To bal­ance the po­ten­tial cold­ness of con­crete walls and floors, Va­le­ria Car­bonaro-Laws cre­ated lay­ers of tex­tures with wood, patina and colour in her con­tem­po­rary Auckland home.


– the con­tem­po­rary Auckland home of Stu­dio Italia’s owner is made com­fort­able with nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als and bold colour

Va­le­ria Car­bonaro-Laws is no stranger to high de­sign. Owner and di­rec­tor at Auckland’s Stu­dio Italia, she’s per­son­ally re­spon­si­ble for some of the most exquisite Ital­ian fur­ni­ture avail­able in th­ese parts. Born in Naples and raised in Mi­lan, Car­bonaroLaws had every in­ten­tion of join­ing the fam­ily law firm af­ter she’d seen a bit of the world – a trip that in­cluded New Zealand. “I fell in love with Auckland, the free­dom and the per­sonal space, so I ex­tended my stay for six more months and now it’s 22 years later,” she says in her lilt­ing ac­cent. Auckland, it seems, loved the stylish, ef­fer­ves­cent Ital­ian back. “In Amer­ica, Ital­ian is pizza and mafia. Here, it means de­sign and cul­ture,” she says. “Who doesn’t want to be thought of like that?”

Need­ing to live as close as pos­si­ble to good cap­puc­cino, Car­bonaro-Laws based her­self in Pon­sonby un­til 15 years ago when, af­ter mar­ry­ing Cantabrian Greg Laws, the cou­ple bought a cute Cal­i­for­nia-style bun­ga­low in West­ern Springs. They em­barked on their first ren­o­va­tion and fol­lowed it up with a sec­ond bun­ga­low, also in West­ern Springs, and a sec­ond ren­o­va­tion. They had just fin­ished bun­ga­low num­ber two with no plans to move, when they spied a sec­tion for sale about 300 me­tres up the road. “We love the area and we’d al­ways wanted to build, but in Auckland it’s dif­fi­cult to find land to buy,” says Car­bonaro-Laws.

Af­ter mov­ing the small ex­ist­ing house to the front of the sec­tion, the cou­ple, to­gether with their daugh­ter Ara­bella (Bella), now

13, moved in and be­gan to work on the de­sign with ar­chi­tect Cameron Pol­lock (now at Auckland ar­chi­tec­ture firm Jas­max),

choos­ing him as much for his im­pec­ca­ble mod­ern style as for the knowl­edge that he would al­low their in­put. “We wanted some­thing that was sub­dued and mod­ern, which would take ad­van­tage of the light be­cause we’re North-fac­ing. And I wanted con­crete floors be­cause they’re easy. We have friends com­ing in and out and I didn’t want to be too pre­cious,” says Car­bonaro Laws. “Be­yond that, we gave Cameron carte blanche.”

A year later they be­gan the build, work­ing with another close friend, Justin Lang­don from Carpin­tero. “We re­ally en­joyed the process. There were no hor­ror sto­ries,” she says, adding that a good builder is as es­sen­tial as a great ar­chi­tect.

As the house pro­gressed, Car­bonaro-Laws says they sud­denly re­alised that con­crete floors with con­crete walls, even ones tex­tured to re­sem­ble wood, was go­ing to be too cold. So they de­cided to warm things up with the Amer­i­can oak ceil­ing and the grooved wood lay­ered into the black Varenna Po­liform kitchen. That set the tone for the other rough-hewn ma­te­ri­als used through­out the house. “We wanted the house to feel like it had been here for a while,” she says. The be­spoke me­tal screen and balustrade – de­signed by the cou­ple one night af­ter a few bot­tles of wine – is un­pol­ished. The wooden din­ing room ta­ble is so raw the fam­ily has to be care­ful not to get splin­ters. Even the rug in the liv­ing room is a vin­tage shaved Per­sian. “We wanted to cre­ate this feel­ing of slick, mod­ern fur­ni­ture against lay­ers of rough­ness.”

The most im­por­tant thing for Car­bonaro-Laws was the kitchen. “I wanted a scullery. We en­ter­tain a lot and I don’t want to see the big pile of dishes, be­cause then I can’t re­lax,” she says. “The L-shape re­ally works. I can talk to Greg while I’m cook­ing and he’s watch­ing sport in the liv­ing room, and I can watch Bella in the pool or see her play­ing drums in the mu­sic room.”

Much of the fam­ily life hap­pens around the slate kitchen counter, or the at­tached chunky oak ta­ble. “We hardly ever use the din­ing room ta­ble and, when we do, I be­have like a grown-up and put a nice linen table­cloth on it,” says Car­bonaro-Laws. The in­door-out­door flow works per­fectly with a per­gola in the front and an Ital­ian-in­flu­enced court­yard off the kitchen, com­plete with clas­sic tiles from Arte­do­mus and strung with fairy lights by Seletti.

While Laws, who has a back­ground in fash­ion but now works in the an­a­lyt­ics and data field, solved many spa­tial prob­lems with his ex­cel­lent eye, when it came to the fur­ni­ture Car­bonaro-Laws took charge. “I have a great pas­sion for in­te­ri­ors,” she says. “I see amaz­ing things com­ing through every day at the show­room and it’s re­ally hard be­cause I love so much of it.” Of course there are times when she re­lents and takes things home. Case in point: the pair of vel­vet Mad chairs by Mar­cel Wan­ders in the liv­ing room. “I love blue and Mar­cel Wan­ders’ de­signs are a per­fect mix of con­tem­po­rary and mid-cen­tury.

I had been look­ing at th­ese chairs for a very long time and then

this year, on my birth­day, I said: ‘Oh come on then.’”

Along­side more ex­pertly edited pieces from Stu­dio Italia are care­fully cho­sen an­tiques from her late par­ents’ home in Mi­lan. “My mum and dad loved an­tiques and I re­mem­ber spend­ing week­ends with them look­ing for things. So when they passed away I brought some of their things back, be­cause I love the mix of mod­ern and an­tique,” she says

Art is another of the cou­ple’s pas­sions – one that saw Car­bonaro-Laws start an art in­vest­ment group seven years ago. “Now I can buy art with­out only spend­ing my own money,” she laughs. “Se­ri­ously, it’s also great for ed­u­ca­tion and every four months we have some­thing new. Just re­cently I got that El­liot Collins in the liv­ing room. Be­fore, I had a Richard Or­jis. The wall has so many holes but it doesn’t mat­ter, it’s only plas­ter.”

Up the twist­ing oak stairs is Ara­bella’s room, a guest-room and the mas­ter bed­room. “Bella de­signed what she wanted. My mother let me do that too when I was young,” says Car­bonaro-Laws. Be­cause the teen will no doubt have chang­ing tastes, they shopped at Free­dom.

Mean­while, the mas­ter bed­room is a sym­phony of lux­u­ri­ous lay­ers, from the painted black pressed-steel wall to the fluffy cream Mon­go­lian wool on the Ka­trin chair, the black car­pet and the tex­tured sheer linen cur­tains. “I didn’t want cur­tains, but I re­alised my neigh­bours prob­a­bly wouldn’t want to see me naked in the morn­ing,” she says.

Right: The bas­ket chair by Nanna Ditzel and Jør­gen Ditzel and Ket­tal ZigZag Puff ta­ble are both from Stu­dio Italia. Be­low: The clas­sic tiles in the Ital­ian­in­spired court­yard are by Arte­do­mus. On the wall is a DIY light by Seletti. Left: The be­spoke...

Car­bonara-Laws and her daugh­ter Ara­bella at the chunky wood ta­ble that rests on the black slate Varenna Po­liform kitchen bench. The round paint­ing on wood is by Flox. The floor lamp is by Seletti.

Clock­wise from left: The walk-in closet is by Po­liform from Stu­dio Italia; the or­ganic bath­room tiles are by Arte­do­mus. The Mon­go­lian wool Ka­trin chair is by Carlo Colombo from Stu­dio Italia. The pressed-steel wall is by Stamp. The Arca bed and the...

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