The full story of Jess Britten’s heritage hall upgrade with Dorrington Atcheson Architects

Behind the façade of a landmark hall in Auckland’s Ponsonby, a very different kind of life takes place than what was originally intended for the stately building. Built in 1907 and having previously been owned by two private societies (the International Order of Odd Fellows, then the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes), when Jess Britten and her husband Warren Durling came across it, it was not as commanding as it had once been. In fact, the whole place was in a state of disrepair.

TOP Letters preserved on the front and side of the hall reference its previous owners. ABOVE The front door ushers you into the lofty living zone in the hall proper, where oversized paper lightshades from Wah Lee are a practical way to fill the volume of the space. “They might be trending, but these lanterns are perfect here, as the ceiling is almost 6m high,” says Jess. Laid in a herringbone pattern underfoot, the Moda Capri planks from Forté Flooring were an early selection made in response to the soft terracotta hues of the hall’s original bricks. The dining table is a family heirloom, the chairs were bought secondhand and the bar stools were customised by Jess with new upholstery.

“We’d been looking for a property for a while — almost anything, anywhere in Auckland,” says full-time mum Jess. “Warren [who’s COO at Dovetail] stumbled across this on Trade Me, and although a heritage hall is not something that would usually capture this accountant-by-trade’s imagination, he was curious about it, so we headed along to the open home, and totally fell for the idea of bringing it back to life. It was not what we thought we’d buy, but we put in an offer, and the rest is history.”

TOP Surrounded by oak timber left over from the flooring, the kitchen island’s brass kickplate is made from another salvaged material; scored from a local bar, it would otherwise have been dumped. The artwork on the wall here is by Michael Smither. ABOVE Treasures are arranged in the dining space on Radial shelving from Città. “We’d like our lives to be quite lean in terms of the amount of stuff we have, so although this is an enormous house, we’re always culling,” says Jess. “We want to have only what we really love and need.”

Signing on the dotted line was only the first of many steps the couple have taken to transform the dilapidated hall into a four-bedroom family home. “When we took ownership, the whole place was at a breaking point,” says Jess. “We were lucky and unlucky that it had never been renovated.”

ABOVE The cabinetry in the 25-year-old hand-me-down kitchen ­was updated with Dulux White Island paint and handles by Fog Linen. The subtle green theme continues with Cinca tiles from Artedomus, while a freestanding Fisher & Paykel cooker makes light work of meals for family and friends.

Jess and Warren cracked on with the repairs themselves, working nights and weekends to create a liveable space for themselves. However, they were determined to restore the building sensitively, and as they began to realise that every decision they made was reliant on how robust their overall plans were, they figured the best money they could spend was on an architect. 

ABOVE The addition of crisp, fresh white Dulux Ōkārito in the living space makes up for the lack of natural light. Also on the wall is a painting by Carmel Van Der Hoeven of George Sand Studio, which the couple commissioned. Curtains in Cavalier fabric from James Dunlop Textiles cascade from ceiling to floor, cushions from Città are dotted across a secondhand BoConcept sofa, and a custom rug by Nodi on the floor delineates this zone from the rest of the room. The coffee table was an upcycling project, and the vintage chair and ottoman were reupholstered in Fabio fabric from Warwick. The floor lamp in the far corner was handmade by Warren’s talented late mum, Yvonne; it’s recently been updated with a pleated shade.

Engaging Dorrington Atcheson Architects, they worked alongside Sam Atcheson to hone their vision for a two-stage renovation that would allow them the time and money to do things right. “We knew what the building was capable of and how we could honour its provenance, and we also knew that we didn’t have the resources to do it straight away,” says Jess. “We didn’t want to live in a crusty old building, though, especially once our daughter Stevie [now 2] came along, so we needed to make it a bit safer.”

TOP This scene includes an ink drawing by Dominique Marriott on the wall, and on the heirloom half-moon table, a vase Jess made at a workshop run by designer Phil Cuttance sits alongside a Night Owl table lamp by Fritz Hansen from Nordic Nest, a print by Carlo Zinelli and a candleholder by Boo Ceramics. ABOVE The couple reupholstered this Freeform sofa and ottoman by Isamu Noguchi with Bespoke textured velvet by Catherine Martin for Mokum from James Dunlop Textiles.

Stage one of the rebuild started with a major structural upgrade, for which the team were joined by Intact Construction. In the front half of the building, new foundations and roofing were required before the existing kitchen and bathroom could be replaced with two guest bedrooms and ensuites downstairs. Upstairs, a generous sleep space for Jess, Warren and Stevie now takes advantage of the hall’s north-facing aspect to form a light and airy sanctuary that they can enjoy at any time of the day. The bath up here has become a favourite hangout spot too.

TOP “I find myself wandering around thinking how completely mind-blowing the new spaces are, because they’re so different to what was here before,” says Jess. This part-wall in the redesigned upstairs bedroom has been given a textural plaster finish by Zane Pilkington of Pilkington Interiors, Dave Owens of HBC Joinery made the built-in oak wardrobes behind it and the wool carpet was custom-made by Nodi. A plinth by homestyle Editions functions as a bedside table — on it is a JWDA lamp by Menu. ABOVE Pillowcases by Penny & Bennett and linen from Wallace Cotton dress the bed, another Trade Me score that was sanded back from black paint to natural wood. Kyoto linen curtains from James Dunlop Textiles filter the abundant sunlight that streams in through the sash windows. The Mary Arch mirror, large vessel and Hendrix chair are all from McMullin & Co, and the Ollie pendant light is from Mr Ralph.

The double-height open-plan area of the hall proper downstairs was also given lots of TLC. New herringbone flooring, painted walls and a series of smaller rooms housing an office, laundry and storage space came together in neutral, tonal textures to create a relaxed living zone where the family can now spend time comfortably without worrying too much about stage two of their renovation, which will see their grand plan fully realised. 

ABOVE In the bathroom off the main bedroom, Buddy mixers by Progetto from Plumbline and Acacia basins by Tomorrow’s Concrete join with a vanity custom-made by Dave Owens of HBC Joinery with a Biello marble top from Artedomus. Three types of tiles play well here: Seta Ghiaccio mosaics for the splashback, Blanco tiles on the walls and Tundra tiles for the crazy paving, all from Artedomus. The ceramic toothbrush caddy is  by the couple’s friend Misma Anaru.

The heritage building exudes character, and reflecting this in the updated material and colour palettes was the cornerstone of the couple’s process. “I knew I wanted to inject minimal colour but lots of texture and took to carrying around a bag full of samples wherever I went to piece it all together,” says Jess. “It was a real jigsaw — I loved it.”

ABOVE This solid kauri ceiling is completely original and was removed, restored, then reinstated, and the walls in all the bedrooms were revitalised with Dulux Haast Half. Milk bottle sculptures by Simon Lewis Ward are a fun accent above Stevie’s bed (with pillowcases from Città and linen by Domani from Farmers), and beside it are a homemade pōhutukawa-stump table (left) and Jamie Suar table from A&C Homestore, with an antique lamp purchased on Trade Me.

With the major chunk of the budget allocated to structural work, Jess was resourceful in terms of how she invested in the décor, sourcing secondhand wherever she could. The kitchen cabinetry was bought off her godparents in Northland, some sheets of brass were picked up from the demolition of a downtown bar, and furniture found on Trade Me was reinvented with some savvy DIY. Such smart workarounds meant the pair could save where they needed to in order to splurge on the more fundamental fittings and finishes.

ABOVE This downstairs sleep space introduces earthy green hues in a cushion from Città and a rug from Nodi. Next to the bed is one of three sconces made by Jess’s late father, John Britten — a fortuitous find on Facebook. “The only reason I found them was because I was tagged in a social media post by someone who recognised them from my sister’s place,” says Jess. “It’s incredible that they would find their way into our home. When I look at them, I think about him making them with his own hands long before I was born.”

Selecting products for their timeless attributes, Jess (who has been documenting their renovation journey on Instagram at @hallweneed) says, “Once I started bringing our materials together, I stayed away from social media. It was a very conscious uncoupling, because it became important to distance myself from what other people were doing and find my own voice. Unlike at the beginning of the project, when I was sending poor Sam a Pinterest board every day, I stopped wanting to look online because I felt like that phase of my inspiration had ended. The next part was just about how I felt when I looked at products together in real life. I think if you embrace that evolution and let go of the fear of doing something wrong, you’re more likely to enjoy the process and actually create something interesting that you love.” 

TOP & ABOVE Designed by Jess and manufactured by Eden Stone using reclaimed crushed quartz, marble and stone, this basin informed the mood for this guest ensuite. On the wall, Cinca tiles from Artedomus continue the green theme, and a mirror from Harvey Norman adds another organic form to the mix. The Buddy tapware is by Progetto from Plumbline and the soap dish is by Misma Anaru. Behind reeded glass from Crest Showers, the shower is an Arena column by Nicolazzi from Plumbline, surrounded by limestone Pistachio tiles from Artedomus.

Now that they’ve settled in, she says, “Having this place as a base is such a privilege. My mum comes up to stay from Christchurch, Warren’s dad is often over from Great Barrier Island and we’ve currently got Warren’s brother living with us. Our neighbours are always dropping by too, and it’s so satisfying to share this space with our community.” 

TOP Against the original brick wall, curtains in Kyoto linen from James Dunlop Textiles lend a gentle warmth to this guest bedroom dubbed “Grandma’s room” by Stevie. Shedding light on the Lato LN8 side table by &tradition from Cult and vintage chair is a lamp by RaraForma. The rug is another custom creation by Nodi. MIDDLE & ABOVE Jess allowed herself to be experimental in all of the bathrooms, to give them each a distinct look. Here, she opted for unfilled, bead-blasted travertine wall tiles, plus white finger tiles in the shower, both from Artedomus. A Coral light by Søktas hangs beside a Pond mirror by Ferm Living from Slow. Feeding into the carved basin from StoneBase is another Buddy mixer, and the shower is another Arena column by Nicolazzi, both from Plumbline.

Jess and Warren are keen to see stage two through to completion down the track. After four years on the tools to get to where they are today, though, they’re happy to measure the next steps in decades. For now, they have all they need.
To find out more about Jess and Warren’s colour and material choices, click here

Words Alice Lines
Photography Duncan Innes 

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