NZ House & Garden
Home of the Month: A Wellington family embraces a quirky and iconic seaside design.
After years of apartment living, this family now own an iconic home in coastal Wellington
Frances Shoemack is used to taking risks that pay off. First there was the 2011 move from Auckland to Amsterdam, armed only with husband David and a freshly minted EU passport. Then there was Abel (pronounced Ah-bell), the boutique natural perfume company Frances started at her kitchen table.
Although she’s a trained winemaker and worked in the New Zealand wine industry, similar jobs were hard to come by in her new home. “There aren’t any vineyards in Amsterdam. But wine and perfume are closely related and having become frustrated with the lack of natural, sustainable perfumes, I decided to start my own brand.”
That was in 2013 and today, Abel has staff in Wellington, Amsterdam and Boston in the US and is sold around the globe.
But moving back to New Zealand from Holland was always on the cards and in January 2020 the couple and their children Rufus, six, and Arthur, four, took another risk – choosing to make Wellington their home.
“I’m from South Canterbury, David’s from Tauranga and we’d lived in Auckland for seven years. But we settled on Wellington because it has a similar creative vibe to Amsterdam.”
‘I’m attracted to the simple clean lines of mid-century modern pieces’
Having sold their compact Dutch apartment, they spent hours trolling through real estate sites. This house, designed in 1999 by architect Roger Walker, caught their eye not only because of its contemporary design but also because it’s in their desired location of Ōwhiro Bay, sandwiched between the ocean and native bush.
Not surprisingly, the gobsmacking views were a huge selling point – across Cook Strait where passenger ferries ply the waters and, on good days, as far as the Kaikōura Ranges which look so close you could almost reach out and touch them.
But having great views usually means steps – 102 steps, to be precise, from the road. “You have to earn the view,” laughs Frances.
Buying the three-level house sight unseen from the other side of the world did cause a few anxious moments, but Frances admits it was another risk that paid off.
The family moved in eight weeks before their furniture arrived from Holland, but sleeping on temporary beds with only a few suitcases made it easier to renovate their new home.
The first thing they did was make friends with a painter and decorator. “The walls were a range of bright colours, from yellow and blue to purple and red in one bedroom,” recalls Frances. “It was all a bit 90s for us.”
Enter litres of white paint which not only makes the 105sqm space look bigger, but also provides a neutral backdrop that doesn’t compete with the views.
Thankfully, their house had good bones, so there was little structural work to be done, aside from
removing a wall in the third floor ensuite which had previously been used as a photographic dark room.
“It gives us a more room, which is also why I opted for open shelving to create a sense of space.”
Both Frances and David, a chief of staff for a Dutch e-bike company, are fans of mid-century modern furniture and spent a decade trawling Europe for covetable examples.
“I’m a minimalist which is why I’m attracted to the simple clean lines of mid-century modern pieces.”
That includes the wooden cabinet that greets visitors in the entrance. It was bought in 2012 and is home to the couple’s book collection and pottery by Frances’ mother, Jacqui Durcan.
The vintage gramophone was Frances’ 30th birthday present, found by David in an Amsterdam antique store.
The only furniture the couple had to buy was a fold-out sofa which they slept on until their furniture arrived. That now lives in the second floor office where David works remotely.
The boys share a room on the first floor, sleeping in German custom-made bunk beds. “David is six foot six and the boys are also tall so we had to get generous bunk beds.”
A treasured piece in the boys’ room is the vintage luggage trunk the couple bought in Cologne, Germany, and lugged back to Amsterdam on the train. It’s now home to the boys’ dress-up clothes.
Along with carpeting the chipboard floors and changing all the light fittings, blinds and door handles, Frances also tiled the bathroom floors.
In the third floor master bedroom, a 1950s Danish rocking chair is perfectly positioned in front of the bank of windows.
Draped over it is a reindeer skin bought during a holiday to Finland, while the minimalist wooden block table came from Abel’s showroom at a perfume fair in Florence. “It’s really heavy but I loved it so much I ended up carrying it back to Amsterdam on the plane, which was a bit of a mission.”
Although Frances misses Amsterdam, she says the family is thrilled to be back in New Zealand.
“We’re really lucky to be here but also able to carry on our global businesses from this compact house up 102 steps with these fantastic views!”