Homes

Home for the holidays

The living is very laid-back at this ’50s bach, which plays host in classic Kiwi style.

When hunting for a bach on the coast north of Auckland, Joanna and Neil Cowie had one main requirement: simple pleasures. The property they found near Matakana fit the bill. “We took a drive up from Auckland to look at this place one weekend, and when I hopped out of the car and spotted a flock of quail darting around, I was sold,” says Jo.

ABOVE Outside, the bach’s boards and battens (installed by the couple’s go-to builders, RUSA Construction) were painted with Resene Lumbersider in Resene Black.

The location got a second tick when the keen birdwatcher noticed the abundant birdlife in the otherwise quiet street. “The Tawharanui Open Sanctuary has brought a lot of different species to the area,” she says. “We get kererū, korimako, kookaburras and kākā, and at night we can even hear kiwi.”

ABOVE Jo’s aesthetic is relaxed yet well considered. She loves hunting for vintage pieces like this side table from Vitrine and sofa from Mr Bigglesworthy, which is also a foldaway bed. The cane chairs are from Indie Home Collective.

The two-bedroom 1950s cottage was also exactly what the couple had been looking for, and that it was only a 50-minute drive from their home on Auckland’s North Shore made it even more appealing. 

ABOVE “I’m usually so drawn to colour, but I was pretty intent on going for a more neutral palette than we have at home in Auckland,” says Jo. “I felt I needed to have more restraint — thus the pale grey Resene Half Surrender on the walls and Resene Black White on the floor. The furnishings have the colour injection and texture I need, and I can change them up relatively inexpensively from time to time if I want to.” 

In true bach fashion, the couple’s renovation project wasn’t about making things fancy — the changes they made were mostly designed to optimise their downtime. With their now- adult children Matt, Jamie and Emmarose all teenagers when the couple purchased this place, the lawn at the front was grown with camping in mind, so each summer it could accommodate the kids and their mates.

ABOVE “I didn’t want a sophisticated or high- maintenance kitchen — or even a dishwasher,” says Jo. “It’s all about living simply here.” Matakana Kitchens & Joinery updated the benches and shelves to make more room for food prep and storage, and Jo decorated with functional objects that also provide personality.

As for the house itself, “We were in Montauk [near New York City] last year visiting Matt while he was working, and the cute little board-and-batten cottages there caught Neil’s eye,” says Jo. The minute he saw them, he said, “That’s what we’re having at the bach”, so when they arrived home, they hired skilled tradies to add board-and-batten framing and a fresh coat of black paint to the bach’s exterior. The look kick-started a styling theme, and with the intention of modernising the space without detracting from its original charm, Jo ditched the kitsch existing wallpaper and brown-and-orange carpet in favour of white floors and walls featuring the same board-and-batten detailing throughout. 

ABOVE Below the home’s original Pinex softboard ceiling tiles, a Poolside Glamour print by late photographer Slim Aarons enlivens the wall beside the Formica dining table found at a Salvation Army store and teamed with vintage Baumann chairs from Vitrine. The curtains are from Freedom.

Keeping the ’50s vibe alive in the kitchen, they replaced the stainless steel bench and added an extra wooden one to create another working surface. Tiles left over from the renovation of their Auckland kitchen were used to make a splashback, and the cabinetry was updated with glossy Resene Surrender and The Society Inc Hardware handles. 

ABOVE The master bedroom’s blue-and-white theme is embodied in the linen duvet cover from Città and shibori-dyed throw from Bowery 475 on the bed, plus the Malibu Daze photographic print by Blacklist Studio from Paper Plane. An old trunk works as a low-key bedside table. “This room gets beautiful morning sun,” says Jo. “By 8:30am, it’s bathed in light.”

The couple are ardent travellers, so the bach’s decor includes items picked up on their trips around the world. “I try to choose pieces that will stand the test of time and aren’t too gimmicky — and that ideally fit in my suitcase,” says Jo. “The kids also find me things. Emmarose found  the Formica dining table and made the beautiful wreath in the bedroom, and Matt and his partner Briar sent me sea coral from the Bahamas. 

ABOVE Vintage finds including Polish army stools from Vitrine, a lamp picked up at a fleamarket and a ladder bought at a second-hand store in Sydney add character to the second internal bedroom along with a wreath made by Emmarose.

“You could say this little surf shack is nostalgic,” she continues. “The kids say it’s a place where all my unloved stuff goes, but I prefer to think I’m giving old items a new lease of life. In a different environment, objects look new again.”

ABOVE This raised platform set further away from the house was built for a bell tent that provides a sleep space for visitors, but when it’s just Jo and Neil, they head out here in the evenings to sit beside the brazier. “Late at night with only the light from the crackling fire, the sky is so clear,” says Jo. “We stargaze and watch satellites crossing overhead.”

The sleeping arrangements have also adapted over time. “Three years ago, we had 12 staying for Christmas and New Year, so Neil and Jamie built a platform up the back for a bell tent, which can fit two double beds,” says Jo. “Last year, we added a sleep-out, so Matt and Briar have their own space when they came home for the holidays from their work overseas.”

ABOVE The family tends to move with the sun and gathers at the end of the day under the sail cloth on the deck, which includes a kit-set outdoor fire from Mitre 10.

Jo’s an early riser and says nothing beats drinking a coffee on the deck while listening to the birds in the morning. “It’s my kind of meditation.” Come summer, their chatter is joined by the hum of holidaymakers. A queue of tractors towing boats makes its way to the beach, happy kids roam the streets barefoot, and families put up tents on lawns left, right and centre as they gather to unwind in quintessential Kiwi style.   

Words Alice Lines
Photography Duncan Innes