A Wellington two-bedroom cottage has expanded over the years to become a restful, warm and beautiful home to a family of seven filled with vintage treasures collected over the years
Everywhere you look in Sarah and Mark Vivian’s Wellington house there’s vintage rubbing up against new. Green velvet Trade Me chairs book-end a contemporary black Kartell table, upon which a vintage French crystal vase perches.
A mother-in-law’s tongue in an heirloom ceramic pot (it once belonged to Sarah’s grandparents) sits at the end of a contemporary quartzite kitchen island. Modern artworks hang alongside oil paintings. This blend of old and new is a bit of a metaphor for the Vivians, actually – Mark has lived here with his children since 2001, and when he and Sarah met in 2010 he encouraged Sarah to renovate and style it so it felt like home for them all.
The house itself is also a mix of old and new, having been built in 1921 as a two-bedroom cottage on an old milk delivery road. Over the years it’s been renovated numerous times – in the 1990s and most recently in 2017 by Mark and Sarah – and today it’s a welcoming four-bedroom family home with two living areas and plenty of space for the family of seven.
A home for family
“The size of the house works well for us,” says Sarah. “With five kids we needed a space that would work for us and grow with us – spaces where we can all be together, spaces where the teenagers can have their friends over, and space for Mark and I.”
Their most recent renovation saw them overhauling the kitchen, sitting/dining area, walk-in wardrobe and study. The former bathroom was massive and to make better use of the space they split it in two, creating a powder room on one side and an ensuite on the other. During the renovation they also future-proofed by building a one-bedroom self-contained apartment above a new garage – a space that can be used by extended family members.
As part of making the house work for their family, Sarah and Mark moved the kitchen, dining and sitting room around so it opened up onto the deck. Sarah says it’s changed how they live because it gave them a central hub to gather and chill out.
“The sitting room off the kitchen is now my favourite spot in the house – and I’d say that’s true for all of our family. It’s the perfect spot to sit, relax and chat with the kids or friends,” she shares.
The central showpiece
In the adjoining kitchen your eye is immediately drawn to the striking quartzite splashback and island – a stone Sarah searched long and hard for. “I went to many different stone retailers, yet nothing felt right. I had this gut feeling there was going to be the perfect piece of stone out there – even though I didn’t know what it would look like. I was running out of options when a retailer said she had one last piece to show me in their outdoor yard – the moment I saw it I knew it was the one I had been looking for,” she laughs.
The resulting four-metre kitchen island is a key feature of the space, practical as well as pretty: “We love to have family ‘happy hours’ (Lexi is great at preparing the nibbles for these) and the kitchen island makes a great servery,” says Sarah.
A peaceful retreat
“Restful, warm, beautiful” is how Sarah – a stylist and home stager – describes their home interior. “I wanted to make it a place where family and friends can retreat to; somewhere that’s interesting but doesn’t overwhelm – a place that provides a sense of peace,” she explains.
To achieve this, she repainted the home in muddy greys, greens and whites. “I am definitely drawn to softer, more gentle colours as I find them restful, which is what I want the feeling of my home to be. And then I create interest and a more edgy feel by layering texture and adding colour using cushions, art, greenery and my other precious finds.”
Those precious finds, of course, are what leads to that mix of old and new. “I love the friction caused by placing a modern piece of furniture next to a vintage item. Throughout the house I’ve created pockets of friction, and therefore interest.”
Talking to Sarah about the items in her home, it’s clear that her purchases are emotionally driven, as opposed to trends- or needs-focused. She says things “speak to her”, urging her to purchase them and take them home.
“I am always on the hunt for ‘treasures’, anything that ‘talks to me’ and I feel has a story to tell. It could be a piece of vintage art, a vase, an old shutter. I go with my instinct when finding things, and I am usually drawn to the shape and form of something or its patina.”
When trawling op-shops and vintage stores, Sarah finds herself especially drawn to vases, urns and ceramic vessels, as well as hardcover (mostly design) books. These finds end up on display in vignettes in different corners of her home.
“I am constantly shifting and moving things around to create new vignettes. To me, vignettes are the best way to elevate a space and highlight little cornerthat could otherwise be forgotten. I have an aversion to clutter, and they’re are a great way to bring in small detail while giving an item space,” she says.
It was her fondness for creating vignettes that saw her starting Sarah Vivian Home, an interior styling business she runs with her business partner Lorraine O’Connor.
“The business was founded on our shared love of vignettes – they bring us so much joy. I find when you group items together they more become more powerful and have a bigger story to tell. I love how a vignette can evoke memories for a client and I feel so lucky I get to style these for other people, using their everyday items and helping them source the missing pieces. I love spotting something I know will look amazing in a client’s home.”
Many of the pieces in Sarah and Mark’s home have a story to tell, says Sarah. Like the dining table and vintage chairs, which were the very first pieces the couple bought together. “It seems fitting that these are the pieces that still brings our family together each night for a meal – and I am sure it will continue to do so for many more years to come.”
Another sentimental piece is the set of antique drawers Sarah was given 25 years ago, which is in the sitting room: “I drove past them every morning on my way to work for six months, wishing I could afford them – until I was gifted them as a Christmas present.”
The vintage green planter in the dining area off the kitchen came from Sarah’s grandmother’s conservatory, a place she loved to sit in as a child. “It reminds me of a slower pace of life, greenery, of warm air and sunlight. My grandmother gave the pot to my mum and I was so delighted when my mum gifted it to me – a piece passed down through the generations,” Sarah says.
The same goes for the couple’s collection of art. Favourites include a large bright piece in the dining area painted by Sarah’s son Max and a landscape Mark’s grandmother painted with oils – Sarah had the frame repainted in Resene Quarter Gravel for a refresh.
“Like everything in our home, our art is also eclectic, yet tonal. There’s some of my own artwork on the walls, as well as a couple of pastel landscapes our son Tom and his girlfriend painted for me as a surprise. Another favourite is a large green floral piece that Mark and I found in a market in Australia. We had it shipped back and framed – it hangs in our kitchen and it’s gorgeous. We mix them up with pieces from artists such as an original watercolour by Roald Dahl, Sue Schaare, Jane Blackmore, Flox, Esther Bosshard and Mark Stafford.”
The outdoor spaces
The couple have done a lot of work on the outdoors, including building a DOC-style boardwalk that winds through native bush. There are lawns on each side of the house: one has a 180-degree view of the harbour and city, and the other is a sheltered lawn out the back where the kids can shoot hoops.
Despite her initial reluctance, Sarah is now a firm fan of the Astroturf they’ve laid on the back lawn. It’s made an area that was previously unusable in winter into a place to hang out and use year-round to play games, sit on bean bags and play basketball.
The Vivian family love their little slice of heaven on a ridge in Wellington and have no plans to move. In fact, they see themselves remaining there well after the kids have left home, envisaging the day when grandchildren will run through the large family home.
For now, Sarah is eyeing up her next projects. “Our home is always evolving, but we’ve tackled all the major parts. What’s left are more finishing touches: wallpapering the hallway, painting the sunroom and finishing off the TV lounge – I’d love to paint in a deep moody grey-green colour and add built-in bookshelves. I would also love to build a window seat in the hall alcove – it is such a sunny spot.”
The house may be 100 years old but there’s plenty of new life ahead for it yet.
Words by: Debbie Harrison. Photos by: Anna Briggs.