A mid-century renovation by interior designer/stylist Catherine Wilkinson

Having attended kindergarten, primary school and intermediate together a year apart, Catherine and Lee Wilkinson were students at the same high school when they were ‘officially’ introduced by a mutual friend. “We kind of just started hanging out and never stopped,” she says. “It feels like we’ve never been apart.” It’s a wonderful life the interior designer/stylist and her husband are creating — and in the renovation of their mid-century family home, they’ve embodied that sentiment in bricks and mortar.

MIDDLE & ABOVE “We figured that with the arrival of our children we wouldn’t be going back to Palm Springs anytime soon, so why not bring a bit of it here?” says Catherine of the kidney-shaped saltwater pool they’ve fringed with white pebbles, cacti, jasmine and grasses that join the existing plants pictured. She also added a circular raised vege plot made from Corten steel to their back garden.

The luck of joining forces at such a young age and the good fortune that’s followed might lead one to ponder the role fate could be playing in this twosome’s trajectory. Does she believe in destiny? “Oh, 100% — especially with houses, because there’s so much that’s not under your control.”

ABOVE “The renovation taught us patience, resilience and how to be a bit better with money,” says Catherine. “I learned to compare lots of quotes, and when it comes to discounts, if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so with bigger companies, it pays to haggle, if you can.”

Inspired as always by her dad’s drive to build their first family home in his early 20s, and by her mum, from whom she inherited her “particular” nature and desire to create a beautiful place in which to raise her little ones, Catherine and Lee had been looking to buy. After many months of losing out on properties they loved in a crazily competitive market, things were not working in their favour — until one day, this 1970s gem in the North Shore, Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland suburb of Chatswood came up, for sale by negotiation instead of auction.

TOP By day, a mirror Catherine scored off Trade Me throws light around the entryway; at night, a Zeppo wall light by Astro Lighting from ECC and Bloom pendant by Tim Rundle from Simon James do the trick. ABOVE Cushions from A&C Homestore plump up a Cannes sofa and chairs from Freedom, which are teamed with a matching Cannes coffee table and The Premium umbrellas from Business & Pleasure Co.

“We went along to the open home, then waited until everyone had left and put in an offer, trying to be as aggressive as we could, but not really expecting anything would come of it,” says Catherine. “That night, we got a call saying the owners wanted to work with us, and we settled three months later!”

ABOVE “In the kitchen, the original layout worked well but we needed more storage, more light and cleaner lines, so we kept a similar footprint, the design [by Häcker Kitchens] minimal and the surfaces user-friendly while updating and refining,” says Catherine. “Everything works a lot better and there are no janky drawers that get stuck — it’s all soft-close Blum hardware.”
‘Excited’ is one word for it. “I’d spent my whole career featuring all of these amazing renovations, and it was finally my turn,” she says. “I just wanted to get going, get things done and get in there.”

ABOVE Below the sculptural Y05 chandelier by Snelling Studio in the compact dining space is a photo Catherine took on a trip to Palm Springs. Her and Lee’s joiner/furniture-maker friend Simon Woodward crafted the table and the chairs were a Trade Me buy.

The fate of the house was in safe hands. Having just welcomed her and Lee’s second child, Louie, Catherine’s currently in full-time mum mode, but she’d spent several years in the magazine industry, starting as a studio photographer and working her way into a role as style director for a pair of popular home titles. These credentials gave her the chops to run her own reno and Lee good reason to support her to do her thing. “I’m always surprised when I talk to friends whose husbands have [interior-related] opinions,” she jokes. “I’m like, ‘What do you mean? It’s supposed to be all up to you!’ Lee and I have our roles defined. He’s the cool, calm and collected logical thinker, while I’m the impatient, irrational creative who makes the design decisions. We’ve learned to let each other be, and it works well.”

ABOVE Catherine’s expert eye went with Resene Merino and Resene Half Merino inside and out. An example of applying balance wherever there’s an opportunity to, Biella sheers by Curtain Studio puddle gracefully on the floor. “I chose soft, linen curtains that drape nicely, because I felt stiffer fabric would be a little too jarring with all the bricks and lines of the ceiling,” she explains.

It helps that they share an appreciation for the mid-century aesthetic and — thanks to a couple of unforgettable holidays in the Californian architectural hotspot — particularly that of Palm Springs. “We may even have named our son Parker [4] after its famous Parker hotel,” confides Catherine.

ABOVE With its focus on functionality, natural materials and colours, integration of nature, and simple, linear and organic forms, this building exemplifies mid-century design. Catherine’s skill is evident in her impeccable selection of pieces to fill it just enough.

Almost everything was original when the couple purchased the four-bedroom house, which felt dark and dated, so although they were determined to maintain its architectural integrity, with the help of talented tradies, they altered every space in some way. First, they took up the old carpet and polished the concrete slab. Then they repainted the dark-brown joinery and walls off-white, resealed the ceiling varnish and re-carpeted the bedrooms. They added ducted air con, a biofuel fireplace, and new light fixtures and curtains; revamped the kitchen and bathroom; and remodelled the laundry to become more functional while borrowing space from it to create an ensuite. Outside, they repainted the mushroom-coloured exterior bricks to match the interior, installed breeze blocks and landscaped the garden.

ABOVE Standout items seen here include an Arcade sofa by Simon James, a Tip Sheared Wool rug by Nodi, an Elevation coffee table by David Moreland (on which is a Marlowe vase by Author Ceramics) and a Huggy chair by Sarah Ellison.

“Our main goal was to lighten the spaces and enhance the architecture,” says Catherine. “Now the house feels a lot fresher but still has all the interesting elements we loved when we bought it.”

TOP & PREVIOUS PICTURE The curves of new additions like the hanging chair from Green With Envy, Hotaru Buoy pendant by Ozeki & Co from Simon James and Silo suspended fire from Naked Flame balance the linear aspects of the building. ABOVE & PREVIOUS PICTURE On the wall above the Samsung The Frame TV in the living space hang an artwork ridiculously talented Catherine casually “knocked up” herself (top left) and an impression print by Gidon Bing.

Two of those were the brick partitions and slatted timber ceiling in the main living areas. “They’re what make it unique,” says Catherine. “The ceiling brings so much warmth to the house, which is quite open-plan, so the partitions segregate the different areas and add visual interest — and we love their narrow-profile bricks.”

ABOVE The family stashes puzzles and toys in the built-in cabinet (repainted white and with a new mirror and Luna handles by Lo & Co), which Catherine hopes to convert into a bar at a later date.

This dividing detail also creates a maze-like feel when you enter through the front door. “Because there’s a partition there, you don’t really know what you’re about to encounter as you go around the corner — it’s a nice little intro.”

TOP & MIDDLE Ruby Bay Malvern carpet by Feltex from Carpet Court keeps the bedrooms cosy. The rattan chair in this guest bedroom (with bedding from A&C Homestore) is a 1970s heirloom that belonged to Catherine’s grandma. Mark Antonia made the floral wreath, the Line floor lamp is by Snelling Studio and the Solene mirror is from Freedom. ABOVE Catherine says she loves little luxuries like special soaps and towels in the bathrooms “and I like the big luxuries too — you can’t go wrong with good light fittings. This mirror in the ensuite was a fun project I did with Glass Team and NZ Glass. I drew the shape with a chalk pen on the tiles around the Dott lights from Mr Ralph and made a template from there. The Heirloom Kolor Radial 360 basin and Code Curved Tondo 1000 cabinet from Elite Bathroomware were another a way to create flow in the space.”

The timber ceiling and wide eaves dim the natural light inside, so Catherine and Lee have recently swapped an original window in the entry for one made of reeded glass that lets in loads of sun since a blind is no longer needed for privacy. They’ve used the same reeded glass in the bathrooms, considering it a modern interpretation of the decorative glass that was prevalent in the ’70s and a link to the prevailing linear look. Inserting a mirror into the built-in cabinet in the living space has also helped to reflect light.

ABOVE The warm tones of the home’s existing bricks and timber and new brass accents are balanced with cool ones in the ensuite’s tiles and flooring. The Glenbook subway tiles from Jacobsen echo the shape of the interior bricks; mid-century to the max and a match for the concrete and carpet, Clovelly Crazy Pave tiles from Jacobsen are ideal for the floor; and the tapware from ABI also fits in with the wider palette. The Arnold Circus stool is by Martino Gamper from A&C Homestore.

The home’s natural colours and textures infuse it with personality, and Catherine’s enjoyed bringing hers to it too. “Colour is very important to me — I’ve even accidentally matched my pets to the interior,” she says of Otto the miniature dachshund, and burmilla and ragdoll cats Poppy and Noodle. “I like to have consistency, and reference colours and design elements throughout the house. This interior has lots of layers to it, so when I’m happy with a space, I’ll just sort of stop and let it be, and try not to overdo the styling. It’s crucial to give things space to breathe, so I’m always careful to select one key piece, then complement, not clutter.

ABOVE Catherine chose one warm hero colour for the sleep spaces, then complemented it with warm whites and beige tones. In the main bedroom, she stuck to pale hues that don’t distract from the large windows making a feature of the greenery outside. The bedding and pillowcases are by Città, overhead is a Wabi lampshade from Ornament, the Cora bedside lamp is by A&C Homestore and the dried floral installation over the bed is another by Mark Antonia.

“I also try to balance cool and warm tones, and shapes and forms,” she continues. “It just seems more harmonious. There are some beautiful lines in this house, so I added curved elements like the kitchen island, bathroom vanities and furniture; the first thing I visualised was the swinging chair in the lounge.”

TOP & ABOVE Below a rattan pendant that goes with his headboard — both Trade Me purchases — Parker’s room is a bit more fun, with more colour and subtle pattern. As for stopping the happy mess from taking over, Catherine says: “There are drawers under his bed and every chest of drawers has trays of toys and things underneath it. Any toys I have to have out, I put in cane or woven baskets, just to make it a little bit nicer.”

Describing the house as “busy and sometimes loud, with peaceful pockets”, Catherine says that between a four-year-old, a newborn and pets, it can be full-on, so she’s grateful to be wrangling it all in such a gorgeous place. “Lee and I have absolutely loved this reno and feel fortunate to have achieved what we have,” she says.
They’ve come a long way from kindy. “Oh yeah! It’s been a journey that’s made us who we are. I’m a firm believer that what’s meant to be will be. It always works out in the end — you just have to roll with it.”

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Michelle Weir

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