Redesigned with Nott Architects, ‘queen of colour’ Alex Fulton’s home is a personality-filled page-turner

No stranger to renovating, interior creative Alex Fulton of Alex Fulton Design has traversed some varied terrain while doing up houses to suit the life stages she’s shared with her husband Jeff and their daughters Isla (18) and Violet (16). Her most recent endeavor, dubbed the AFD Beach Barn, could be her greatest conquest yet.
This renovation journey was one that brought her family back to the seaside suburb of Sumner in Ōtautahi/Christchurch, where they belong. They’d previously called this community home and missed it dearly during the years they spent living in Marlborough after the earthquake. Having kept hold of a bach in the neighbourhood, they’d still been able to spend long weekends here, though, so once their daughters were happily installed in a local high school, Alex (below) and Jeff set about settling the whole family back in.

This property was fortuitously discovered when Alex spied a real estate sign while walking her dogs along the esplanade — the day before it went to auction. Houses don’t come up for sale on this sought-after strip very often, so they jumped at the chance.
“We’ve owned places in Sumner for a long time now — this is our fifth house and each move has bought us closer to the sea,” says Alex. “This home takes in all the best views — the ocean front and centre, and the beauty of the Port Hills in the background.”

TOP In the upstairs living space, the asymmetry of the gabled ceiling is emphasised by complementary linear detailing and the contrasting geometry of the custom cabinetry. Beneath a Hotaru Double Bubble pendant light from Simon James, banquet seating by John Cochran and Offset stools by Resident surround an Anchorage table from Coco Republic. ABOVE Alex says her mood board was strong from the get-go. “I’m very decisive because I understand how things are going to look, how I want them to feel, and how that’s going to interact with that and that. Curves work well to offset the angles in a space like this. Just as when I’m creating artworks [like the one on the wall here], I start with one shape, imagine it interacting with another, then add colour to it.” Against a white backdrop featuring Resene Wan White walls, benchtops in Laminex’s Hi-Macs Arctic White acrylic surface and Buddy tapware by Progetto from Plumbline, drawers in Resene Tom Thumb and an arched pantry and integrated fridge cabinet in Resene Apple Blossom (finished with custom-coloured Lincoln and Kintore pulls by Lo & Co) insert loads of the latter into the ‘apartment’ kitchen. 

TOP Around the corner from their kitchen, Alex and Jeff’s bedroom continues the colour story with a headboard in Resene Apple Blossom that extends into a bookshelf. Intriguing forms like those in the artwork by Rachel Castle and the pair of Mobje bottles from Small Acorns below it also bring in Alex’s go-to hues, which are then echoed in the bed linen from Sheet Society, topped with cushions and pillows from brands including Sheet Society, Castle & Things, Kip & Co and Città. ABOVE “The thing about pitched roofs is that they give you a lot of light and volume, but I wanted to see the view beyond the roofline, so we slashed through the form with oversized skylights,” says Alex. “They give us the most interesting views of the surrounding landscape, while cutting out the neighbours.” A South Sea Orbit II artwork by Annie Smits Sandano hangs below the window here.

Unlike their previous interior-focused renovations, which were executed bit by bit as time and money allowed, the update of this four-bedroom 1930s weatherboard house took the building right back to its bones. Alex rolled up her sleeves and got stuck in at every stage of the process, project managing on site. The long, skinny property with six neighbours imposed certain restrictions, but Alex was unfazed — in fact, having boundaries to push up against is an aspect of the design process that excites her. After living in the house for several seasons, the overarching mood she wanted to create materialised and she joined forces with her friend and long-time collaborator, architect Charlie Nott, to realise her vision.
“When we got together to analyse the spaces, it was like a game of problem-solving ping-pong,” she says. “I’d bring up something that I thought needed to be addressed, then Charlie would come in, and vice versa. We knew what gaps needed to be filled by architectural thinking, and then I added a sprinkling of design thinking.”

ABOVE Powdercoated in Resene Lazy River, custom storage is a boon in the couple’s bedroom, providing a dedicated place for everything, including Alex’s fabulous collection of shoes. 

Retaining the original floorplan and form, the redesign executed by Trevor Hone Builders focused on maximising the interior and creating more fluid connections inside and out. A cathedral ceiling adds volume to the upstairs, while downstairs is a cocooning space. White- on-white-on-white fixtures and fittings make every other detail feel purposeful, exactly how Alex likes it. Walls in Resene Wan White and black cork flooring combine to provide a gallery-esque backdrop ripe for the injection of colour that’s inserted through furniture- like cabinetry and quirky custom carpets, along with treasured art and objects.

TOP & ABOVE Australian Green tiles by Winckelmans from Designastyle clad the ensuite, creating a soothing space for self-care. The Buddy slide shower by Progetto and heated towel rail from Red Dwarf play by Alex’s all-white-fixtures rule, but the bright towels by Dusen Dusen are switched up to alter the mood.

From the street, hard landscaping and Japanese-inspired structural planting by Henry Blakely Landscapes ushers you towards the front door on the side of the house. Once inside, you can linger in the lounge that splits off towards Isla and Violet’s bedrooms and bathroom, or head upstairs to the apartment-like parent pad.

TOP Being by the beach, sand is ever present, so Alex limited the amount of carpet used, opting for custom versions and rugs by Dilana atop cork flooring from EcoFloors. This Togo sofa by Ligne Roset is the couple’s forever couch — an investment made a few years ago that works as well in this home as it did in their last. ABOVE Architectural moments facilitate evolving vignettes. Here, a sculpture by Ben Foster sits and stays next to a Pyro Classic fire in front of Tarawera by Peata Larkin.

“Living with older teenagers and with one of them now off at uni, we didn’t want to be rattling around in a big house,” says Alex. “That was one of the main pluses of the layout here — it has small-home merits. With our bedroom and living upstairs, it feels like a studio, and I like that you come up and it’s a surprise.”
A flight of stairs isn’t all that separates these spaces. Alex and Jeff’s thing for colour is in contrast to the girls’ strong preference for pale. “As with all client-designer relationships, it’s been my job to listen to everyone who’s living in the house,” says Alex. “The girls are in a beige phase and I saw that as a bit of a challenge — give me a brief and I’ll give it the AFD flavour!”

TOP Being on site throughout the renovation played a huge part in its success and taught Alex a lot. “I feel that with this house, I can appreciate the aesthetic, but it’s like I’ve got X-ray vision too, because I also know exactly what lies beneath.” On top of all that here is an Attila side table by Philippe Starck for Kartell and a sofa by Maker & So, with cushions by Città and Marimekko. The artwork includes (from left) Red Haring by Dick Frizzell, a multi-media work by Kara Burrowes and a vintage Beatles poster picked up overseas. ABOVE White is a carefully managed hero hue in this home, seen here against a backdrop of Super White tiles by Winckelmans from Designastyle in the girls bathroom. “The handles are sprayed, the recessed lighting and hidden hinges are all colour-matched, and we powdercoated a lot of stuff white when the right white wasn’t available,” says Alex. 

The more neutral mood downstairs is anything but boring. Introducing a little less colour, Alex turned to texture and curiosities in these spaces. Circulating through them, you pass by a jewel box of a laundry, in which she managed to get a shot of bold colour across the line.

ABOVE The colour of the strip light from Super Modular slotted into the fluted Genia wall panelling in Isla’s room can be changed on a whim. Next to this, a portable Bicoca lamp by Marset from ECC sits on a Mahoe stand by Ico Traders.

“People probably think I’m not very restrained, but I actually am,” says Alex. “There’s a ‘why’ behind everything. I love defining areas, detailing where things stop and start — I think it’s quite important because then your brain goes, ‘Right, I’m in this room now’. It’s like writing a story — you establish all of your characters and then it’s a matter of how you’re going to use them in each chapter.”
The consistency of the palette throughout this home allows the spaces to talk to each other, telling stories of this family’s passions and adventures. This is a home that speaks volumes about the life lived within it.

TOP & ABOVE Exterior Colorsteel cladding in Dulux Tui Tuft makes the angular outlines of the home even more crisp. A series of fins balances the gable’s off-centre peak and covers the breezeway that draws you to the front door. The garden by Henry Blakely Landscapes is all foliage, no flowers. “It feels like an extension of the house — pulling you in from the gate as you experience the architecture,” says Alex. Plants including griselinia, buxus, tractor-seat ligularia, juncus rushes, selleria, tree ferns underplanted with maiden hair ferns, and a cloud-pruned bonsai Matapouri blue tōtara form a lush sea of green within the rendered blockwork and kwila decking.

Words Alice Lines
Photography Simon Devitt

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