Footwear designer Kathryn Wilson had to tear herself away from her beloved little townhouse, but she has found a forever home in this grand old dame
Kathryn Wilson is not afraid of colour. Colourful footwear is the gregarious shoe designer’s calling card and her must-see fashion shows are a playful parade of models clad in cheerfully hued heels, vibing out to dance-worthy beats.
But, with pattern and colour being at the forefront of her humming business, Kathryn prefers her home to be its antithesis, “I like everything to feel calm,” she says. “My world is so busy, when I leave the house, I use every second of every day. I like to have a lot going on and I like to think big. There are a lot of balls in the air being a mum and running a business so when I get home I like to feel as though it’s all calm.”
Her home is filled with soothing neutral hues. It’s decluttered, light and bright with a nod toward classic styling and timeless pieces. “My friends are often mocking me for having everything white – white walls, white flowers, white linens – but it gives me a feeling of space,” says Kathryn. Even five-year-old Lola has picked up on her mum’s penchant for the colour white, never failing to generously save all the white jelly beans for her and picking white flowers when they happen upon them saying, “I know it’s your favourite colour.”
“I think if you have a lovely white canvas, it allows colours in art and on bookcases to stand out even more,” says Kathryn. “It’s nice to walk into a house where everything is tranquil, to just shut the door and breathe. But maybe that’s a habit I’ve picked up on from living in a smaller space.”
She’s talking about her previous Herne Bay home of 10 years. A sweet little terrace house with a French-style exterior, arched windows and dainty window boxes. “It was really emotional having to move because it represented such a fun and major part of my life,” says Kathryn. Filled with character and personality, she had set eyes on that terrace house for years before she eventually bought it. It saw her from her single years enjoying gin and tonics in the garden with girlfriends to married life with her husband Liam to motherhood with the arrival of Lola. But, it was with the impending arrival of their second child, Stella, that Kathryn realised their little two bedroom dream home would no longer fit their growing family. “It represented a lot of personal growth and lots of fun, wonderful memories, but onwards and upwards – we needed a whole lot more space,” she says.
They’ve moved from one home steeped in character and history to another. Their “grand old lady” is a stunning four bedroom 1902 villa with a manicured garden to match its elegant interior. Kathryn was eight and a half months pregnant when they bought it; “I was that wife at the auction saying, ‘just buy it!’” she says. Not only did it tick Liam’s boxes for space, garden and a double car garage, the lovely old villa also had the good bones and character Kathryn was looking for. “You walk in and it’s got high ceilings, a large hallway, big stairs, massive windows and a lot of natural light, and everything makes you feel instantly relaxed.”
Elevated on their street in Freemans Bay, in winter they can look out through the towering plane trees onto the water, and in summer they’re surrounded by big green leaves. “It’s like living in a tree house,” says Kathryn.
As it turns out the move from small, compact living to spacious open-plan form was more of an adjustment than they had first anticipated. “We kept joking that we would only hang out in one part of the house,” says Kathryn. And the reality wasn’t too dissimilar, having budgeted for more furniture but not allowing for shipping and arrival times, their large house was without a few essential pieces whilst they waited four months for them to arrive. “We really only lived in one part of the family living area because we were so used to being so compact,” says Kathryn.
It was a similar case with the sleeping arrangements. With baby Stella in a bassinet in Kathryn and Liam’s master bedroom, little Lola – who was used to sharing a wall with her mum and dad – refused to sleep in her own room, which was a floor above. “It’s such a beautiful little room, it’s actually the best room in the house, but she always had a room next to us, so she refused to sleep in it for a whole month,” says Kathryn. “And here I was thinking we’d all love to finally have some space to spread out.”
Slowly but surely, Kathryn has been filling her grand old lady with pieces worthy of her stature. With the help of interior designer and friend Shelley Ferguson, they’ve transformed the master bedroom with new paneling detail on the wall, a fresh coat of Resene Quarter White Aspiring and replaced the dated, heavy gold drapes with fresh linen curtains that hang from the ceiling. “By bringing them all the way up, it extends the eye line, which makes it look amazing,” says Kathryn.
They also had to swap out their king-sized bed for a super king. “It sounds outrageous, but it was just too small for the room!” says Kathryn. “We ended up having to get a big super king with a frame built in around the bed to make it suit the space.”
There’s always more to do, she says. There are plans to install shutters instead of blinds and the ensuite is slated for a modern refresh. “It’s the size of our old house, which is hilarious,” Kathryn says. It currently has a walk-in wardrobe that serves the couple perfectly, but there are ways it can be improved – a large and impressive shoe wall, for instance.
Best lesson learned? Buy quality furniture that will last and mix some old / vintage pieces in with the new.
Most memorable experience in your home? We had a wonderful dinner party here with best friends after lockdown earlier this year to celebrate Liam’s birthday… It’s the perfect house for entertaining and we haven’t done enough of it with a newborn in the house and then lockdown.
Best seat in the house? Lola’s room upstairs has a beautiful window seat looking out to the garden which gets afternoon sun. It’s a cute reading nook but also a great stage for karaoke singing and dancing with her friends.
One thing you could change around the home? We are planning to re-do the scratched wooden flooring throughout the house and install a lighter coloured carpet once the girls are older and the puppy has learnt not to come in with wet muddy feet.
Best time of the day in your home? We are lucky to get all day sun throughout the summer as the sun moves. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon when the sun shines a pink light onto the front patio and rooms.
Favourite piece of furniture? I was given a lilac suede Ligne Roset pumpkin chair for my birthday from DOMO. It’s a beautiful colour and feminine shape, designed in the ‘70s, which I used as a feeding chair for both babies and now it sits in Lola’s bedroom upstairs.
What would be your top tips for people moving from a smaller home into a bigger home? Keep the mentality of living in a smaller space by choosing larger pieces of furniture, less of them and not collecting clutter.
What is the best thing about working with an interior designer who is also a friend? Shelley knows my style and what I will love but is also great at introducing new ideas that I wouldn’t have considered or known to look for. She has a really great eye for proportion and scale and this house has such big rooms it helped having her guide me with layout and encouraged me to invest in timeless, classic pieces of furniture we will keep and love for years to come.
Favourite stores to buy homeware and furniture from? I am easily tempted by everything at Babelogue. Owner Charlotte [Rust] lets me know when pieces arrive that are the same designer as other pieces I have bought before or suit the style of the house. I love to collect furniture that has a history and its own story.
What areas of your home did you save or splurge on? We splurged on the front parlour room as a calm adult space that we can go to read a book or listen to music with a wine. It’s a luxury to have a space in the house that is free from kids’ toys and puzzles. Liam installed a Sonos speaker system and an LP player with the hopes of some downtime. Now we just need to build his record collection…
Do you tend to buy high-end homeware or seek out a bargin? A bit of both.
Best advice for spending money on a home? Save up and buy quality pieces that will last and won’t date. Accessorise with soft furnishings you can update as you need to without too much expense. Also invest in your garden (or your gardener). It’s wonderful to have plants that flower at different times of the year so you have something new coming into flower every month. It’s so nice to be able to bring flowers inside from the garden for our bedside tables and the bathrooms.
How did you budget for your home? I worked out room by room what furniture was needed and broke it down from an overall budget. Some pieces we had to wait for, so I made a priority list too.
Words by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Helen Bankers. Styling by: Sam van Kan