Elegant and sophisticated, but also welcoming and family friendly – this renovated charmer in Wellington has it all
meet & greet
Sean Bennett (explosives detection dog handler), Laura Bennett (financial crime analyst), son Harper, 10, and daughter Frankie, eight, plus Muffin the rabbit and Maddie the dog.
Four-bedroom, two-bathroom renovated 1920s bungalow in Wellington.
There’s a certain sorcery in a black-and-white colour scheme – it’s simple and striking, easy to build on and a shortcut to sophistication. Just as the little black dress is the ultimate fashion staple, a monochrome interior has the same timeless appeal, transcending trends due to the way it makes a space feel: calm, considered, with a hint of drama.
Laura Bennett, who lives in this Wellington bungalow with husband Sean and their children, Harper and Frankie, is quick to refuse credit for their home’s classic scheme – the couple bought the house already renovated. They didn’t choose the moody black kitchen cabinetry or dark stained floors, and Laura is frustrated that she can’t identify the perfectly crisp white paint on the walls (“Maybe Resene Black White? I wish I knew for sure what it was because I’d use it in every house I ever have”), but what they have done is built on the style foundations laid by the previous owners, embracing the magic of monochrome and making it their own.
To renovate or not?
Laura and Sean’s motivation for diving back into the real estate market, three years ago, is a familiar one: two fast-growing children and a sense that, if they weren’t bursting at the seams just yet, they soon would be. Having successfully renovated their previous home – another 1920s bungalow – they weren’t afraid of tackling another reno, but were also experienced enough to know that now was not the time. Laura reflects, “Our last renovation was pre-kids, but now my husband does shift work and we have two kids.”
When this home appeared on their radar – another century-old property, but one that had been fully renovated to a high standard – it seemed the ideal solution. “It pulled us in, the fact that it was done and we didn’t have to do anything,” says Laura. The house had period charm in spades, including the coffered ceilings of Laura’s dreams, but had been brought into the now with 21st-century non-negotiables, from upgraded insulation and wiring to a newly open-plan layout.
The previous owner, a property developer, had respectfully renovated the home to meet the needs of a modern family. “I have seen photos of it prior to the renovation and it was very boxy – they made it open plan,” says Laura. Walls were knocked through to create an open kitchen, dining and living zone, while the bedrooms were reconfigured to conjure up a fourth bedroom that’s perfectly sized and positioned to serve as a home office.
The new layout also incorporated features that could have been designed just for Sean and Laura’s family, like the second bathroom which – unusually – is not an ensuite, but a completely separate bathroom at the other end of the house from the bedrooms – perfect for when shift worker Sean is leaving for work super early and doesn’t want to wake the rest of the family. Built-in desks in the kids’ bedrooms are ideal for Harper and Frankie who, at 10 and eight years old, have reached an age when they need space for their schoolwork.
Even the style of the renovation, with its moody palette of dark surfaces, could have been custom-designed for Laura, who reflects, “I probably would have done something quite similar.” Though very different in style from their previous home, which was more traditional, the elegant black-and-white interior is a perfect match for fashion-obsessive Laura’s sophisticated, verging-on-minimalist taste.
Skip to the good part
With the dusty, dirty heavy lifting of the renovation already done, Laura and Sean could jump directly to the task of furnishing the home, which turned out to be a big job in itself. Their previous home had been of the same era – a 1920s bungalow – but more traditional, with soft, beige-toned whites and homely displays of ceramics.
“I used to collect Crown Lynn – we had these massive shelves in the old place and I displayed it all,” says Laura. “When we came here, my husband was like, ‘We have to go modern’.” Rather than force a square peg into the round hole of this contemporary renovation, Laura and Sean decided to start from scratch, getting rid of all the major furnishings that wouldn’t suit or wouldn’t comfortably fit in the new place, and choosing all new pieces. Such a task is not for the faint of heart, but the result is a curated and cohesive space that felt finished from very early on.
Though the couple wasted no time in putting their own stamp on the house with furniture and objet d’art, they’ve also made little changes to the fixtures, but much more slowly and steadily. With no deadline to work towards, they’ve been making thoughtful changes that have meaning for them, like the pendant in the hallway, by favourite lighting designer David Trubridge. The light is the first thing guests see as they come through the front door and the first thing the family sees as they come home through the attached garage.
Hunting and gathering
While the house is fully furnished and technically ‘done’, Laura loves the creative outlet of interiors too much to quit now and is always happily browsing for new ideas. She confesses a devotion to Instagram, using it as a source of inspiration and a tool for finding objects that make her heart sing, which sometimes means putting on her detective cap and tracing an item from a random inspirational picture. For example, the Pampa horse photograph in the living room, which Laura spotted as a tiny detail in an Instagram square, was a must-have because it reminded her of having horses as a child, and was painstakingly traced back to the original Australian store.
Regular migration of objects through the home also helps to keep things fresh. “The house is done, to an extent, but in terms of placement of things, that’s never done,” says Laura, who recalls regularly rearranging rooms, even as a child. “I have a habit of continually moving things around until I like it, and then later moving it again. It gives you a different outlook when you change things up.”
These shifts and changes keep the house feeling new and exciting until Sean and Laura embark on their next home adventure. Is there another move in their future? Yes, at some point. But in the meantime, it’s hard to imagine a nicer place to be.
Words by: Shelley Tustin. Photography by: Anna Briggs