Just over a decade ago, Sido Kitchin left the Seven Network in Melbourne where she had been publicity manager to take the reins at New Zealand Woman’s Weekly, moving back to Auckland with her husband Conrad Armstrong and their daughter Cleo, now 14.
Eager to begin this next chapter in a new home, they put the Westmere house that Conrad had owned on the market and started looking for a family home.
But like all best laid plans, it wasn’t the neat transition they’d hoped for.
By the time the house sold, Kitchin was eight months’ pregnant and they had yet to find their next abode.So they camped out above the garage at Armstrong’s parents’ place.
“It was a bit tricky. Cleo, who was only three, was staying in the main house and had to come across the courtyard for her morning cuddles,” remembers Kitchin.
With no house prospects on the horizon, they decided to make creative use of Kitchin’s maternity leave, heading to France for a couple of months when their son, Darcy, was 10 weeks old.
“It’s a lovely place to let a baby grow,” says Kitchin.
They returned to Auckland in the run-up to Christmas – a notoriously bad time to house-hunt – and Kitchin headed back to work with a sinking feeling that they would have to wait until February to start looking again.
Then, early in January 2010, she spied an advert on Trade Me for a villa in Western Springs.
“This lovely woman was living there with her two kids and I could tell they had been very happy there,” says Kitchin.
“She had even buried her son’s placenta under the pohutukawa.”
The circa-1915 villa on a large section had been nicely maintained.
“What struck us immediately was the amount of sun it gets and the aspect. It looks out to the Sky Tower, the whole ridge at the back of Grey Lynn and right over to the Zoo area. We just loved it,” she says.
The couple knew they would eventually open up the house to take advantage of those jaw-dropping views, but they decided to live in it for a few years first.
So by the time Armstong’s father, architect David Armstrong, drew up the plans for the renovation, their vision was clear: they wanted to retain the villa front with its original matai floors and the high stud ceilings then add an open-plan dining room, living room and kitchen area, a wrap-around verandah and a second level downstairs – without it looking like they’d tacked a modern annex onto an old villa.
“David returned with a grand design featuring soaring gabled ceilings, but when all the quotes came in we realised it was going to be too much,” says Kitchin.
So they downsized slightly and decided to replicate the original high stud ceilings throughout.
They broke ground three years ago with Armstrong, who freelances in the film industry as a digital image technician, playing project manager.
Once the dirt floor of the former storage area under the house had been excavated and replaced with a concrete pad that would eventually support a spare bedroom, an office/studio/man cave for Armstrong, a bathroom and a rumpus room, the sloping section was terraced off below the house and levelled with a retaining wall.
“We chose to put in the concrete shell for the pool early on,” says Kitchin.
“We thought we were sticking really well to our budget but, of course, the big bills only come at the end. We only managed to finish the pool in time for this past summer. The kids were in it all the time.”
Once the foundations were laid, Armstrong and Kitchin decided to work with interiors architect Janice Kumar-Ward.
“We thought it would be good to have a sounding board, someone who had experience with the functionality of things and different materials,” says Armstrong. Kumar-Ward describes her role as part translator, part hand-holder.
“Sido and Conrad knew what they wanted, but they didn’t have the resources in front of them,” says Kumar-Ward, who specialises in client-led design. “It’s hard to make emotional decisions when they are expensive.”
And Kitchin, who thought they were just going to get a bit of help with the kitchen, was wowed by Kumar-Ward’s input.
“She did so much more than I ever anticipated. And the renovation is so much better than I envisaged. She has a fantastic eye.”
The front of the house was merely tweaked – one wall moved, a larger wardrobe built in the main bedroom and a leadlight window added to let in more light.
The real work began from the archway, with its villa elements added to seamlessly join the original house with the annex.
To further blend old with new, Armstrong sourced matai flooring from an old church in Hawke’s Bay and repurposed them for the add-on.
Kumar-Ward found the kitchen most challenging. “Conrad was a chef in his early-20s and he loves to cook, so the functionality was extremely important to him,” she says.
Kumar-Ward’s husband, Julian Ward, made the tongue-and-groove cabinetry and custom-made the bookshelf, measuring each shelf to make a home for Armstrong’s other passion – his collection of records and turntables – alongside Kitchin’s numerous books, treasures from frequent trips to the Pacific Islands and art.
“This is the centre of our family life and we wanted it to be a TV-free zone,” says Kitchin.
They patch-tested old-fashioned blues for the walls, but Kumar-Ward was thrilled to eventually convince them to go with gallery white.
“I prefer timeless architecture injected with colour and quirk,” she says.
So they reupholstered the much-loved armchair Kitchin had bought from her stepmother in a James Dunlop floral called Painted Garden and it became the jumping off point for a chesterfield in peacock-blue velvet.
Downstairs and in Cleo’s bedroom, colour does take the lead on the walls – a tobacco hue in the den and Tiffany blue for Cleo’s bedroom.
“The kids love our house and tell us they never want to move out,” says Kitchin. “I hope it will be their family home for years to come.”
Words: Nadine Rubin Nathan.