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A family injects style and warmth into a small Mapua rental

Amid the waves of headlines about Kiwis immigrating across the ditch, Sarah and Ben Pickersgill-Brown decided to buck the trend — swapping their home in Melbourne for a quaint Māpua rental home on the Tasman Bay coastline

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Meet & Greet: Ben (business analyst) and Sarah Pickersgill-Brown (photographer, stylist and content creator), twins Caspian and Quill, seven, and Elbie, 20 months.

The Property:  Three-bedroom, one-bathroom rental in Māpua.

Originally from New Zealand, Ben and Sarah moved to Australia 15 years ago, but during the numerous lockdowns, the call of home proved irresistible.

They settled on the picturesque village of Māpua, which is located conveniently between the amenities of Nelson and Ben’s parents. As is often the case with small communities, there was only one available rental property, which the couple snapped up before the start of the school year. This meant downsizing and making some compromises for their dream location, but it was more than worth it for their new way of life. “In general, it’s been the best lifestyle change for us, we wanted to be close to the beach for the boys to hang out and there’s a real community vibe, it’s really easy to make friends,” says Sarah.

In the kitchen, a Robert Gordon cake stand displays oranges and lemons, alongside salt and pepper shakers from Country Road. 

The big move

Having grown up here, Sarah was all too aware that New Zealand furniture was not only more expensive but limited in options in comparison to Australia. So, when the time came to move, she bit the bullet and paid the exorbitant price for all their Australian furniture to make the journey with them. “Because we had such a large house in Melbourne, I had my pick of what furniture could go in each room. I had a lot to choose from, which made styling quite easy,” she says. Half is still in storage, unable to fit into the cosy cottage, awaiting their future home.

Styling savvy

Despite the house being a rental, Sarah’s stylistic vision flows through the house, it’s a contemporary coastal feeling that is found with a linen cushion here, and a wool rug there. “I am drawn to natural fibres and earthy tones, more and more,” she says. “Having styled a few different rentals and homes, I realised that the pieces that I hold onto, and love are always ones that are made of oak, leather or wool. They’re always the ones that are my favourite.”

After moving in, Sarah immediately put down large rugs to cover the carpet and swapped the rental property’s curtains for sheer ones. “I needed the window dressings to be a certain look. It’s good for light purposes and I think it makes a huge difference to a room,” Sarah says. “The curtains and oversized rugs transformed the feel of the house.”

The Pickersgill-Brown family gather in the living room, which features a boucle armchair from Fenton & Fenton and a two-seater modular couch from Adairs.

Creating the magic

As a content creator, Sarah first gained popularity thanks to her styling of twins Caspian and Quill’s room back in Australia. Those spaces were magical creations, like something out of Harry Potter, complete with slides and swings. That sense of fun hasn’t been lost in the move, with a huge bunk bed from Dutch company Rafa-kids dominating the boys’ room.

In Elbie’s nursery, a Snuffy wool rug from Miffy Town adds a cute focal point for the room in a sea of cosy whites. A Sew Heart Felt swan soars above the room, alongside a Roomi & Me Neutral Galaxy mobile. “In the nursery, you can see that dreamy, earthy, neutral kind of colour palette,” Sarah says. A Miss Amara rug adds to the cocooning cosiness of the room. A Keiko cot from Green Cathedral, which is made of Tasmanian oak, is loved by both Elbie and his parents. “I love the cot. That would be my favourite piece – it’s so well made,” says Sarah.

“Being at home a lot as a mum, I’m always in the house, looking around, thinking about how a room could look and feel better,” Sarah says. “When I had twins, it was a natural process to start using the house as a creative outlet. I started photographing it and posting it on Instagram, and it was just a place to show creativity and connect with other mums. It grew organically from there.” She admits it’s not ideal using a family home as a backdrop for your job due to everyday mess and chaos, but “it sort of comes naturally to make where we live beautiful and feel good”.

The Diagramme II artwork from M+Co Living adds a burst of colour in the dining room and the custom-made dining table from Tov & Co goes perfectly with the Noris ash and leather dining chairs from Life Interiors. The rug from Miss Amara pulls the room together. 

Dream beds

Among all the warm-toned neutrals found in all corners of the home, there is one room that’s the exception: Sarah and Ben’s bedroom. The bed is dressed up in gingham and florals, all from Sage & Clare, evoking spring-time delights and long picnics. It’s not dressed like this for our photoshoot, rather Sarah is something of a deft hand when it comes to bedroom styling. For a perfectly made bed, she suggests two Euro pillows behind two stacked normal pillows, plus three cushions, thrown spontaneously across. “Fold the duvet halfway down the bed, fold the top sheet over top, and have the top sheet look a bit like a valance, so you get a bit of colour and texture under the duvet cover around the base of the bed,” she advises. “A throw across the bed adds to my tried-and-true formula.”

Back to the lounge and it’s awash with soft blush pastels. A white boucle armchair by Fenton & Fenton adds texture to the space, alongside a custom-made Venetian plaster coffee table from The Organic Ceramics Co. “The main bedroom is fun. I do love colour and it’s fun to play with colour there, but in my everyday life, I like quite a calm, more dreamy kind of atmosphere. So the living areas are a more natural colour palette,” Sarah says. A print by Australian artist Jai Vasicek emphasises the buttery brown tones of an IMG leather recliner.

Hayfolk linen Euro pillowcases, a tobacco-coloured linen flat sheet and an Isabel check bellini linen quilt cover, all from Sage & Clare, adorn the bed. A print by Kiwi artist Jen Sievers hangs on the right. 

Looking ahead

The best thing about such great styling is that a home can be made anywhere. Case in point, the Pickersgill-Brown’s rental is set to be demolished in a year. Not to worry though, the family is already plotting their next move: a new-build near the sea in their beloved Māpua village.

“I can’t believe it’s happening, I never thought we’d build a new home,” Sarah says. “I always thought we’d renovate, because the new homes we were seeing in Australia were not to my taste at all, but when we moved to New Zealand a lot of new-builds were really beautiful, more architectural designs.”

The family is working with a local building team and architect to create their dream home, complete with high ceilings, a shingle fireplace and large oak kitchen. “It has to be homely, warm and inviting and use lots of texture and warmth within the home. I don’t want lots of shiny or hard surfaces, I want elements that make it feel inviting.” These elements are already found throughout the rental home, plush with throws and soft furnishings.

In the meantime, the family are enjoying their new way of life in New Zealand, reconnecting with family and their roots. Caspian and Quill are avid readers, and the tinkling of piano keys is often heard throughout the house. Elbie naps and plays in his dreamy nursery, while Sarah and Ben plot their big building project. It’s been a busy year for the Pickersgill-Brown family and it looks set to only get busier.

A Sew Heart Felt swan mobile made in Nepal is a sweet touch, as is the Roomi & Me Neutral Galaxy mobile above Elbie’s cot.

Home truths

Any saves or splurges?
Saved on Elbie’s nursery. There are so many decor pieces passed on from the twins’ baby days. We splurged on the dining and living room. Our custom-made dining table by Brisbane carpenter Tov & Co is my absolute favourite piece of furniture. The coffee table is also a custom-made table from The Organic Ceramics Co.

Best lessons learned?
Add colour in soft furnishings, such as bedding, as it’s so easy to swap things in and out and it keeps the decor fresh.

What would you never do again?
Choose a pure white rug. The one in Elbie’s nursery is beautiful, but it has discoloured quickly from general use.

What’s the one thing you would change about your home if you could?
Make it bigger.

Most memorable experience you’ve had in your home?
When the moving truck arrived, and we were able to unpack all our familiar items after having it all shipped from Melbourne.

In the living room, a large Jai Vasicek print from Fenton & Fenton acts as a focal point, alongside a leather IMG Scandinavian recliner and a custom-made Venetian plaster coffee table from The Organic Ceramics Co.

Advice for renters?

Rugs may feel like a big-ticket item that aren’t as important as a couch or chair, but they add so much warmth and texture to any room. I am also not a big fan of most carpets so I like to cover it up with oversized rugs.

If you have art, fill the walls with favourite pieces to inject colour and personality into rental homes. I’ve also swapped the light shades out for my oversized linen lanterns.

Shop Ben and Sarah’s renter-friendly style here.

Text: Caroline Moratti Photography: Tim Williams


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