A new kitchen and defined living space have made a huge difference to Helen Vernon’s French-inspired Ponsonby villa.
Words Brenda Ward Photography Larnie Nicolson
In the past, when Helen Vernon had guests around for dinner, she always felt she had her back to them as she prepared the meal. So she remodelled the back of her Ponsonby villa and turned it into a real entertainer’s home.
Now she can be working at the kitchen island as she chats to her guests while they sit at the dining table, or recline on the loungers in her sunny courtyard. “But it was a major job,” admits Helen with a laugh.
When she bought the house, the kitchen stretched along one wall and where the dining table is now looked like a covered patio area. The renovation squared up the room, opened it out to a cute courtyard and installed a new, streamlined kitchen with an island food-preparation area.
“I wanted more kitchen and living area, and it’s got more defined spaces now. Previously it was almost like everything was merging into one in this room, but now I feel more that this part,” she gestures, “is the kitchen and that part is the lounge.”
It wasn’t easy, she says.
“It was a major, but it’s made a huge difference. I’d never done any renovations and you just don’t know quite what you’re taking on until you start something like that. And by then, you can’t back out!”
Good builders, a good architect and a good kitchen company all made a big difference, she says.
Now it’s a charming little two-bedroomed cottage with a real French feel that reflects Helen’s background. She used to work in IT in France and then visited the country each year afterwards, for many years.
She collected some of the items when she was driving around colourful ‘brocante’ fleamarkets. “I had a girlfriend in England who would come over and we would spend the weekend just driving around the countryside. We had such great fun and we ended up buying lots of bits and pieces.” Other items caught her eye in antique stores since her return.
“I really like mixing together the old and the new. It’s not that any of this stuff is particularly old, but I just like mixing things up.”
She adores pretty fabrics and sews offcuts into throws and bedcovers to add flair to her home.
“It looks effective and no one could tell. You can spend so much money on buying something like that and if you’ve got animals, like I have, they’ll damage it, so I’m like, ‘You know what? Use it and then don’t feel guilty about throwing it out, because you haven’t spend too much money on it’.”
Shutters have made the house feel bigger and given it a European feel, she says. Their cost of around $8000 is offset by the fact that they’ll last longer than curtains and be easier to clean, she says.
Being new to renovating, Helen was lucky that the previous owners had done much of the major structural work to the house before she bought it at auction in 2004. They had relined the walls, repiled, rewired it and opened up the loft space.
One touch she loved was the charmingly rustic outdoors shed, probably once a utility room containing the boiler, a laundry and an outdoor toilet for the original house. Now it’s been transformed inside and it’s a spare bedroom, offering guests both comfort and independence.
“Before, it was pretty much in its original state,” says Helen. “It had the old wooden walls and it was leaking, drafty and cold.”
She had it lined and painted, and installed a sparkling new bathroom behind shutters.
“This is the ‘drunks hut’,” she jokes. “If you have too many to drink, you get to sleep in here. It’s cute, it functions really well and those shutters are waterproof, so you can let the bathroom get wet and then just walk away.”
Inside she’s add homely touches, sewing quality fabric into a bedcover and installing shelving for guests’ toiletries and ornaments.
The loft makes a great workspace when Helen works from home and can also do double duty for guests – but there’s
a strict ‘no drinking’ rule for those staying the night up the staircase, because it’s perilous to navigate.
And one of her luxuries is a room she’s turned into a painting studio, where she can indulge her passion for art. “It’s so nice having a room to paint in. It’s taken me a while to set it up but now it feels quite comfortable to work in here.”
The old shed door has become a rustic desk – and she can see the tiny courtyard through the shutters. “It’s a small yard, but it’s private, which I like. It’s nice having something that’s quite low maintenance. The recliner was my gift to myself, because a friend and I went to Hawaii this year and we spent the best part of a week on sun-loungers. I thought, oh, that’s exactly what I need!”
She bought one that flattens down to become bench seating for guests. “I love being able to sit down and read the paper in the sun in the weekend.”
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