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This New Plymouth cottage is a lesson in small-space living

Using every small-space trick in the book, this New Plymouth cottage punches well above its weight in style and functionality

Meet & greet

Sharne Greig (interior designer) and Ron Brons (welding inspector).

As an interior designer for one of Taranaki’s largest home building companies, Sharne Greig has a wealth of advice to give her clients – mostly young families tentatively starting out on their decorating journey. But her own home, a beachside ’60s weatherboard cottage, offers a completely different set of lessons, such as decorating boldly with flair and, most of all, on squeezing every valuable inch out of a much smaller home than those she works with professionally. At only 100sqm, the home Sharne shares with her husband Ron, and where they raised their now-grown boys, is certainly not large, but it has served their family well – maybe even better, she reflects – than a bigger house might have. The trick? Clever design, a little bit of compromise and a clear vision of their priorities.

Call of the ocean
The top priority for this sea-loving family was location. Ron is a surfer and when their eldest son started surfing too, the siren song of the ocean called. “We desperately wanted to be by the beach, but everything was expensive and we didn’t want a huge mortgage, so we traded in the big house for a little house in a better suburb,” says Sharne.

When it came to choosing the house that would become their home for the next 16 or so odd years, there was a distinct lack of romantic fanfare. This is no tale of love at first sight with angels singing from on high at the house inspection. “If I was looking for its one redeeming feature, it had a set of French doors at the front and I love French doors,” says Sharne. “And it had a lot of potential for us to put our mark on it, which is what we both like to do.” Sharne particularly loved how shabby the original kitchen and bathroom was, meaning she could rip them out, free of guilt. But most importantly, it had the proximity to the beach they craved – and everything else could be overlooked.

Making it work
Sharne and Ron made the move from a much bigger house to this petite cottage when their boys were eight and 12, on the cusp of their teenage years, which is when most families find themselves craving more space, not less. The couple might have been bucking the trend, downsizing with a growing family, but it was a decision that made sense to them. “We moved to the bigger house, which was three times the size of our first house, and both of us absolutely hated it. Ron worked away from home a lot and it felt quite isolating, with just me and two young boys,” Sharne recalls. By contrast, this smaller house felt friendlier and safer.

Cute and cosy, though it may be, the house required a few adjustments to make it work for a family of four. Building a new garage at the front of the home meant the driveway space along the side could be devoted to outdoor living. The existing garage already had a wall in the middle, sectioning off a space for a playroom – and with no need for the garage side, they could remove the wall to create a generous sleepout. Inside the house, the original ’60s bathroom with separate toilet didn’t cut the mustard for a busy family. “We needed an extra toilet, so we incorporated one into the laundry, then we combined the existing toilet and bathroom into one bigger bathroom,” Sharne says, adding, “When you’re operating small, you’ve got to think outside the square. What exactly does the house need to deliver for you to live in it, what do you use the most, and what are your priorities?”

Taking it slow
Apart from those early changes, Sharne and Ron haven’t undertaken any enormous renovations – but that doesn’t mean they’ve been resting on their laurels. “For me, decorating and renovating is quite an organic process,” says Sharne. They made bite-sized changes every year – enlarging doorways, extending the deck and redoing the kitchen, among other things – with the aim not to transform, but to help shape the house into the home they need as their lives progress. “If you take your time with rooms in smaller homes they eventually evolve. And it’s a nice process, not a stressful one,” she says.

For Sharne the interior designer, decorating, styling and restyling is her occupation and a constant joy. She’s forever adding new pieces and rediscovering old ones, moving furniture and tweaking the styling, she says. “I love layering. A lot of people get to a shop and buy a chair and cushion, and that’s it. I love starting with something like that, and then moving a vase, adding some books. It’s those sorts of things that make spaces more cosy and interesting.”

Small, dark and handsome
While some shy away from using dark colours in a smaller space, this home’s monochrome colour palette, with its bold use of moody hues, is the secret to its success. Sharne explains that consistency of colour is the key to tying together her eclectic style, which is a mix of vintage (but not so vintage that it’s old looking), Asian and Moroccan statement pieces, luxe-look wallpaper and textiles, and a splash of
timber and rattan for warmth and informality. “I tie everything together through colour and texture. In
a small space you need that sense of flow, so you don’t walk into one room and it’s completely different to another room,” she says.

One of Sharne’s great loves is wallpaper. Tactile paintable wallpaper, either charcoal or white, does double duty by adding texture and disguising all manner of sins – “It’s been amazing for an older
home, tidying up walls without having to hire gib stoppers,” she says. Sharne also uses patterned wallpaper as a luxurious statement finish, changing it regularly to create a different mood; for example, the dining room previously had a summer palm print, but is now wearing an opulent Catherine Martin by Mokum outfit for winter. “I’ve got wallpapering down pat, as long as you don’t look too closely. It’s an easy job and can completely change the space.”

Just the two of us
Once the ideal family home, this chameleon cottage is now the ultimate easy-care home for a pair of empty nesters. The sleepout – once a playroom, then a teen retreat and sometimes bedroom – now has a new incarnation as the ‘party room’, where Sharne and Ron entertain. “It’s got much more seating for everyone out there – and you can make a bit of a mess and leave it until the next day,” says Sharne. The original sunroom, which once served as a third bedroom, is now part of the main bedroom – knocking through a wall allowed the couple to create a generous main bedroom suite with room for an office setup and enviable light all day long.

Most valuable of all, the house is imprinted with memories, both bitter and sweet. Life hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but the house has always been a haven for the family to retreat to. “It’s our refuge,” says Sharne. “It’s got a really healing quality to it that’s lovely and peaceful.”

Words by: Shelley Tustin. Photography by: Gina Fabish

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