A love of old homes and all things curvy has seen this determined couple design a new-build that’s full of character. Take a tour below
If it were to be given a title, Olivia Sullivan and Sam Kennedy’s new build would be “The Great Balancing Act of 2020”. It begins with the design, which called for a home that stood out from its suburban neighbours – but not too much. Next was the desire for a home filled with character and history, which was met with the realities of building new. And above it all was the budget – the great equaliser – where blow-outs were matched with sacrifices and savings rewarded with splurges.
“I wanted something really light and fresh, but with a lot of quirky details,” says Olivia. “It needed to be timeless, but we didn’t want it to look like every other shiny new build. It wasn’t an easy road.”
The resulting home is exactly what they envisioned; a quality new build with details and finishes that give it personality and help it to stand out from the rest.
In 2019, Sam and Olivia made their way back to Christchurch after a five-year stint in London. On their return they had one thing on their mind – “a little St Albans villa,” says Olivia. They saved stringently, but after missing out on every house they were interested in, the couple realised their St Albans dream home was way beyond their budget.
“Building new for me was a ‘heck, no!’” explains Olivia. “There is no character in a new build, but when we thought about size, warmth and design, we realised that it was going to be more cost-effective for us, although it took a lot of convincing for me.”
Knowing a lot of tradespeople and having hands-on family members helped them immensely when it came to the budget. “We were really lucky in that sense,” Olivia explains, “Sam’s dad owns a construction and project management business, and my godfather did the kitchen for us, so our labour costs were a lot lower than they would’ve been.”
Making the new home look new, but feel like an old home was top priority, so Olivia and Sam took it into their own hands. “We had a little maths book and it was filled with all our plans,” explains Olivia. Most nights they’d sit down and map out different floor plans, one square representing a square metre. Once they had finally settled on the best 205sqm layout, they went to a draughtsman.
Both Olivia and Sam love the look of barn-style homes, but it’s a style that looks out of place in a subdivision. As a compromise, they opted for a double-gabled silhouette to reference that barn style, with a modern twist. Tongue and groove panelling also features on the walls and doors throughout the house to add that touch of character Olivia adores in older homes.
“I really wanted to bring texture and details into this new home because so often they’re just white and plain,” she says. “In older homes the main bedroom always has some sort of feature detail, like a grand fireplace. It’s very hard to replicate that, but I wanted some kind of detail in the main, which is why we landed on the tongue and groove shelf wall behind the bed.”
Lighting was another way of referencing older homes. Olivia veered away from modern down lights in favour of pendants in all of the bedrooms, except the main, and wall-mounted sconces. “Sam also insisted on the log burner,” she says.
Sam and Olivia were determined not to be just “another house in the suburbs”, but they needed to fit in. So, in the name of research, they spent many hours driving around the neighborhood in their white van to get a feel for the look and style of the surrounding houses. Their hours of style-scouting didn’t go unnoticed, causing a vigilant neighbour to post a warning on an online community group about a ‘white van driving around the
streets’. “We had to quickly introduce ourselves and explain what we were doing!” laughs Olivia.
The result of their stakeouts established that a plaster exterior was out of the question. Instead, the couple opted for vertical cedar cladding – on the front only, as it was all the budget would allow for – and bagged brick. “At some point, in the next couple of months, we might do another layer of bagging to make it even more rustic,” says Olivia.
“Another thing we did, which everyone questioned, was choosing white aluminium joinery,” she says. “A lot of the newer homes use black or charcoal aluminium. From the inside, having white joinery makes it feel fresh and light, instead of closing the space in.”
The first few pages in their maths grid book saw the kitchen placed in the middle of their open-plan space with living on one side and dining on the other side. The only caveat with this design was where to put the butler’s pantry – a must-have.
“We were really struggling to work the space right with the gabled ceiling, kitchen in the middle and include a butler’s pantry,” explains Olivia. In the end, they moved the kitchen to the back of the room and tucked the butler’s pantry in behind it. “Now, when you walk through the door, the kitchen
is the feature at the end that immediately catches your eye, which I’m so stoked with.”
The kitchen was Olivia’s favourite space to design. “I took my inspiration from an image I had seen on Pinterest and, funnily enough, it looks completely different to the original concept.”
The curved kitchen bench was the only element to make its way from the original concept to the final product. It’s joined by textured pearl tiles, an engineered warm white concrete benchtop and round wall sconces.
“I knew I didn’t want a marble benchtop or pendants over the kitchen island. I also didn’t want any overhead cupboards,” Olivia says. “I wanted it to be really clean and open, so we’ve just got the one oak shelf on the wall.”
Storage isn’t an issue because Olivia made sure to put plenty of cupboards around the kitchen island, and the butler’s pantry is lined with open shelving.
Aside from the professionally executed straight lines of the structure itself, curves rule inside Sam and Olivia’s home. “I love curves,” Olivia says. “They’re all around the house – on the kitchen bench, in the light fittings, the couch, the TV cabinet, even the dining table isn’t a perfect rectangle. I love quirky lines.”
Five years of living in Europe gave Olivia ample inspiration for her new abode. In fact, “interior inspiration” was a good reason to choose only the most design-worthy Airbnb’s to stay in.
Olivia recalls a beautiful Copenhagen Airbnb, which sparked her love for Scandinavian style. “The whole house was about half the size of our living space, but the way it was designed was beautiful and I just fell in love with the style. It’s muted and minimalist, but a little quirky.”
Trinkets collected from London’s Hackney markets are littered throughout the house, a lovely reminder of their time abroad. “We still can’t believe this is our home,” says Olivia. “There was one day when we were standing in the living space, the walls were up and we were just pinching ourselves saying, ‘This is going to be our home.’ It was such a crazy thought, but here we are.”
Words by Bea Taylor. Photography by Sarah Rowlands. Styling by Olivia Sullivan