Designer Hannah Whitehead finds balance in a newly built home that prioritises simplicity
Meet & greet
Hannah (creative) and Dylan Whitehead (mechanic), Frankie, seven, Leo, four, and Riley the retrodoodle.
If there was one word Hannah Whitehead kept returning to when picturing life in her family’s new build, it was ‘calm’. The creative lead at a children’s clothing label juggles her full-time job with writing her style and design blog, and until this year husband Dylan was busy running a mechanics business. Add six-year-old daughter Frankie, son Leo, four, and dog Riley into the mix and the young couple knew they wanted to build a sanctuary, with splashes of personality throughout.
“I like the fact that it’s neutral and simple,” says Hannah. “Our lives are pretty chaotic. It was about creating our own little sanctuary that we could come home to at the end of the day and have it feel relaxing.”
Hannah and Dylan were just 20 when they bought their first home, a 1940s do-up in Whangārei. After transforming what was a dark house into a light and serene space, they sold up and moved to a rental in Marsden Point. A year later, they became the proud owners of a section at One Tree Point, a waterways subdivision 40 minutes south of Whangārei. Hannah’s parents live just round the corner, Marsden Cove beach is 50m across the road, and there’s a pontoon for the kids to leap off into the canals, so the lifestyle here is great for the kids, she says. Plus, it’s only a 1km walk to Frankie’s school.
With help from builder who is a family friend, they set about designing a simple layout with living space aplenty and a study so Hannah could work from home. One of the biggest challenges was to fit the four-bedroom, single-storey home on a 620sqm site.
“We wanted four bedrooms because I work from home and needed an office space,” she explains. “We wanted a really nice, sunny, homely feel, a light open-plan kitchen, dining and lounge. It was a really fun thing to be working through.”
Together with their builder friend, Hannah was able to rope in her roofer dad and electrician brother, which helped significantly to cut down the construction costs. But things didn’t go completely to plan, as the build was stalled by New Zealand’s first big lockdown. The family were about a month off from moving in when everything was brought to a screaming halt. All of which made their eventual move that much more satisfying.
“It was so nice, having come from a renovation, moving into a brand new house without all the dust,” Hannah says.
Now, several months on, the family is happily settled, and they’re enjoying chipping away at the landscaping; the kids have loved contributing to the vegetable garden and fruit trees.
If Hannah wasn’t designing children’s clothing, she’d be working in interiors. “I love absolutely anything home-related,” says the savvy blogger, who has charted the styling of her family home on her website, complete with mood boards and inspiration.
When it came to styling her home, Hannah knew from the start she wanted to keep the interior neutral without sticking purely to white and warming it up with wooden tones. “We wanted the kids to have a bit of their own personality without being too bold.”
While the majority of the home is light and bright and white, the kids’ bedrooms feature patterned wallpapers they chose themselves. For Leo, it also meant accommodating his “boyish” accoutrements, including the space mobile and cars displayed on a shelf. For Frankie, Hannah wanted to design a space that her daughter could enjoy for years to come, complete with an earthy feature wall, apple wall basket and suitcases for her trinkets.
Hub of the home
While the open-plan living, dining and kitchen space is where you’ll most often find the family hanging out, allowing them to stay connected when cooking and relaxing, Hannah says it was
just as important for there to be a separate lounge.
“It’s great when the kids have friends over and they can have their own space,” she says. Now that Hannah says she’s personally moved on from the classic Scandi look popular in coastal Kiwi homes, she’s become inspired with the simple tones of Japanese architecture, along with her favourite international style bloggers and creatives on Pinterest.
“We knew we wanted a lot of black without it looking monochromatic,” she adds, “so we’ve used a lot of black timber, keeping it simple with the browns and greys and texture where we could.”
From old to new
Coming from a 1940s home renovation into a new build has been life-changing, says Hannah. “It’s so lovely. I do love a good, properly done renovated older home. And our daughter was only one when we did it, so we have fond memories. But obviously, when you’re 20 you don’t have the budget to do it all properly – it’s about doing what you can do yourself.”
It’s given her a newfound appreciation for “the little things” in their new home. Like the aluminium joinery they installed to eliminate draughts. With better thermal insulation, the house always feels cosy and warm, and their heating bill is lower, too. “I do love both old and new houses, but I don’t think we could go back to the older home now.”
Words by: Carrie Bell. Photography by: Babiche Martens.