From habitat magazine - issue 35, feature house
The Northcote home of a rower-turned-designer bathes in Resene colours that reflect the surrounding harbour.
The power of colour to dial up the magic is not lost on former world champion rower Tonia Williams. The time she and her rowing partner-cum-joiner lay on the floor in the entrance hall of this Northcote house, celebratory beers in hand, beneath the ceiling they’d just created, counts as one of her favourite moments. Red, blue and green LEDs installed behind dropped polycarbonate sheeting transported her back to the disco years.
Colour is also a decorative, whimsical way to evoke history: half strength Resene Onepoto in the living room reminds her of those free-spirited days on the water.
Not that whimsy is all she is made of. A former elite athlete, Tonia’s focus is high-performance – an attribute she wanted from her home. Building from energy-efficient structural insulated panels (SIPs) and using another proven performer, Resene Colorwood Whitewash, to finish them was always part of the plan. “When I returned to New Zealand at the end of 2000 from competing in England, it was the height of the leaky-building crisis. I started looking at different ways of building houses.”
The views from this property on top of a North Shore ridge sweep over the Waitemata Harbour to the city on one side and across to a grassy reserve on the other. Tonia, a graduate architect, who prefers to call herself a ‘designer/maker’, couldn’t wait to get hands-on, crafting a forever home for her two teenage daughters Ondine and Sienna and husband Stephen.
While the design of the multi-level dwelling was complex, accounting for the steep site and height-to-boundary restrictions as well as connecting the spaces to two horizons, the material choice was easy. SIPs are light, strong and stable, and provide a warm, dry environment. Tonia also rescued timbers from an existing cottage on the site to repurpose.
The owner of a design-and-build company called Vitruvion, she saw the project as a teaching opportunity. “This isn’t an ‘instant pot noodle’ house,” she says. “You don’t just add water and everything is finished.” As a mum, she was keen for the girls to experience the process and get involved in the DIY nitty-gritty. So, once the build team had delivered the envelope – a bold, contemporary dwelling that stretched over multiple levels – the family became ‘weekend warriors’, making the interiors their own.
Here is a woman not afraid to be playful with finishes and colour. A fan of passive solar design, Tonia specified insulated concrete flooring for the stepped-up, stepped-down living areas but, in the kitchen zone, she wanted to mimic colourful terrazzo. So, Stephen went on the hunt for blue glass, collecting 1300 bottles from the wheelie bins of Portofino restaurant in the Viaduct. Then she and the girls donned safety goggles and ‘played squash’, driving a compactor over them to crush the material before sifting out the finer bits by hand. Blue chips now feature in the pool, the flooring and in a handmade pendant light in the living room – three acrylic tubes are filled with blue glass surrounding LED strips.
The kitchen and stairs are an insertion in the space, a box wrapped in rimu repurposed from the cottage floorboards, de-nailed and sanded several times (thanks Stephen!) to be as smooth as silk before finishing in Resene Aquaclear. Pine ply doors on the upper cabinets have been given three coats of Resene Colorwood Whitewash and a clear coat of Resene Aquaclear to protect the surface. But having just one tone in the kitchen was anathema to Tonia’s aesthetic adventurousness: lower cupboards in beech ply are dark-stained with Resene Colorwood Jarrah and finished in Resene Aquaclear – a robust look that combines beautifully with the embossed stainless steel bench.
Tonia calls the timber-topped island here ‘command central’ and she is the undisputed master of this ship. It’s a home that sprawls across seven different levels, and she’s designed it so there’s a gap in the cabinetry where she can have ‘eyes on’ the action in the living room; an aperture in another wall similarly gives visual access to the dining room. A wooden pendant light over the table where the family gather to eat is another hand-crafted fitting. Like all the lighting in this home, it’s low voltage. “That allowed me to imagine my own fittings because any joiner can make a low-voltage light.” The walls, reflecting the backdrop of bush, are painted in serene greens: Resene Happy Hour and Resene Fresh. “It might be because of our English background, but we like a separate dining room.”
In the living room, Tonia painted a feature wall blue in the same tonal range; she likes the way the green-blue combination echoes the landscape – from the green of the domain on the north side of the home to the ocean opposite. “I chose Resene Onepoto, which is the name of the domain nearby. It was a bit bright, so I diluted it with 50 per cent white, and it’s now half strength Resene Onepoto.”
The girls, of course, got to choose colours for their own rooms and seem to have been influenced by the environment too. Sienna went for aqua-blue Resene Riptide and her elder sister Resene Portage, a serene violet-blue. They’re not quite as experimental as their mum – as the upstairs master suite, a showcase of Tonia’s inventiveness, attests. Taking top billing must be the delicious-looking “chocolate biscuit” SIPs wall in the master bedroom. “We have used dark brown Resene Colorwood directly onto unprepared SIPs. It was a very memorable product – the stain smelled like chocolate! We then sanded the top off and sealed with Resene Aquaclear,” says Tonia.
The family’s DIY approach probably accounts for the fact it has taken four years to get to this stage. In that time, the family has made a home and some vivid memories. “The DIY spirit isn’t dead in New Zealand, so if we want to make housing more attainable, we need to find creative solutions,” says Tonia.
SIPs can be used to build walls, floors and ceilings. The panels can be stained or painted directly onto the surface and their textural surface adds a layer of interest.
Tonia likens SIPs to an ‘ice-cream wafer’, consisting of an insulated foam core between layers of oriented strand board (OSB). They create a tight fit, which is great for energy efficiency.
SIPs are a structural product that acts like an RSJ and can support spans in multiple directions.
Although they can be expensive to purchase, because the panels are effectively a three-in-one product of structure, insulation and finish, building can be faster than normal if built by SIPs specialist builders.
Choose the right Resene colours and paints for the job.
Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen is ideal for painting bedrooms and interior living areas as it adds enamel-like toughness to broadwall areas, allowing you to get a low sheen finish without sacrificing durability. It’s an ideal choice for Ondine’s bedroom which is in Resene Portage.
As the SIPs panels have a texture similar to Weetbix, when they are finished with Resene Colorwood Jarrah it creates a multi-coloured effect. To create a similar effect on a broadwall, use Resene FX Paint Effects Medium with two shades of brown such as Resene Milk Chocolate and Resene Brown Bramble.
Resene Concrete Wax is a tough non-yellowing waterborne clear coat that is ideal for homes with concrete flooring. It not only protects the concrete but makes it easier to clean.
a nature-inspired sanctuary
Designers Jamie and Sophie Prebble of the Home Duo suggest an alternative scheme:
Jamie and Sophie Prebble
As the property is perched above the coast, we wanted to establish a strong connection with nature. We did this using a combination of soft coloured wooden flooring stained in Resene Colorwood Natural and texture including shaggy bean bags from Wilson Dorset. We have added depth through the use of the dark panel feature wall stained in Resene Colorwood Bark which contrasts against the lighter tones throughout. The floating staircase creates an elegant focal point while also freeing up floor space and allowing light to reach a previously dark corner of the room. Being a busy family home, we wanted to ensure versatility between spaces – so we chose furniture that is easily adaptable (bean bags) and spaces that can be configured with the family's needs.
Top tip: Protect wooden flooring stained in Resene Colorwood using Resene Qristal ClearFloor. This waterborne urethane is highly durable and suitable for timber flooring throughout your home.
a warm and inviting space for art lovers
Designer Kat Everett suggests an alternative scheme:
I thought it would be fun to reimagine this house with some warmer colours. I removed the window in the back wall and placed a large artwork there in order to create a focal point when walking into the house. The Resene Merlot feature wall is perfect for displaying artwork and showcasing the copper- coloured velvet couch. Resene Merlot has a softness to it which doesn't overwhelm the room and is a good backdrop for other colours and textures. To help keep the room light, I have painted the other walls in Resene Half Sea Fog with the skirting boards, ceiling and trims in Resene Half Alabaster to give a slight contrast. I have opened up the room with steel balustrades on the stairs and restained the timber stairs with Resene Colorwood Teak to soften the orange timber tones.
Top tip: Reduce the appearance of fly spots on your walls and ceiling with Resene Fly Deterrent. The special formula works like insect repellent, discouraging flies from sitting on painted surfaces – the less they sit, the fewer and smaller the fly spots. Resene Fly Deterrent is available as an additive for Resene decorative waterborne paints so you can use it with your favourite Resene paint.
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