All the small things

An in­ex­haustible col­lec­tor dis­cov­ers the beauty in a brick-and-tile home built in the ’60s.

Homestyle New Zealand - - CONTENTS - WORDS Philippa Pren­tice PHO­TOG­RA­PHY Duncan Innes

An in­ex­haustible col­lec­tor dis­cov­ers the beauty in a brickand-tile home built in the ’60s.

Bower­bird by name, bower­bird by na­ture, Auck­land in­te­rior stylist Joanna Cowie (aka @bower­bird­jo_wan­ders) is a col­lec­tor through and through. Look to your left as you en­ter her Mur­rays Bay home, and be­hold the ever-grow­ing set of tiny wall-hung aero­planes en­graved with the des­ti­na­tions she, her CEO hus­band Neil and their three chil­dren have trav­elled to. Con­tinue past the bowls full of vin­tage keys and other en­chant­ing ephemera and you’ll see shelves dis­play­ing an as­sort­ment of sec­ond­hand cam­eras. But it’s in the guest room where her life­long tal­ent for find­ing trea­sure comes into its own. Slid­ing open the drawers of her apothe­cary-style cabi­net re­veals beau­ti­ful but­ter­flies, spiky co­ral, pale green sea eggs and all kinds of other cu­rios.

She laughs as she re­calls how it all be­gan. “When I was nine, I went to a friend’s house and she had a lit­tle blown ban­tam egg. I’d never seen one be­fore, and I wanted that egg, so I swapped my gold signet ring for it. Her mother said, ‘Are you sure your mummy won’t mind?’ and I said, ‘No.’ Well, I never told my mummy, and how bad was it that she let her child take my ring?! It was so wrong, but that was my first thing. I’ve col­lected ever since.”

Decades of ir­re­sistible finds now live along­side Jo and Neil in the 1960s dwelling they’ve turned into their for­ever home. Hav­ing built and ren­o­vated many times while liv­ing in South Africa, then New Zealand, then Aus­tralia, they bought the sin­gle-storey brick-and-tile home shortly af­ter their re­turn to Aotearoa, with a view to do­ing it up and •

mov­ing on. Plan­ning to re­tain the orig­i­nal foot­print but trans­form it into a light, bright haven with good flow, the cou­ple brought Matt Davy of Dave Pear­son Ar­chi­tects on board with builder Kent Sulzberger and his team at Rusa Con­struc­tion, and set out to “get it right”. In the end, it took them eight years.

“We just kept think­ing, ‘Let’s change this, let’s change that’ – so it’s been on­go­ing, but we’ve got to the point now where we re­ally like it,” says Jo. “This is the long­est we’ve ever lived in one place – and we didn’t in­tend to stay, but it grew on us.”

First in line for ren­o­va­tion were the bath­room and kitchen. Don’t even get Jo started on the lat­ter, how­ever – it’s re­cently been re­done for a se­cond time. “They say you should live in a home for a cou­ple of years be­fore you em­bark on a ren­o­va­tion, and it’s true. The ini­tial kitchen ren­o­va­tion was an epic fail, which we had to live with for seven years. We were bit­terly dis­ap­pointed, but hey, that’s life – you’ve gotta have some curve­balls.”

Stage two opened up the house front and back. To har­ness the all-day sun, they added slid­ing doors in the din­ing area and liv­ing rooms con­nect­ing to decks at ei­ther end of the house. Cos­metic changes were made through­out – new doors, hard­ware, car­pet, skirt­ing boards, Ro­man blinds and shut­ters – and they took to the in­te­rior walls with Re­sene Black White and the pre­vi­ously rust-coloured ex­te­rior with a cus­tom-mixed lime-wash con­crete paint, which will de­velop a Euro­pean-style patina as it weathers. •

Fi­nally, in phase three, they sanded and stained the orig­i­nal rimu floors a dark ma­hogany, cre­ated an out­door en­ter­tain­ing area with a gas fire and low-main­te­nance na­tive/ trop­i­cal gar­den, re­did that pesky kitchen, and added a se­cond storey. This re­treat-like up­stairs mas­ter suite in­cludes an en­suite, a walk-in wardrobe, an of­fice nook, and a deck to cap­ture the amaz­ing har­bour view, with Ran­gi­toto so close you can al­most touch it.

As far as Jo’s con­cerned, good things do take time. “I’m not into fast home­ware at all. I like things with a bit of a story, a bit of his­tory.” She reg­u­larly tries to cull her col­lec­tions be­cause, ac­tu­ally, she doesn’t like clut­ter, and the re­sult is an ex­pert bal­ance that feels just right.

“In win­ter I have more stuff around, but in sum­mer I like to pare it back a bit,” she says. “It’s about per­sonal touches. My kids are an in­flu­ence; I bought our lit­tle brass an­chor be­cause of Matt, who’s a sailor. I’m very sen­ti­men­tal, and I sup­pose that’s why old things speak to me. Give me some­thing rusty and a lit­tle bit dusty – I don’t like per­fect.”

She says she got emo­tional about the clas­sic metal balustrade at the front en­try. “We could have bought a shiny new one, but I thought, ‘No, this is the house. It’s served this house well since 1960.’ So we just painted it.”

Eight years and count­ing, the fam­ily looks set to con­tinue col­lect­ing mem­o­ries here. “This is a lit­tle house with a big heart – I’ve had a thing for it from the be­gin­ning,” says Jo. “It’s a mod­est house, you know? It’s not flash, be­cause I’m not flash. I just made it a bit grander.”

ABOVE Near the en­try, a col­lec­tion of Des­ti­na­tion Planes by Michele Bryant from The Poi Room de­picts the places the fam­ily of five has vis­ited to­gether. Be­side it is a wooden pro­pel­ler found at Blik­fang Art & An­tiques. The mir­ror is by Home In­dus­try....

ABOVE Reg­u­lar trav­ellers, Jo and Neil pick up in­ter­est­ing pieces wher­ever they go. “I bring home any­thing I can fit in my suit­case: unique ce­ram­ics, vin­tage keys, linen, can­dles…” says Jo. This vi­gnette by the front door in­cludes a bowl-like vase...

MAS­TER SUITE Com­plete with a study (top left), the new se­cond storey is a serene sanc­tu­ary; Jo says she could hap­pily spend all day in it. For her, white walls are cru­cial for en­hanc­ing the sense of calm. “They al­low me to add fur­nish­ings, art­work and...

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