THE SHOE FITS
This loft in an old Wellington factory is a perfect empty nest
Helen and stephen revill loved their comfortable family home with its quarter-acre garden and beautiful vista. But that was then. Now, they adore their twobedroom, three-storey central Wellington apartment. “The Karori house was a magical house with the most wonderful secret garden. I gardened every inch of it over and over again and I knew where every plant and bulb grew,” says Helen. “I loved that house to bits but the most remarkable thing is that, while I remember it fondly, I don’t miss it a bit.
“I sometimes have to remind myself we live in an apartment. It doesn’t feel like an apartment up here. It’s quite a surprising space to find in the city.”
This surprising space i n the old Hannahs factory has as many stories as it has storeys. Helen’s the first to say the imposing brick building that bisects Leeds Street looks like “a dark, satanic mill” from the outside. But inside, the mood is light, warm and welcoming.
With its exposed brick walls, steel bracing and steel window frames, brawny timber beams and timber floors, the building has been updated with plenty of its early 20th century industrial heritage left intact. >
The couple can thank the “two Ians” for that: the late Wellington architect Sir Ian Athfield, and property developer Ian Cassels. When the development finished in the late 1990s, together they had revamped the buildings into apartments, offices and shops. That allowed hundreds more people to live and work in what’s known as “the Hannahs Block”, skirted by Egmont, Dixon, Cuba and Ghuznee Streets, and turned the page on at least another century of life for the four buildings associated with Hannahs footwear company.
Helen – a primary school teacher at Queen Margaret College – and lawyer Stephen moved in six years ago, 15 years after the project’s completion. “The apartment needed things doing to it after that time but it had been very well maintained. We put in a new kitchen, painted everything Resene ‘Alabaster’ and changed some of the light fittings, but aside from that we didn’t need to do anything,” says Helen.
“These apartments are very, very well designed. I don’t think they’d develop apartments like this today. There are 24 apartments in this block and each one is individually configured. They’re all different. I have a sink in my butler’s pantry – no one else has that. Now they’d do them all the same. It’s cheaper.”
London-born Helen met Sydney-native Stephen in Australia, and they lived in their Karori family home from the time they arrived in Wellington in the early 80s. After the children flew the nest, they downsized – but, says Helen, they didn’t want somewhere homogeneous that would be too much like living in a hotel. >
The Revills’ apartment is nothing like a hotel. It’s spread over the building’s top three storeys: two bedrooms on the third floor, an expansive open-plan living area with a 7m-high stud on the fourth floor, and a mezzanine office/third bedroom on the fifth. A sunny balcony off that offers a breath of garden.
Now that son Tom (29, a Sydney-based visual effects specialist) and daughter Lucy (26, a Wellington lawyer) have left home, that’s all they need.
“The funny thing is, at 190sqm, the apartment is exactly the same size as our house but it feels so different,” says Helen. “Our things fit in this apartment so well but they look very different here. It’s like they’ve taken on a new life.”
Helen bought a few things for the apartment – a 2.1m showstopping mirror that maximises that high stud, for one – but wasn’t about to run out for all-new furniture she thought would suit better. And good job, too: the Revills’ “bits and pieces” collected over three decades of married life work perfectly in a modernised building approaching its centennial.
“I think because they are all things we love, somehow they all fit together. I think about my decorating style as if we’ve thrown everything up in the air – whoosh! – and it’s all sitting where it’s landed. For me, what I’ve done in the apartment isn’t about interior decorating. It’s bigger than that. It’s about putting a beautiful space together. >
“Some of that’s to do with me, and some of that’s to do with the space. It is a beautiful space and that goes back to Sir Ian Athfield, and even further back to the building’s factory origins.”
Helen’s interest in the visual arts is reflected in the pieces that stud the walls: some seriously notable New Zealand artists are represented. The apartment’s high ceilings allow the art to be displayed and appreciated gallery style.
“I enjoy thinking these are lovely things my children will grow up with and eventually have. For them, the things will be a connection to another time and place. My mother died when I was young, so I think the connection from childhood to adulthood is a really strong driving force in me. It’s why it’s really important for me to create a warm, welcoming home.”
That’s not to say the Revills won’t move again. “I don’t want to say we’ll go when the wind changes, like Mary Poppins, but I don’t think that you need to stay anywhere forever any more. The wonderful thing about this apartment is there are so many options. But while we have it, we absolutely love it.”
THIS PAGE (clockwise from top left) The guest bedroom has a blue and white theme with antique plates and planters: “I think it looks like a Dutch still life,” says Helen. The bathroom mirror is Victorian cut glass. Helen and Stephen’s bedroom has a Chinese mirror, HouseHold Linens bedlinen and a cut crystal lamp that belonged to Stephen’s grandmother. Albertine the rocking horse in Helen and Stephen’s bedroom was corralled from Kirkcaldie and Stains when daughter Lucy was little: “We used to go into Kirks all the time: so much so the staff knew us by name,” says Helen.
THIS PAGE The most significant piece in the art-lined living room is the Anton Parsons numbered sculpture (which some visitors inadvertently hang coats or put drinks on): “It’s all about the 1980s, which was when everything big happened for us: we married, moved to New Zealand, bought a house, had our children,” says Helen; above, a felted likeness of Helen by a former pupil nicely mirrors the gold-framed Piera McArthur portrait.
OPPOSITE (clockwise from top left) The study, with a portrait of Stephen’s ancestor Stuart Peterson who owned Peterson Chemicals in Miramar; son Tom, a special effects artist, worked on the movie Happy Feet. A bird’s-eye view of the timber beams from the mezzanine at the top of the stairs. The only garden Helen needs to tend to now is a few pots. Sharing the urban view with two-year-old wire fox terrier Timmy.
THIS PAGE (from top) Access to the apartment is via an old, noisy but seemingly reliable lift. Helen and Timmy take a stroll down the Leeds Street laneway, surely one of Wellington’s coolest neighbourhoods to shop, eat and drink, especially now it’s had a massive makeover.