Fashion designer Deborah Sweeney and her husband Niels Meyer-Westfeld have found a natural fit for their family – a mid-century hideaway nestled amongst nature.
The lights of Wellington can be seen flickering across the harbour a mere 20-minute drive away, yet this house is nestled in native bush and the only sign of a neighbour is the wafting lilt from the resident opera singer down the hill. A short cable car ride from the street takes you up through the spindly trunks of beech trees, to reach a home clinging to the steep hillside with sweeping views of Days Bay down below.
Fashion designer Deborah Sweeney, her husband Niels Meyer-Westfeld and their sons Lars (5) and Romeo (1), were living in a two-bedroom home in nearby Point Howard until Romeo was born. But after the new member of the family arrived things changed. “We loved our old place, but it was too small for a growing family,” Deborah says.
So they started looking for their next project. Business partners in the Deborah Sweeney fashion label, the couple knew they wanted to stay on the Eastbourne side of the harbour close to their workroom. They balance family and work life by splitting their time between the two – with Deborah focusing on her work as a designer, while Niels, with his background in graphic design and photography, takes care of the website, photoshoots and marketing material. Their unique combined skillset almost affords them complete autonomy, allowing the pair to fit work in around raising their boys.
So, the location was set in stone. The house, on the other hand, could be made of anything. Their main aesthetic drive was to find something that would satiate their hunger for all things mid-century, while giving them scope to put their own stamp on the place. When they stumbled upon a 60s cottage they immediately recognised it as ‘it’. Previously belonging to a family of seven that had added to it over the years, Deborah and Niels instantly saw the potential for their own growing family. All they had to do was move in and start renovating.
They limited their costs by keeping to the home’s existing footprint, while planning to complete the renovation in stages. Like many modern families, Deborah and Niels were keen on the idea of open-plan living. So their first job was to knock out a wall between the kitchen and living area, before repainting the whole interior white.
The kitchen floor, rustically tiled in terracotta, was next on the list. “At first the tiles came away easily from the particle board beneath, and I thought it was going to be a cinch,” says Niels. “But about halfway through removal we realised they had been glued straight onto the concrete slab – and the man hours doubled!” But once recycled timber floorboards had been installed throughout the kitchen, laundry and TV nook, they realised all their efforts were well worth it.
With freshly painted white walls and timber underfoot, the neutral backdrop was utilised for display purposes. Niels’ artworks are now dotted around the home, seamlessly paired with Deborah’s treasured collections. Despite only being part-way through the renovation process, the spaces they’ve completed are perfectly finished, in keeping with the era the home was built. Investing in permanent pieces such as lighting and furniture has given the interior a concise decorative direction, which can be added to over time as Deborah finds pieces on her wish list. “I’m currently hunting for a leather three-seater to finish the lounge,” she says.
Said lounge is successfully demarcated from the kitchen and dining area with a step down to a cosy carpeted space. An open fireplace at the heart of the room has also been updated from schist to a tiled surround and a mantel to hold more of their collectables.
Deborah’s passion for vintage lighting is notable from room to room, with considered placement of decorative pendants and wall-mounted lamps found throughout the house. Over the dining table is an original 60s Danish shade by Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulson, brought home from a trip to Copenhagen. “It went in the overhead locker on international, but on our domestic connection to Wellington it was too big, so the crew stowed it in the toilet for me,” laughs Deborah. “It was all dusty and grotty in the back of an old secondhand shop so I got it for a steal. In fact, the next day I spotted the same one in a museum for about three times the price!”
While Deborah can be found scouring eBay and local op-shops with her penchant for vintage finds, Niels is more likely to be found beach-combing in search of inspiration for his bird illustrations.
Another drawcard in the purchase of their new abode was the artist’s studio tucked behind the house. Inside is a cabinet of curiosities where Niels has meticulously catalogued his collection of feathers, bird skulls and all manner of materials for his drawings. “I’ve always been a keen collector of natural stuff,” he says. “Everything I find helps me with my quest for documenting local flora and fauna in my painting process.” Evidence of such can be seen in Niels’ recently published first book, Land of Birds. Looking out of the windows of the studio, it is clear that while the natural collections aid his work, so does the native forest outside.
This is a simple yet stunning home, inside and out. There is no excess or over complication, just a welcoming feel of considered calm – one that draws family and friends in from near and far for peace and birdsong.
Words Alice Lines
Photography Russell Kleyn