It's all Greek
WHY MEDITERRANEAN STYLE IS SO RIGHT IN KIWI HOMES
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.”