlook and the view of Owairaka-Mt Albert. It was also a standalone property on a freehold site. The house is an old kauri worker’s cottage that had been shifted from Takapuna about 10 years previously.

What did you not like about the house? The kitchen was basically a recycled stainless-steel bench bolted to the wall, with open shelving.

Were there any issues you wanted to fix with your makeover? I wanted to have more kitchen storage, a dishwasher and a functional breakfast bar. I also wanted to lighten up the house and give it a more spacious feeling.

What renovations have you undertaken? I painted the interior, refitted the kitchen and added a deck.


The renovation 

What style were you aiming for? Simple and comfortable. I chose soft colours that would be calm and easy to live with. I wanted to create a kitchen-dining room that other people would love, to ensure that it would appeal to buyers when it came time to sell.

What finishes did the house require? All the windows and trims in the house were plain wood. Because the house is tiny, this made it feel closed in and a lot smaller than it actually was. I repainted the living areas in Dulux ‘Okarito’, a crisp white, to lighten up the space. This made a huge difference to the feel of the house.

Did you use tradies or do the work yourself? I used a painter, a kitchen company and the trusted services of my brother-in-law, who is a builder. I designed the plan for the kitchen and had it created by a company recommended to me by a friend.


Moving on 

Why did you sell the cottage? After almost nine years there, we wanted to move somewhere a little bigger, and have now bought a place better suited to two people. It was sad to leave my wee cottage, but it was time for someone else to enjoy the space and make it their own.


Colour queen 

What does your job involve and how does it relate to home projects like this? I look after the Colour Strategy for Dulux NZ, including the prediction of colour trends. I’d like to say that it helps with projects like this, but on the other hand I see so many amazing ideas it’s hard to decide what to do at home!

How did you choose your colour palette? I’m attracted to soft, neutral colours as I like to create calm, relaxing spaces at home. I wanted a restful, clean white in my living areas, and then something neutral, cocooning and cosy in the bedrooms. I tell other home decorators to take inspiration from the items you already have – take an artwork, a piece of furniture or your favourite cushion and build a colour scheme around that. It’s also important to take into account the colour of existing items in the room that are expensive or difficult to change, such as flooring, curtains or benchtops.

How can people achieve an interesting look with a neutral palette? Neutral doesn’t have to be boring. One way to make neutrals work is to add layers of texture – woven cushions, fluffy rugs, natural wood and indoor plants all help to make a neutral room feel more inviting and look interesting.


Any artists, brands or makers that you are inspired by? I’m lucky enough to work with lots of clever and creative New Zealanders such as Evie Kemp, Alex Walls, Michelle Halford and Alex Fulton. I’m also inspired by Simon James, Tim Webber, Douglas and Bec and two of my favourite New Zealand artists, Elliot Collins, Gavin Hurley and John Reynolds.

What else inspires you? Each year I travel to the Milan Design Fair with a small team from Dulux to look for the latest colour trends. This year I was inspired by installations by British lighting designer Lee Broom and Japanese design firm Nendo, as well as the playful colour combinations by Italian company Miniforms.


What did you spend on your home? I spent $15,000 on the kitchen including appliances, $7000 painting the interior of the house and $5000 on the deck.


What did you save on? I knew I was going to sell the house, so I went for a simple white kitchen with basic appliances that would appeal to most people.

What did you splurge on? The herringbone tile splashback, which is my favourite feature of the house.

Total: $27,000

Words by: Fiona Ralph. Photography by: Helen Bankers.

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