What do you do when you can’t find furniture for your character country home? Set up a business and import your own, of course.
Why must quirky yet classic furniture for a character home be so hard to find? This homeowner changes the rules
Here’s what usually happens when you can’t find the kind of cool, vintage furniture you want in New Zealand: you whinge a little, before spending hours trawling through overseas websites, trying to ignore the crippling cost of shipping items across the globe.
Unless your name is Kristyn Thomas, in which case you start a business importing highly covetable pieces from Europe.
Kristyn was inspired to start The Sunday Society when she couldn’t find the kind of vintage pieces she wanted for the Waikato villa she and architect husband Sam renovated four years ago.
“We took a road trip through Holland, filling a container with things that I like,” she says. “I figured that if I liked this stuff then others would too. And if they didn’t then I’d end up with a house full of gorgeous furniture.” >
You can hardly fault her logic. And although customers have, thankfully, fallen in love with the gracious French armoires and Dutch wooden seats Kristyn sources, a lot of it has also found its way into the couple’s home.
Particularly their former living room, which has been turned into a showroom that Kristyn opens to the public by appointment. “A lot of pieces cross over from the showroom into the house and never go back,” says Sam with a laugh.
Parents to Cooper, six, Ava, three, and 15-month-old Angus, the couple first spotted their 1919 villa a few months after returning from five years in Sydney to be closer to family (Sam grew up just down the road). The 130sqm house still had the original scrim on the walls, no insulation and the roof leaked like a sieve. But they loved its rural location, tucked among rolling dairy farms, and it had what real estate agents like to call good bones.
Four frantic months later, after renovating and selling two rental properties to finance the purchase, they set about turning it into their dream home, including repiling, insulating and gibbing the entire house, replacing the leaky roof and covering every conceivable surface with litres of white paint.
“I like any colour as long as it’s white,” jokes Kristyn, who juggles her business with a full-time account manager role.
There was, she admits, some robust debate about whether the original mataī floorboards should be painted black or white. >
“I wanted black because I thought with three kids we would be constantly cleaning white floors,” admits Sam. But his wife wanted white so he experimented with industrial and regular paint until he got the colour and texture right.
Fortunately, they didn’t have to make many structural changes to their home. “The layout works amazingly well for our family, especially the three covered porches that give us shade in summer and protect us from the elements in winter,” says Sam. They did, however, add a generous deck that runs the length of the house and opens to both the kitchen and living room. They also moved two internal doors to make the bedrooms more accessible and, somewhat controversially, decided not to make the functional areas of the house into an open-plan space.
Says Sam: “I know the trend is to knock down walls to make these areas open plan but we wanted to respect the house’s original structure. And, actually, having separate cooking, eating and living areas works for us as a family because it provides more room for us to spread out.”
When it came to decorating, Kristyn was in her element. She’d long trawled Trade Me for vintage wooden filing cabinets she could repurpose as chests of drawers; the enormous rimu cabinet in the master bedroom came from a Dunedin furrier.
“I love the way it still has its original labels, showing which drawer held the ermine skins and which the fox heads.”
Although this is the fourth house the couple have renovated, they say they won’t be leaving any time soon.
“We both moved around a lot as kids so we wanted a house that would grow with our family, where our kids would spend their whole lives,” says Kristyn. “And that’s what we’ve found here.”
THIS PAGE Bentwood chairs are paired with a colonial kauri turned-leg table; the large woven basket lids on the wall were a Trade Me find; Kristyn has used, Dulux ‘Half Antique White USA’ throughout the house. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top) The two round artworks are by Kihikihi artist Claudia Aalderink and were made from old bee-keeping boxes; Kristyn says the cowhide rug is surprisingly child-friendly and doesn’t stain easily. Kristyn in the kitchen; the George and Willy paper roller is great for notes, reminders, grocery lists and kids’ scribbles. The jade-green tiles on the hearth were hidden under ugly 80s slate pavers and Kristyn says it was a “total win” to find them undamaged underneath.
THIS PAGE (clockwise from top) The villa had very little built-in storage, so Kristyn found the glass-fronted cabinet on Trade Me to store cutlery and crockery; Sam installed the black sliding barn door and the large Alex & Corban mirror was one of the family’s few splurges. The box shelves keep treasures safe from small hands; the child-sized shoe lasts were found in an Amsterdam flea market and Kristyn collects a new ceramic wall tile every time she visits Holland. Kristyn had loved the Cole & Son Birches wallpaper for years and finally got a chance to use it in son Angus’ room; the cot was from Ikea, but the couple added the carved wooden panel featuring cockatiels in a gum tree, which came from a vintage cabinet bought on eBay in Sydney.OPPOSITE The Sunday Society showroom, which used to be the couple’s living room; the light fitting is from Mr Ralph.