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This Auckland villa renovation took more than a decade to complete

The classic versatility of black and white was the starting point for the Sutherland-Tolley villa renovation

 Meet & greet:

Josie Sutherland (director of Kohab) and Darren Tolley (bar/restaurant owner), daughter Sidney, seven, and rescue cat Pip.

As Rachel Hunter said, it won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. And so it was for Josie Sutherland and Darren Tolley when creating their ideal family home in Auckland. It took 12 years, in fact, and many, many renovation projects but the end result has been worth it.

Josie stumbled across the three-bedroom villa in Balmoral in 2009 by chance. She spied the open home flags while driving between other open homes and took the opportunity to duck in for a look.

“As soon as I walked in, it felt like home – it had a warm and happy vibe. I remember being so excited about finding it, but it was the double garage that swung it for Darren,” Josie recalls.

Renovation projects
The first thing on the long list of work was to replace the roof and put in a ventilation system. They fixed the rotten back deck, put in loft insulation and spent many weekends painting the rooms, then they took a breather for two years, before they embarked on more reno work.

“Living in the space before renovating was really good. We got to know the house and how the sun and light worked. We were also able to get a clear picture of how we wanted it to change,” she explains.

Once they had an idea of what they needed to do to make the house work for them, there was no stopping them. They’ve redone the bathroom, kitchen and laundry, installed built-in cupboards, and added a small extension with an ensuite and walk-in wardrobe. They’ve overhauled the electrics, plumbing and insulation, carpeted the lounge and bedrooms, and put down new wooden flooring. And at some point along the way they repainted, too.

“Over time we have actually done almost everything,” Josie laughs.

The bathroom
With older homes, it’s usually the bathroom that’s in most urgent need of updating – and this was true of the Sutherland-Tolley home. They knew they wanted to go black and white to make it timeless but they also didn’t want it to be boring. The result? Classic black and white for the flooring, walls and fixtures, with a bold wallpaper choice on one wall that still makes them smile.

“Our toilet has a wonderful original green glass window that catches the morning sun – the colour is fabulous so we wanted to enhance that with more green in the room, ergo the wallpaper. I was originally unsure about it as it’s quite a statement, but I love the colour and the pattern. It was definitely the right thing to do; it feels rather grand to have wallpaper in the bathroom.”

The kitchen
The previous kitchen was closed off, with a wall where the counter is now. Darren and Josie designed and planned the kitchen themselves, with the goal to open it up and create a social space.

There was a laundry room adjoining the old kitchen, so they combined the two to create a bigger kitchen. They put the fridge into the new scullery – out of sight for a cleaner look but still within easy reach.

“I spent a lot of time researching kitchen design to make sure the layout worked effectively. I wanted a black and white kitchen because I love those colours and I wanted the kitchen to stand the test of time as it’s such a long-term investment. The splashback tiles are great as they catch the light and give the whole space depth and texture.”

The hours the couple put into planning and design have been worth it, says Josie. “I love my kitchen and its simplicity. It’s where we eat together and share news of our day. It’s my favourite room in the house.”

The decor
Just like the reno work, the couple’s decor has been a work in progress, too. They’ve enjoyed taking their time, adding new finds as they took their fancy, mixing new and old. In fact, many of the couple’s favourite pieces in the house have been inherited from pubs they’ve owned over the years. There’s the bowler hat artwork, the well-worn character-filled red leather chairs, and the Tom Dixon lights over the kitchen breakfast bar. “They didn’t look right over the pub bar, but they totally make my kitchen,” Josie exclaims.

Josie says she doesn’t have a set decor style, but perhaps more of an overall vibe – “homely, warm and welcoming. My home has developed its look over the years. I like things to be clean and clear, lots of space – I can’t stand mess and muddle. And I love black and white as a base to dress up with living plants and things I’ve collected over the years,” she says.

Everywhere you look, there’s a happy, thriving indoor plant. Josie’s tips for healthy plants: buy plants that are right for the space; feed them worm tea; and get a moisture meter from a plant shop.

“You just push it in the soil and it tells you if it’s too dry or too wet so you can’t really go wrong.”

The outdoor landscaping
Their latest project has been their biggest one yet: transforming the backyard into a family haven. Previously, the space was big but that’s about all it had going for it. Due to lava flow it sloped heavily to one side, there was a crumbling rock wall, a concrete slab and a dilapidated shed.

“I loved the open space but it wasn’t attractive. The garden is north-facing, which is great, but we had no shade and it was too hot in the summer. We didn’t use it and it added nothing to the property,” Josie explains.

The couple found a landscape designer – Fiona Webster – and briefed her on what they wanted, sharing a Pinterest page of their favourite looks. Their objectives: inside-outside flow, an area to host friends and family, a pool and spa, a fireplace, space for kids to play and plenty of greenery, colour and texture – “We didn’t want to take over the space with concrete”.

The couple loved Fiona’s first design plan and it was signed off without delay – but they hit a hold-up during the construction phase.

“Everything came to a standstill for level four lockdown. The evening before lockdown, the builders were putting in the big sliding doors and weatherproofing the back of the house – it was so kind of them as I’m sure they had lots of things they needed to do. It meant we could open the back of the house and walk out on to a part deck, but the rest of the space was just a big mud hole. We also had no fencing or hedging between us and the neighbours, but actually, it was really nice. We were able to see each other without breaking any rules,” Josie says.

Once the lockdown levels changed, it was all hands on deck and the outdoor space started to take shape, encompassing a new outdoor room with fireplace, a pool with a built-in spa, and a raised garden and lawn.

“I love that we suddenly have all this usable space we didn’t have before and it flows so well from the house. We have an entire room that we can use in any weather and there’s finally space for a dining table. The whole neighbourhood loves the pool and spa, plus we still have space for lawn and kids to play,” Josie says.

A gate in the back fence leads to a path that goes two doors down, allowing Sidney and her friends to go back and forth. The grown-ups use it too, to pop across to each other’s houses for chats and wines.

“The wall by the pool is quite a feature so it needed to look right. Adding the brick pattern and plaster made it look special and added texture. We chose a light colour to break up the black and green of the garden.”

Josie is thrilled with the raised garden at the back.

“I love the plants and will happily lose an afternoon weeding. In the summer I had it planted with lots of flowers for the bees, butterflies and insects – it looked great with that pop of colour as well as attracting and supporting the wildlife. The three ornamental pears are ideal for feeding and watching the bird life in the garden,” she says.

The birth of a new business
Speaking of birds, looking out at that big, muddy wasteland for weeks over lockdown gave Josie an idea.

“I realised that we had no movement – we were missing bird life. It was so still, it was eerie. I started to research how to attract birds and other wildlife to the garden and, as soon as I could,
I bought some birdhouses and bird food. I became interested in bird life; it was like a magical world had opened up to me.”

But she was underwhelmed with the birdhouses on offer, made of toxic tanalised timber. She also discovered that a lot of bird seed isn’t actually that good for wild birds.

She was determined to do better to encourage wildlife into her back garden so she started Kohab (kohab.nz) – a venture selling birdhouses, food and feeders to feed native birds.

Future plans
Before they signed off the landscaping plan, Josie and Darren had a discussion about whether it was a good investment for them and their home.

“We decided we would go all out as this is our forever home. We love the space here now. Inside isn’t fully open plan, but the living spaces link in a way that makes them flow really well while still giving us defined areas. Our outside space is wonderful with the new landscaping, large back garden and big trees – it’s easy to forget we’re in the city. We also love the location; we have a fabulous local community and great neighbours. We can’t think of any reason to move.”

Words by: Debbie Harrison Photography: Helen Bankers

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