It's all Greek

WHY MEDITER­RANEAN STYLE IS SO RIGHT IN KIWI HOMES

NZ House & Garden - - FRONT PAGE - WORDS SUE HOF­FART / PHO­TO­GRAPHS TESSA CHRISP

Clues to lynda Ben­veniste’s her­itage are scat­tered through­out her home, which faces a Wai­heke vine­yard – they can be seen in her sim­ple wooden fur­nish­ings and in the kil­ims and Per­sian rugs that emerge at sum­mer’s end to cover the tile floors. There is a Mediter­ranean charm to the leafy court­yard, with its cush­ion­strewn bench. It’s also there in a par­tic­u­lar shade of blue and a cer­tain style of ce­ramic plate adorn­ing white walls.

Lynda’s ma­ter­nal grand­mother was Greek, as was the man she met and later mar­ried when she lived and worked in Greece. The cou­ple re­mained in Athens for eight years un­til his ill health brought them back to her Kiwi home­land. “I’d still be there if he hadn’t got sick,” she says.

The cou­ple moved to Auck­land, where they lived un­til Nick Ben­veniste’s death in 1992. Eigh­teen months later, friends ap­proached Lynda with a pro­posal to share the cost of build­ing two hol­i­day houses – one for them, one for her – on a Wai­heke Is­land sec­tion. “I im­me­di­ately said yes. Any­thing to have a project. I was sad. And I’m quite im­petu­ous. I don’t hes­i­tate.”

Lynda found the is­land rem­i­nis­cent of Greece. The scent of the sea mixed with diesel fumes at the ferry dock, the slower pace of life, the is­land’s vil­lage feel – all re­minded her of happy years. Sum­mer hol­i­day vis­its quickly stretched to ex­tended stays of eight or nine months, com­mut­ing to her per­sonal as­sis­tant’s job in the city, only spend­ing win­ter months on the main­land. >

“I loved it. I have made won­der­ful friends on Wai­heke and I like the small com­mu­nity and the di­verse mix­ture of people.”

The long vis­its even­tu­ally be­came per­ma­nent and Lynda found work man­ag­ing sales for an is­land win­ery. She also dis­cov­ered a pen­chant for ren­o­va­tion. Af­ter sell­ing her first Wai­heke home over­look­ing One­tangi Beach, she bought a place nearby and set to work gut­ting and re­dec­o­rat­ing it. She did the same thing again with her next house a lit­tle closer to the ocean, stop­ping for daily swims.

Her most re­cent move, to the Surf­dale area in 2010, was a prac­ti­cal one. The easy ac­cess ap­pealed – no typ­i­cally steep Wai­heke drive­way – as did the cen­tral lo­ca­tion. For once, the house re­quired mere tweak­ing rather than full-scale ren­o­va­tion. The pre­vi­ous owner was an in­te­rior de­signer who had con­verted the orig­i­nal fi­bro­lite bach into a com­fort­able home with white tongue-and-groove walls, a deck that catches all-day sun and at­trac­tively land­scaped gar­dens.

Even so, leav­ing her beloved ocean views was a wrench un­til she learned to ap­pre­ci­ate the gen­er­ous vine­yard views. “It’s like the sea – al­ways chang­ing. There’s new growth, then it’s greener, next yel­low, then red and the leaves will drop.” >

Dried is­land grapevines have also pro­vided handy bun­dles of kin­dling for her wood­pile as well as dec­o­ra­tive wreaths at the gate and along­side the front door.

Vine View Cot­tage merely re­quired the in­stal­la­tion of her be­long­ings, gath­ered from other gen­er­a­tions and con­ti­nents, plus gifts from friends and pieces she has titi­vated or re­pur­posed. Most of the rugs came from her Greek mother-in-law and some of her paint­ings came from her English-born, half Greek mother.

Mi­nor changes to the house in­clude the ad­di­tion of a down­stairs bath­room for guests, made from a gar­den shed, and re­plac­ing a chan­de­lier in the main-floor bed­room – “I kept bang­ing my head on it” – with a rice paper lan­tern.

Part of an old bro­ken wooden seat has be­come a guest room bed­head. Her in­ex­pen­sive din­ing ta­ble was kid­napped by an artis­tic friend, white­washed and in­scribed with a poem that be­gins, “Wel­come to my home. To my ta­ble. Where friends and fam­ily gather…” >

The same friend gath­ered sev­eral friends and un­veiled the re­fur­bished item at a cer­e­mony he in­sti­gated in her din­ing room.

In­side the door, a des­ig­nated “Greek cor­ner” in­cludes a nau­ti­cal paint­ing bought from an Athe­nian sec­ond-hand store along­side plates and ce­ramic boats given to her by Greek friends.

The house also con­tains items from Wai­heke life­style and gift store Ve­randa, which she opened with friend Kate Hast­ings in May 2012 (Kate’s Wai­heke home was fea­tured in our Jan­uary is­sue, page 16). In May last year, Lynda vis­ited her favourite Mediter­ranean haunts and brought home hand­crafted Greek jew­ellery for her friends, as well as Turk­ish tow­els and kilim cush­ions to sell in the pop­u­lar Oneroa store.

Be­yond work, Lynda continues to swim ev­ery day in the sum­mer, oc­ca­sion­ally fin­ish­ing with a rosé on her friends’ wa­ter­front deck if high tide falls at the ap­pro­pri­ate time. She keeps her kayak in their yard too.

“I’ve fallen in love with Shel­ley Beach across the road. I like the small bay. At high tide, it’s very deep and it’s def­i­nitely warmer than the big­ger bays on Wai­heke.”

At home, she keeps Greek mem­o­ries alive in her kitchen, which is al­ways gen­er­ously stocked with lemons, olive oil and gar­lic. “And there’s the Greek mu­sic I play loudly. Wai­heke is as close to Greece as I can feel in New Zealand.”

THIS PAGE (clock­wise from top left) Down­stairs guest ac­com­mo­da­tion opens onto a court­yard and din­ing area; the shut­ters close so that vis­i­tors can sleep with the in­te­rior doors open. The out­door shower is pri­mar­ily for guest use but Lynda of­ten nabs it af­ter a swim. Lomandra ‘Tanika’ flanks steps leading to the front gate from the guest court­yard.

OP­PO­SITE Twin loungers face the view, and rail­way sleeper stairs con­nect with the inlet be­low; this side of the house is hung with Vir­ginia creeper: “I have no idea where it orig­i­nates – I’m trim­ming it all the time be­cause it grows so quickly. It’s like a trif­fid but I love it.”

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