A Herne Bay villa gets a Kiwi-French makeover

This renovation honours history and heritage with details that ring true.

Pétanque courts don’t usually feature prominently on Auckland renovation wish lists, but when Natalie Le Gal asked her husband Romain to weigh in on the plans for updating their Herne Bay villa, a place to play this sport was his key request. Given his French roots, it wasn’t an entirely unexpected desire, and neither was his input into the design of the kitchen, as the couple are also the minds behind St Heliers’ La Fourchette restaurant and the La Petite Fourchette pâtisseries in Britomart and Wynyard Quarter.

MAIN IMAGE Handmade tiles from Middle Earth Tiles line the back wall of the kitchen and provide a backdrop for ceramics by Kirsten Dryburgh, including (from left) a cannister, colander, vase and bread bin. The chopping board is by Walk in the Park from Tessuti. ABOVE Osso barstools by Mattiazzi from Simon James tuck under the walnut and brass kitchen island topped with black leathered granite. The pendant lights overhead and the glassware on the bench are by Monmouth Glass Studio.

Having purchased the place for its renovation potential, Natalie, Romain and their children Maxime and Mila endured hot summers and cold winters in the poorly insulated villa, making do with the results of an ill-conceived ’70s renovation, including cramped spaces that were out of sync with the lofty ceilings and generous rooms of the original home, and closed off the back of the house to the garden. Eventually calling on Natalie’s sister, Natasha Markham of MAUD (Markham Architecture & Urban Design), to oversee an alteration, a major priority became creating a connection between the interior of the home and a new outdoor area that would maximise the use of the property. 

ABOVE Designed by Babylon Gardens, the courtyard is crafted from a material palette that references the home. Palissade outdoor furniture by Hay from Cult sits on stone paving surrounded by built-in bench seating that steps up to the pétanque court and a small lawn connecting to the master bedroom.

“Natasha had been involved in the fit-outs of our pâtisseries and restaurant, so I knew we could work together,” says Natalie. “We can be quite blunt with each other, which I like, and she also has a good understanding of space, and is really creative” — exactly what they were looking for in devising an innovative solution in a suburb where villa do-ups are ubiquitous. 

ABOVE Various rooms of the house overlook distinct parts of the backyard. “The different views help to inform the character of these spaces, and Babylon Gardens understood that really well,” says Natasha.

All vestiges of the ’70s addition were removed and some internal walls repositioned to make way for a new floorplan that married the heritage villa structure at the front of the section with a series of smaller forms extending to the back. “This was partly a response to the strict heritage controls for the area and partly a contextual response,” says Natasha. “From the site, you can see the back of older brick commercial buildings that all have collections of smaller outbuildings and additions.”

ABOVE The living areas were reoriented towards the north and opened to the garden to introduce more natural light to the previously darker parts of the house. “We love food, cooking and entertaining, so this was a really important part of the home for us,” says Natalie. “I really didn’t want a minimalist, ‘vanilla’ kitchen, as I prefer a more eclectic mix of materials, or a kitchen that was so sleek and modern that we felt like we couldn’t use it. We also wanted to be able to cook and still see the kids from nearly every angle.”

Twin peaks over the central kitchen and living zone echo the villa vernacular, and original bricks retained from the demolition of an old chimney clad this central form, linking the home to the surrounding urban landscape while bringing warmth and character to the addition.
“There’s so much waste in construction and the bricks are part of the history of this home, so it was a small way to respond to these issues — plus they’re a beautiful material,” says Natasha. “When the builders started removing them, we discovered they were stamped with ‘Arch Hill’; there was a brickworks there around the turn of the 20th century. Of course, the number of chimney bricks wasn’t quite sufficient to clad the building and garden walls, so Natalie painstakingly sourced additional ‘Arch Hill’ bricks through salvage yards and Trade Me to make up the shortfall. I think it was well worth the effort.”

ABOVE More ceramics by Kirsten Dryburgh decorate the shelves of the kitchen’s custom-made walnut and brass shelving unit above a stash of oft-used cookbooks. Below them (from left) are a bowl by Rachel Carter, a Marquette 01 sculpture by Gidon Bing from Good Form and a vase by Margi Nuttall.

The warmth and character of the bricks is echoed throughout the interior, including in the kitchen’s walnut cabinetry and brass detailing, which come together with inky black benchtops and tiles. The generous island, where the family spends many hours cooking and entertaining, also anchors this space as the heart of the airy open-plan living zone.

ABOVE In the living area, an Aballs pendant light by Parachilna from ECC hangs from an ornate plaster ceiling that meets walls in Resene Hit Grey. The Gus sofa from Dawson & Co is teamed with a Noughts rug by Nodi from Cittá, an Amara Round Ellipse Leg coffee table from Soren Liv and an Isabella chair by Simon James for Resident. On the mantelpiece, an artwork by Simon McIntyre is flanked by (from left) a Boule vase by Skultuna, a candleholder by Tom Dixon and a Cyclades vase by Menu, all from Simon James.

Outside, the walled courtyard designed by Babylon Gardens makes clever use of the tight outdoor area, introducing split levels to incorporate built-in seating, the pétanque court and a small lawn, all surrounded by soft layers of greenery that complement the architecture.

ABOVE This snug is accessed off the kitchen and dining area through custom-made panelled sliding doors that create visual continuity between the new part of the home and the ornate detailing of the original. Soothing Resene Steel Grey on the walls is supported by a Totoki rug from BoConcept and curtains in a blue and white Jurmo fabric by Marimekko from Bolt of Cloth. A quilted Redondo armchair by Patricia Urquiola from Matisse is a cosy spot to curl up in to watch TV or read a book stashed on the Expose sidetable from BoConcept.

“We really wanted a lush garden with a lot of edibles,” says Natalie. “We have a plum tree, a lemon tree, limes, mandarins, figs and a truckload of rosemary. It functions really well as an outdoor room. I quite like the European influence of natural stone and limestone pathways, but Babylon reinterpreted these elements in a really modern way, so it’s not too formal and clipped.” Turning away from the street and opening onto the garden, the north-facing orientation of the extension allows abundant light into the house throughout the day. The masterful use of space lets the family move freely between inside and out, everyone enjoying the simple pleasures of life at home — including plenty of pétanque.   

TOP The master bedroom is a peaceful sanctuary at the end of the new extension. Sarah Williams’ painting It’s a Small World from Seed Gallery hangs above the bed dressed with linen from A&C Homestore and a quilt from Cittá. The Enna lamp by Astro is from ECC. ABOVE Moving a few internal walls in the original part of the villa made space for a new family bathroom. The subway wall tiles from Tile Space, hung in a herringbone formation, and encaustic floor tiles from Artedomus add texture and pattern to the pared-back décor.

Words Alice Lines
Photography Sam Hartnett

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