A trop­i­cal Wai­heke sanc­tu­ary 15 years in the mak­ing

Ex­tend­ing a tiny Wai­heke Is­land cot­tage has re­sulted in en­vi­able in­door-out­door flow for this botan­i­cal stylist and her fam­ily

Your Home and Garden - - Contents - Text by Fiona Ralph. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Vanessa and Michael Lewis.

It was a trans­for­ma­tion 15 years in the mak­ing, but Gemma and Greg Yeo­man have turned their tiny, run-down 1940s cot­tage into a stylish trop­i­cal sanc­tu­ary. The Oneroa, Wai­heke Is­land, house they have lived in for 15 years un­der­went an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion last year, when the orig­i­nal cot­tage was ex­panded to in­cor­po­rate a se­ries of cas­cad­ing rooms and decks which flow down the slop­ing sec­tion. “We wanted a whole lot of float­ing decks,” says Gemma.

“We use them all be­cause the sun hits them at dif­fer­ent times.”

The cou­ple made the move to Wai­heke Is­land, a 40-minute ferry ride from Auck­land, early in their re­la­tion­ship, to of­fer sup­port to close friends whose son was fight­ing a brain tu­mour. This proved a life-chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for the cou­ple. “We changed our whole life to be or­ganic,” says Gemma. They also be­came ac­cus­tomed to is­land life, and af­ter rent­ing for about a year, they bought a di­lap­i­dated twobed­room cot­tage on the is­land.

“I didn’t really even look in­side the house be­cause it was pretty ter­ri­ble,” says Gemma. “But we bought it be­cause it had such a good, long sec­tion.” They ren­o­vated the house in two parts, ini­tially mak­ing it more live­able with a new kitchen and bath­room, then sit­ting tight while they planned and saved for their dream home. “It’s good to do it that way,” says Greg, “be­cause you get a feel for the spa­ces.”


Although they got the re­source con­sent for their ex­ten­sion af­ter 10 years in the house, it was an­other five years be­fore they had the funds to build. De­signed by Vaughn McQuar­rie (whom Greg stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture with), the plans added a third bed­room, sec­ond bath­room, lounge, court­yard and deck to the home. “We had a really big brief about our life­style and how we like to live and en­ter­tain,” says Gemma. “We needed it to work for the fu­ture and wanted sep­a­rate spa­ces, but not too far away from each other, so it’s still a mod­est home.” Con­nec­tion to the outdoors was im­por­tant to the cou­ple. They also wanted to re­tain the home’s small foot­print and keep most of the orig­i­nal house.


One of the defin­ing fea­tures of the home is the bi­fold doors which con­nect the lounge, kitchen and din­ing ar­eas with an in­ter­nal court­yard and deck. When these are open, you get a feel­ing of spa­cious­ness and the outdoors flows in. When closed, the sep­a­rate zones add a sense of in­ti­macy. “It works for our fam­ily,” Gemma says. “Ivy can be in the lounge while we are in the din­ing room or vice versa.”

The cou­ple’s bed­room is sep­a­rated from the home’s liv­ing ar­eas by a hall­way and con­crete wall. Although it has no door, the wing has a se­cluded feel, and the in­su­lated con­crete wall keeps noise to a min­i­mum. “The con­cept was to have the bed­room re­moved from ev­ery­thing,” says Gemma. “Away from the kids and away from the lounge” but not too far, so they can still be con­nected.

They still have plans to up­date the kitchen and guest bath­room since these were com­pleted fairly sim­ply in the first ren­o­va­tion. They plan to in­stall the old kitchen into a con­tainer in Tau­ranga which they are mak­ing into a hol­i­day home. “That’s our project now that the house is done,” says Gemma.


Gemma has kept her Christ­mas styling pared­back and botan­i­cally in­flu­enced. She cre­ated a sim­ple tree out of rus­cus leaves, which stay green for a long time. “I al­ways have quite an al­ter­na­tive tree,” she says. Presents and decor have a nat­u­ral, rus­tic look, with noth­ing be­ing too “Christ­massy”. This year they are camp­ing with fam­ily up north for the hol­i­days, but they look for­ward to host­ing a Christ­mas at their newly ren­o­vated house soon.


The cou­ple have built up a green sanc­tu­ary over the years, plant­ing na­tive and sub­trop­i­cal plants to cre­ate pri­vacy. The house was de­signed around this veg­e­ta­tion and to fit the site, which made the con­sent­ing process fairly smooth. They even built their deck around a cab­bage tree – it ap­pears to grow straight through the deck­ing.

“It was really easy to get our re­source con­sent be­cause the house was set into the slope,” says Greg. “We’re not try­ing to stick an­other level up on the ridge to get a view out to the sea.”

Land­scap­ing is im­por­tant to the cou­ple. Gemma is the botan­i­cal stylist be­hind Flora n Fauna, which fits out homes and of­fices with plants. “I’m all about get­ting green­ery into ur­ban spa­ces,” she ex­plains. Greg co­founded stormwa­ter man­age­ment com­pany Stormwa­ter360, which de­signs and im­ports wa­ter-fil­ter­ing prod­ucts. The com­pany’s per­me­able paving prod­uct Grass­crete has been in­stalled on the drive­way and a Cham­ber­maxx wa­ter-col­lec­tion de­vice un­der the front lawn elim­i­nates the need for a large wa­ter tank.

A ca­bana and small pool (or po­ten­tially a spa pool – the de­bate is still rag­ing) are planned for one of the lower decks. They also want to add a lou­vred roof to the in­ter­nal court­yard and more wires to the out­side of the house so green­ery can grow up the walls.


Now they fi­nally have their dream home, Greg and Gemma are tak­ing time out to en­joy it.

The re­treat-like space means they can ig­nore the sum­mer crowds which flock to the is­land. “You kind of for­get about them here, un­til you step out,” Greg says of the quiet haven they have cre­ated. “It can be really busy and you don’t no­tice it.”

Although there are a few things they wouldn’t re­peat, the ren­o­va­tion has been deemed a suc­cess, and they’re not look­ing to move. “I think ev­ery time you ren­o­vate you would learn more and more but a year on we still love it, love what we’ve done and love the colours we’ve cho­sen,” says Gemma. “It’s a feel­ing you can’t de­scribe,” she says of the com­pleted ren­o­va­tion. “Es­pe­cially when we’ve come from liv­ing in a two-bed­room lit­tle house, and feel­ing like we worked really hard for it. When we first sat in our lounge to­gether we could have pinched our­selves.” •


Place a few stalks of toe­toe in a pot to add

life to a room. The na­tive grass ties in well with a neu­tral colour


LIV­ING ROOM In the north-fac­ing liv­ing room, a con­crete floor and walls made of in­su­lated con­crete blocks cap­ture the sun’s warmth and en­sure the fam­ily needs lit­tle in the way of heat­ing.

GUEST ROOM, BATH­ROOM Gemma and Greg were in­spired by the bath­rooms in the Ace Ho­tel which they vis­ited in Los An­ge­les. Fam­ily heir­looms bring a mem­o­rable touch to the guest room.


EX­TE­RIOR Grass­crete, a per­me­able paving prod­uct from Greg’s com­pany, Stormwa­ter360, was in­stalled on the drive­way to help re­duce wa­ter runoff.

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