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.

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