Tucked away in the heart of hec­tic com­mer­cial New­mar­ket is this serene lit­tle cot­tage


Jo nicholls has heard the whis­pers – “What’s be­hind that gate?” – as she sits in her lush New­mar­ket, Auck­land back­yard. Passers-by are in­trigued by the black painted gate down an al­ley­way nes­tled be­tween the tow­er­ing con­crete buildings of com­mer­cial New­mar­ket. Open that solid gate and you’ll find a tidy lit­tle for­mal gar­den, a black and white cot­tage with striped awnings and a friendly golden re­triever, Tully, look­ing for a pat. Step inside and you’ll dis­cover a newly ren­o­vated, serenely mono­chrome in­te­rior.

It’s the home of beauty ther­a­pist Jo Nicholls, who moved in a year ago. Her daugh­ters Aimee, 32, and Alice, 29, had left home, so Jo de­cided it was “time for change and to move on”.

Part­ing with her large fam­ily home of 20 years wasn’t easy, but it felt as if fate was giv­ing her a nod of en­cour­age­ment when a week after Jo sold, she found the lit­tle cot­tage tucked away in New­mar­ket. Although her first re­ac­tion to the list­ing was, “No, I don’t think that’s me,” some­thing made her go to the next day’s view­ing re­gard­less.

“It was pour­ing with rain and I had 20 min­utes in be­tween clients to view it,” says Jo. She didn’t even no­tice that there was no proper front door and she barely had time to glance at the gar­den, but she couldn’t get it out of her head. The next day she bought it. “It was an emo­tional buy,” she ad­mits.

Jo’s been dubbed by her fam­ily a “rest­less re­laxer”, some­one who just can’t sit down and read a book or watch tele­vi­sion. She does own a TV, but it’s tucked away in the cor­ner like a naughty child, clearly not used of­ten. >

So this lit­tle cot­tage with heaps of po­ten­tial but what Jo calls some “night­mar­ish qual­i­ties” was the per­fect project to get stuck into. The whole house needed rewiring. “It was ba­si­cally a tick­ing time bomb,” she says. The home was also on a slight slant and needed to be re-roofed. “It was just about to cave in.”

But when these press­ing prob­lems were seen to, thanks to the help of Jo’s part­ner Andy Pope, a builder, Jo set to work giv­ing it her sig­na­ture touch – a black and white pal­ette.

Much to Jo’s dis­taste, the inside was like “Joseph’s Tech­ni­color Dream­coat”, with gin­gery floors, se­quinned cush­ions, em­bel­lished cur­tains and lav­ish chan­de­liers left be­hind by pre­vi­ous own­ers.

“I ripped out ev­ery­thing,” she says. She was sur­prised to find after it was stripped back to its bones that the chan­de­lier and draped cur­tains were beau­ti­ful pieces. She was happy to be able to reuse them.

Paint­ing the floors white trans­formed the house, she says, and was also bud­get-friendly. “It gives it a peace­ful­ness, which I love.”

Jo’s not the least bit precious about scuff marks: “It’s a home, a real home, so I never ask peo­ple to take their shoes off. I mean, I have a dog.” If they get marked, it’s easy to touch them up. “I’ve never had so much paint on my hands in my life,” she says. >

Black and white was the colour scheme of her pre­vi­ous home too. “It’s just me,” she says. “Black gives it a smart­ness and edgi­ness and white is so peace­ful.”

Down­siz­ing meant get­ting rid of a lot of clut­ter, but she still has a large stor­age unit filled with the things she couldn’t bear to part with.

Bas­kets scat­tered around the house have be­come in­dis­pens­able for stor­age within the tiny home. “It’s amaz­ing how many things you can put in them,” says Jo. Three large out­door cush­ion boxes have also been a saving grace, hous­ing Jo’s gardening tools, fire­wood and dog para­pher­na­lia.

Much to Jo’s de­light, when she fi­nally took a good look at the gar­den after she had bought the cot­tage it turned out to be just what she was after. Just like the house, it had great struc­ture, with ex­ist­ing top­i­ary that just needed a lit­tle bit of love.

Jo got rid of the over­grown veg­etable gar­den and put in some syn­thetic turf. “It was the best thing I did, it just cre­ated a whole other room out there,” she says.

In the long term, Jo thinks the cot­tage’s days are num­bered and it will swal­lowed up at some stage by a com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment. “It will even­tu­ally be bowled, which is why I did it on a bud­get. Why spend 30 grand on a kitchen when its fu­ture is to be de­mol­ished? But as long as I’m here it will stay stand­ing, and I don’t plan on mov­ing out any time soon.”

(clock­wise from top left) Jo Nicholls says golden re­triever Tully fits per­fectly with the decor. The pho­to­graph on the far wall in the din­ing area is by her nephew Tom Gould, now based in New York; the couch be­low it is from St Cle­ments in Eden Ter­race; it has a white cover in sum­mer when Jo wants to brighten things up. The fork art is ac­tu­ally a ta­ble run­ner – Jo saw it in a shop and im­me­di­ately knew she wanted to hang it up. The din­ing room ta­ble has been through a few dif­fer­ent looks (at one stage it was com­pletely white); at the mo­ment the top is painted with An­nie Sloan Chalk Paint in ‘French Linen’.

Jo painted the guest bed­room wardrobe from In­die Home Col­lec­tive be­cause the pre­vi­ous brown was “too heavy”; the leop­ard print cush­ions are also from In­die Home Col­lec­tive, one of Jo’s favourite shops and con­ve­niently just around the cor­ner.

(clock­wise from top left) Jo had her par­ents’ an­tique arm­chair re­uphol­stered in spot­ted fab­ric, which shocked the up­hol­sterer; it still has the orig­i­nal horse hair stuff­ing. She couldn’t re­sist the wrought-iron de­tail­ing and the lux­u­ri­ous feel of the day bed in the mas­ter bed­room. White roses on a side ta­ble from French Coun­try Col­lec­tions; Andy of­ten buys Jo flow­ers and knows to only choose pas­tels and lighter hues. Jo orig­i­nally planned to hang the mir­ror from CC In­te­ri­ors, but it looked so good on the floor she left it there. OP­PO­SITE

(from left) A statue once be­long­ing to Jo’s grand­mother stands in the fish pond, which was an un­ex­pected find when Jo even­tu­ally took a look at the gar­den: “I’d al­ways wanted a fish pond like my grand­par­ent’s one, and here it was.” The lemon tree and top­i­aries were al­ready in the gar­den; the striped awnings came from Can­vas Con­cepts.

(from top) The home’s front door is ac­tu­ally around the back of the house – a pre­vi­ous owner closed over the orig­i­nal front en­trance to cre­ate ex­tra wardrobe space; the ex­te­rior of the house was clay brown so Jo painted it in Re­sene ‘Dou­ble Cod Grey’. She found this black door that’s used as the front gate at Bur­rell De­mo­li­tion in Grey Lynn; it was the per­fect fit: “It gives me to­tal pri­vacy – shut the door and you shut out the crazy city.” OP­PO­SITE

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