One Something Studio’s Rachel Barthow’s wellness-focused Isthmus House

If Rachel Barthow was a foodstuff, she might be granola — in the best possible way. For a start, eating a bowl of this wholesome fare at her dining table while watching her two young children play nearby is one of her all-time favourite things to do. Add to this that she does so in the home she designed to be visually and mentally nourishing using the principles that guide her wellness-focused interior design practice and you get the picture. 

Having begun her career as a mental health social worker, Rachel came to interior design through additional study that saw what was a therapeutic and creative outlet for her own self-care become a new yet surprisingly complementary profession. “Initially, I thought pursuing it would be a departure from my previous life, but instead I’ve realised how much social work shapes my world view and approach to design,” she says.

ABOVE Engineered oak flooring from Hurford installed by Good Wood runs throughout the lower level of the home, where the walls, ceiling and trims are in Dulux Mt Aspiring Quarter. Rachel surprised herself by using so much colour when putting together this scene, which sees a vintage lamp and record player and artworks Blue Stripe at Concorde by Sofia Lind and Tu M’Aimes En Couleur — Vessels by Bonnie Gray top off a Candy sideboard by Le Forge. “I can get overwhelmed by too much colour, but this is its own little vignette and I get a lot of joy out of it,” she says.

Today, at the helm of One Something Studio, she uses interior design as a tool to make spaces that better her clients emotionally, psychologically and physically. “I believe design has huge potential to enrich our daily lives and enhance our mental health,” she says. “I ask myself how each room I create helps to meetits occupants’ needs and achieve a sense of fulfilment — mind, body and soul, essentially.”

ABOVE Part of a long process of sourcing the ideal items, after a lengthy search, Rachel spotted this amazing vintage mactan stone coffee table on Trade Me. “It was such a perfect fit for our colour palette and aesthetic that it felt like kismet,” she says. Another example of perseverance paying off, due to Covid hold-ups it was several months before the couple’s Atelier sofa could be delivered from Coco Republic, during which time they happily went without while they waited for their ultimate piece. The side table in this living space is also vintage, Rachel made the floor lamp from a shade she found on Etsy and a Kmart base, the Benji armchairs are from Contempa and the rug is by Sarah Sherman Samuel from Lulu & Georgia. Lots of natural light is ushered into this house through creative apertures, while a combo of dimmable downlights, wall lights and lamps allow the mood to be altered as required.

The house in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland’s Mt Wellington that Rachel and her husband Matt designed for themselves (a long-term project funded in part by renovating the existing 1960s dwelling on the 1200m2 section, then subdividing to add two new homes) is a lesson in how a budget can be configured to allow for expenditure on the things that will enhance your life the most. Although building an architecturally designed home is the couple’s ultimate dream, they developed this abode pragmatically to provide for their growing family. That meant a relatively simple shell was the order of the day, made less generic through inspiration taken from the iconic Kiwi villa, in terms of colours, materials and details like the sweet bay window at the front of the house. They got it all right by enlisting the expertise of architectural technician Bruce Parker and Rachel’s brother-in-law Daniel Harris’s company Optic Build to execute their design, which placed the focus on the efficient use of space and creating a neutral backdrop on which Rachel was then able to work her magic.
The build was a long one — not the 18 months they “naïvely” envisaged but, all up, four years. Towards the end, Rachel became enamoured with early post-Modernism, “so at the last minute I added some features with more texture and movement into the plan, including the rendering on the rangehood in the kitchen and the fireplace in the living room, the rangehood arch, and the breeze-block fence outside.”

TOP When integrating old and new, Rachel likes to pick pieces that are a nod to design eras she enjoys and have a tactility to them that makes the house feel lived in. After a six-month search, she found the vintage travertine twin-pedestal dining table the week they moved in. ABOVE Amid Rachel’s palette of natural materials, a gentle arch motif repeated throughout the house prevents the relatively standard spaces feeling boxy. In the kitchen, the rendered (with Carrara limestone render from Italian Eco Style), tiled (with Carrara Herringbone mosaics from Quantum Flooring) detail surrounding the rangehood was in response to some of the spacial constraints Rachel had to work within. “I realised that a lot of the kitchen designs I love have high ceilings and tall cabinetry, but this space is quite wide and has a ceiling height typical of many Kiwi homes, so if I carried the upper cabinetry across the entire width of it, it might have felt compressed. The arch shape solved this issue by bringing a dynamic element to the design and breaking up the room.” The cabinetry in crown-cut Bestwood American white oak veneer was made by IQ Kitchens/KAS Furniture and the benchtops are in Aoraki Prime Stone by Prime Panels.

Along with the careful consideration of space and light, the central thesis of Rachel’s practice is her use of organic forms and earthy hues for their calming, down-to-earth effect. “If I can bring in these tones through the natural colours of the materials I use, I find it even more aesthetically fulfilling, so I have elements that do this in every room of our house,” she says. “I also like to practice mindfulness, so I use natural materials to create a sensory experience involving how objects look, feel, smell and sound. It all helps to ground you and connect you with the world around you, and also connect a space to its wider environment.”

TOP Felted Cable Bay Nikau carpet from Carpet Court extends from the stairwell to the home’s upper level. “I had so much fun putting together the kids’ rooms and played with colour a lot more — they’re the only rooms in the house that don’t have all-white walls,” says Rachel. When she and Matt put up the Vintage Safari Animal removable wallpaper by Livette’s Wallpaper in two-year-old Sullivan’s nursery, she realised its background hue was a slightly different white to the warmer shade on the walls, so she decided to repaint the panelling in Dulux Golf Green — to great effect. ABOVE The well-considered details in four-year-old Zanthe’s room include a Sandie mural by Joy Kinna from Anewall on the wall with a Criss Cross wall hanger from H&M. On her Bungalow bed from Freedom are a duvet cover from Città and a quilt from Burrow & Be.

Successful styling is often as much about what you leave out as what you put in, and Rachel has walked that line expertly here. A minimalist at heart, she says a pared-back layout and palette allow her to breathe. “The introvert in me loves an uncluttered home where I can recharge, so every item is chosen for a reason. A lot of my styling is about letting each piece have its moment, so it’s not competing for attention, and I find editing very therapeutic.”

TOP The Beach Club West Coast encaustic tiles in the main bathroom were designed by Sarah Ellison Studio. “I’ve admired her work for years and this was the perfect opportunity to use them,” says Rachel. “The earthy tones really resonate with me.” Along with the Kordura benchtop and basin by Michel César, the Tablo 900 vanity is from Bath Co, while the mirror was custom-made by 360 Glass, the Cross Assembly tapware by Infiniti Technology is from ABI Interiors and the Newark bath by Newtech is from Plumbing World. To the latter, Rachel added an oak Bath Bridge caddy by Mood. ABOVE Inserting furniture — a Curve footstool by George Collective and an Etta side table by Amalfi Homewares, both from Onceit — into the ensuite has proved ideal for taking a seat and popping clothes and other essentials on. The feature tiles are Sarah Ellison Studio’s The Beach Club Scallop tiles, complemented by Victoria White Satin Ripple tiles from Tile Depot.

All this earnest intentionality might have you craving a heaping bowl of artificial colours and flavours, but actually, this brand of goodness is anything but boring. Case in point are the moves Rachel made with details like the statement tiles in the upstairs bathrooms.
“I think considered risks work when the materials are natural, the design is more than just a trend and there’s an emotional pull or a story behind it,” she says. “We had the luxury of time to let design decisions marinate over the course of our project. In the end, I realised I still loved those tiles after mulling them over for about two years, and another two years later I still love them — win!”

TOP The couple’s bedroom is their private retreat, so Rachel opted for ample texture to make it feel cosy, including a custom-made bouclé headboard; marine-striped and sandalwood-hued bedding by I Love Linen; and a Monday pillowcase, Lazo and Haast cushions, a Resort bedspread and a Cabin blanket by Città. The Scanlon Accent nightstands are by Cozymatic and the Leo lamps are by McMullin & Co from A&C Homestore. Rachel is an art lover gradually building a collection. Some of her favourite pieces include her and Matt’s Monet prints, “which take me back to our travels, when we got to see the originals in real life. I’m also obsessed with ceramics and have some pieces by local potter Kirsten Dryburgh that I absolutely love” [like the vase pictured above, from Ornament].
Rachel says serenity washes over her whenever she opens the door to this beautiful blend of family-first practicalities and super-stylishness. “Matt and I put our whole hearts into this and I feel a real sense of peace when I’m here.” The patience — and utmost care — required to arrive at this point has undeniably proved a virtue that’s resulted in some true food for the soul, for which this happy family can thank goodness.

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Michelle Weir

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