ON THE COVER
Photographer: Helen Bankers/ Cave.
Interior designer Fiona Wilson relished the opportunity to stamp her style on a tired and dated Auckland home after several years of apartment-living in Sydney. She’d enjoyed her taste of the high life, especially the spectacular harbour views, but the lack of private outdoor space brought on a craving for a home with a garden. “It was amazing living on the 37th floor of an apartment designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, overlooking Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but it had limited external access to a balcony. If we wanted to enjoy the outdoors we had to go down to the third floor, where there was common space and a swimming pool for residents. The concept of living with all your doors open to your own garden was worth giving up the fabulous views for.”
Not only did the Herne Bay property she found have space for a pool and a series of outdoor living areas, every room except the bathrooms opened to the outside. The fact the home needed a cosmetic makeover was an added bonus for Wilson, who could see the potential to give it a high-end resort-style vibe. She and her husband are the third owners of the house, which was designed by Sumich Chaplin Architects.
First up was replacing all the floor surfaces to visually unify the interior. Wilson chose a warm grey marble for the ground floor. “I was influenced by the use of this material in Australia. It’s natural but luxurious and I knew it would give the sophisticated feel I wanted,” she says. By contrast, the rooms with sisal carpet have a relaxed look, which suits the connection these spaces have to the outdoors.
The renovation, which took six months in 2009, included ripping out the existing kitchen. The replacement, an Italian Arclinea design, is a jewel in the centre of the home, its stainless steel finish giving off a silver glow that twinkles and draws people in. If the shine of the benchtops, cupboard doors and splashback are not enough, then the futuristic pendant light makes it clear this is party central.
“The RGB light above the island bench is fitted with a remote control so we can change its colour on a spectrum from pink to green to blue and everything in between. It makes the space feel like a bar at night, and works perfectly with the style, material and
colour of the furniture in the living spaces,” says Wilson. “I can’t see the kitchen being changed on my watch as it will not date. As for the marble floors, they just get better with age.”
The two-storey home’s well-designed interior footprint opens to three separate outdoor areas that catch the sun at different times of the day. Wilson embraced the opportunity to make them extra living areas. “I see these spaces as an extension of the interior and have decorated them as outdoor rooms,” she says. In addition, each of the four bedrooms upstairs has its own balcony, so the whole house opens up to the outside.
Light, both natural and artificial, was an important consideration for Wilson. “Lamps create ambience in a room and I’ve carefully selected designer pieces that are also decorative,” she says. All the recessed downlights are on dimmer switches. “I believe dimmers are essential to create the right mood in living, bedroom and bathroom spaces during the evening. We also have overscale pieces to fill the double-height voids that are sculptures in their own right.”
Once all the walls were painted and the bathrooms revamped, Wilson set about redecorating. She seeks inspiration for her interiors largely from art and interesting pieces of furniture. “Most of our art is local, having been collected over the years but I love furniture that is experimental, innovative and highly original, such as pieces by Patricia Urquiola and Philippe Starck.”
When it comes to her own home, Wilson tends to go a little further than she would in her professional capacity as an interior designer. “I like to experiment with materials and colours that are not always practical in terms of what I’d recommend to clients. I’m happy to take risks with some outlandish things in my own home that I would not specify for a client.”
At first glance, her furnishings and objet d’art appear to have a random beauty, but on further consideration there are recurring themes: large format furniture such as B&B Italia sofas and Swiss USM modular metal storage units feature repeatedly. Bold, modern artworks act as a further linchpin. “These are keepers and always form the core of any scheme, wherever we live,” says Wilson. “They help pull everything together.”
The generous-sized attic is filled with occasional chairs, art, accessories, vases, rugs, lamps and cushions. “I love change and get bored when things stay the same for too long. You can give a little nod to current trends with something like a copper dish or reindeer throw that won’t break the bank but you won’t
necessarily keep long term,” she says.
While providing the space to keep her decor in a state of constant evolution, the attic also allows Wilson to maintain order. “I hate clutter and filling a space for the sake of it. I am constantly editing pieces in order to achieve a pared-back but interesting interior. I like grouping things together that have more than just an aesthetic connection. For example, the artwork in one living area is all by indigenous women from different countries.”
Experience has taught Wilson that flexibility is important when designing a space and her own home is designed with the constantly changing demands of family life in mind. When she and her husband first moved in, they were going through an empty nest phase, with both sons away at university. Upstairs, adjacent to the two bedrooms that are designated for her sons, Wilson has created a casual lounge that the younger generation can monopolise when they are in residence.
“Although they’re now self-sufficient, there have been periods when the chickens have come home to roost, albeit temporarily. As much as we love having them as flatmates, it has been great to have our own adult spaces factored into the layout.”
Before moving into interior design, Wilson took two other career paths, first as a secondary school mathematics teacher and then a decade in the fitness industry as an instructor and manager. The move across the Tasman, driven by her husband’s career, gave her time to study colour theory at design school and also floral art – the results of which can be seen in the many beautiful arrangements around Wilson’s home. It also gave her the opportunity to travel regularly to Europe for inspiration. These trips always included visits to the furniture, kitchen and lighting showrooms of some of the world’s top brands.
Having completed the interior renovation, Wilson switched her attention to the backyard, designing a swimming pool for a space that had some challenging restrictions. “It was a very tricky job because the pool had to go right up against the house and the boundary walls on a tight, urban section,” she says.
The completion of the pool in 2011 sparked the redesign of another outdoor area, which has proved to be the most popular of the three garden spaces. “It captures the evening sun, so it’s the perfect spot for relaxing with a cocktail,” says Wilson.
The area surrounding the pool was landscaped with lush subtropical plants to give the space a resort-style feel. In summer, Wilson feels as if she’s already on holiday. “There’s never any desperation to find a tropical destination to unwind in as we have it all here at home.”
Left: Boris, the family’s Russian Blue cat, stands beneath a painting by Wilson’s husband, which provides a focal point in the stairwell along with another Kartell Shanghai vase.
Top: Wilson bought the Dick Frizzell painting above the white USM storage unit at auction in Wellington 18 years ago. The Moooi candelabra was purchased in Sydney. Left: Moroso Little Albert chairs in the north-facing outdoor room off the kitchen.
Above: Wilson likes the seclusion of the front courtyard, where large black plant pots add drama to the entrance. Opposite: the floral Moooi rug is a prominent feature in the living room, which is also home to a colourful Moooi Nest chair.
Top right and opposite: the marble and mosaics in the ensuite bathroom continue the home’s luxurious feel. Right: Wilson’s oak bedroom furniture is simple, while Missoni bedding and a landscape by Peter Cleverley add subtle colour.