A minor staircase change was the first step in a major architectural metamorphosis at this mid-century townhouse.
Meet & greet: Sally Davidson (works in accounts), Mark Maiden (retired) and Tui the cavoodle.
The property: Architecturally redesigned three-bedroom Auckland townhouse with a mid-century vibe.
Be careful what you wish for. When Mark Maiden and Sally Davidson decided to replace the turned-timber staircase railing in their mid-’90s central-suburbs house in Auckland, the move triggered something much bigger. The straightforward stairwell job grew into a large-scale renovation project that included a new kitchen, wall linings, double-glazing, pushed-out living-room windows with seats, and plywood-and-timber-batten external cladding – all without changing the home’s 150sqm footprint. And, of course, the stairwell, which now has sleek white vertical screening akin to an elegant cage. It’s a far cry from the townhouse Mark and Sally spotted on a side of town they weren’t even considering buying in, but it has turned out to be exactly the home they wanted.
The white leather suite is from Corniche Interiors, Sally’s leather swivel chair is from The Vintage Shop, small coffee table with books on top from a French importer, and the glass pieces are op-shop finds.
It all started in 2012 with a newspaper story about a house for sale in an established leafy suburb and its owners. Sally recognised the family from her childhood and decided to have a look out of curiosity – even if the property was miles away from where they were looking. It didn’t hurt that the house was just up the road from the shop from where she bought her bagels and was sited among an attractive mix of character and more modern homes.
When the couple viewed the house, Sally immediately knew it was the right one. “It faced north, it was sunny and it was private. It was straight and I really liked the neighbourhood.”
For Mark, a former builder, the house also ticked plenty of boxes: its shape and eaves, and the fact it felt much bigger than it looked. “I also liked the location – how vibrant it was. It felt right.”
The round dining table and plastic chairs are from Mixt.
Another plus for the couple: the house was ahead of its time in terms of energy efficiency and sustainability, it had a water tank and solar water heating.
They bought the property, moved in and initially, the only changes they made were having the teal-green kitchen cabinets and doors re-coated in white and substituting the front door with one crafted by Mark.
After a while, they started looking at the timber railings on their winding stairs. Because the stairwell was such a strong central feature of the house, they called in architect Paul Clarke. He came back with changes to the stairwell – but he also provided a whole-house concept plan that included new cladding and a popped-out wall that included wraparound windows and window seats. It wasn’t what they were expecting but they immediately liked the vision, and so began the house’s metamorphosis.
The Scandi-style sideboard was bought from furniture importer friends and the artwork next to it was a Trade Me buy.
In 2015, work started on the house that has two bedrooms, a bathroom, open-plan kitchen, dining and living space on the upper level, and a second lounge, study, bedroom, bathroom, laundry, double garage and workshop on the ground floor.
Daughter Ella had just gone flatting so Mark and Sally decided to live in the house for the duration of the project, a decision they came to regret. They lived amid the noise and dust generated by the six-month renovation that involved replacing the monolithic plaster cladding with timber ply and battens. Mark says one advantage is that he was on site to drive the project, but he’d never do it again and neither would Sally.
A popped-out wall has resulted in the addition of comfy window seating and wraparound windows.
“They took out all the windows and it was winter. It was freezing,” Sally says. “We lived under the shrink wrap, ate terribly and I had just started a new job. What possessed us?”
Still, the almost-black townhouse with its sunny, airy interior is now exactly what they want. “We like the contrast between dark and light,” says Mark.
It’s also warm. So efficient is the double glazing that on sunny days in winter they don’t even have to turn on the heating. The house’s flexibility is another plus and something the couple came to appreciate in the Covid-19 pandemic. During one of the lockdowns, their daughter and her husband moved into the downstairs space, which has its own bedroom, bathroom, study and lounge that opens onto a private deck and garden. It’s also ideal for visiting friends and family.
The black sofa is from Nood and the dresser is from Mixt. The upstairs carpet was cleverly repurposed downstairs.
Turn of the mid-century
For all its practical perfection, the house is also supremely stylish. It exudes a distinctly mid-century vibe, thanks to the couple’s art, furniture and other special items.
“It’s eclectic, but with a theme,” explains Mark. “We have a lot of secondhand stuff.”
The collecting kicked off with two pieces: a white Scandi-style coffee table and sideboard bought from friends who imported furniture.
But the gems here aren’t confined to the mid-century. “It’s just stuff I find and like,” says Sally. “And that’s mine,” she says, pointing to the chocolate-coloured leather swivel chair in the corner of the upstairs living zone.
The mid-century cabinet was a Trade Me buy and the clock was discovered in a secondhand shop.
This light-flooded space that opens to a balcony is the couple’s favourite spot in the house. The pale walls are the ideal backdrop for their treasures, many of which are in earthy tones. The custom-made window-seat cushions, in a mustard-gold hue, were inspired by furnishings in a Melbourne hotel. Mark, who was at a conference in the Australian city, phoned Sally to tell her he’d found just the right shade.
Other punches of colour are provided by the wall art, including a painting in deep vermilion entitled The Blood Matrix, which was brought back from a trip to Brazil.
Outside, much of the established garden borders were maintained, although Mark ripped up a swathe of pavers to return some space to the lawn.
The house is now a place Mark and Sally enjoy being in and they see no reason to leave. When asked by Your Home and Garden if this is their long-term home, the response is a unified, resounding, “Yes.”
What did you save on?
Mark designed the kitchen and did some of the work on the renovation himself.
Don’t live in a house during a renovation. Be prepared for cost overruns – it’ll cost more than you think.
Anything you’d never do again?
We wouldn’t bother with underfloor heating in the kitchen. We’d have it in the entrance.
Anything you’d change?
We’d do the bathrooms simultaneously with the rest of the renovation (Mark overhauled them afterwards).
Educate yourself about the building process. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Text Fiona Barber Photography Helen Bankers