Stylist and Blackbird Goods co-founder Gem Adams’ latest renovation project

The juggle is real yet she’s done it again, using simple yet effective solutions to create a beautiful and functional family home.

You could roll a ball from one side of this house to the other when Gem Adams and Nathan Speeden moved in. So wonky were the piles, Gem, who was pregnant with their daughter Margot at the time, says, “I’d feel the slope of the floor as I went into the bathroom and almost had to steady myself!”
Add that to a list of laments that included carpet thick with animal hair and ceilings lowered so far they partially concealed the stained-glass clerestory windows, and it presented a bit of a challenge. Despite appearances, though, the Hastings couple had a hunch the circa 1915 villa was actually a lovely old lady — and hunches are kind of their speciality.

MAIN IMAGE The couple had in mind a true heritage palette for the home’s exterior, as opposed to the paler ones often used in villa reinventions: Resene Double Tapa with Resene Double Gravel for the trim and Resene Quarter Villa White around the windows. ABOVE In the living area, she opted for a linen-coloured sofa from Me & My Trend and brought in a darker double love seat to sit next to it; it’s Danske Møbler, from the local auction house. Steve built the coffee table Gem designed from the same wood used for the benchtops.

“I can’t help but see the potential in something, so I think with houses, where others wouldn’t touch them, I get excited about what they could be,” says Gem. “Nathan and I love beautiful homes but we don’t have the budget to buy them, so we have to think outside the box. We believe that if we want to get to the places we want to get to, we need to take the opportunities that arise, so we just take a leap every time.”

TOP Gem chose white for the hallway, to lift it a bit, then styled it with a light fitting from Ikea, peg rail from Blackbird Goods and bench seat found on Trade Me.

Having already fitted out their Napier homeware store Blackbird Goods and overhauled their first home, the couple arrived at this one ready for another reno they planned to roll out room by room. Four years and two babies on, the old dame has been returned to her former glory — but with a modern sensibility.

ABOVE “This house solidified for me that you do need new furniture with each home, because so much changes in terms of the way it needs to work and the tones. But we still have the shelves that my pop made,” says Gem of the Ladder shelves made by her late grandfather and now sold through her dad’s brand Adams & Co. “They’ll always be in our home.” The new Oxford fire is by Kent.

With kids (Margot and baby brother Sunny) in the mix, this project was Gem and Nathan’s biggest juggle yet, so they relinquished some of their signature DIY wizardry in favour of employing their builder fathers Steve Adams and Roly Speeden, along with Nathan’s brother Dave, to make the major changes. Instead, the couple took on painting, tiling and other finishing tasks, incorporating their taste for natural colours and materials, and the perfectly imperfect Japanese wabi-sabi approach.

TOP With its benchtops made of timber laminate from Bunnings, “The kitchen is one of my favourite rooms,” says Gem. “Before, it was a super-narrow galley kitchen, so we opened it up and now it’s such a nice little hub. At any given time of the day, you’ll find us in here with Margot standing on her stool; it really encompasses the feel I wanted for the house.” ABOVE A lot of Gem and Nathan’s décor comes from Blackbird Goods, but they also favour second-hand finds and inherited pieces. “Our dining table is my childhood dining table that my dad built,” says Gem. “It’s so beautiful I keep telling him he needs to make it and add it to his shop.” The Effezeta dining chairs are another Trade Me acquisition.

The villa originally had only two bedrooms, so they borrowed a bit from the generous bathroom to create a third sleep space. That gross carpet gone for good, they restored the matai floorboards along with the coffered ceilings, doors, skirting boards and magenta stained-glass windows. Gem dreamed of classic timber countertops, so Steve fabricated cost-effective ones for the kitchen and bathroom using pre-laminated sheets of beech; they go so well with the tongue-and-groove cabinetry he crafted for these rooms and the splashbacks Gem and Nathan created using handmade tiles. The open shelving throughout the house is another simple, chic touch.

ABOVE Gem recommends a breakfast bar to anyone with kids. “Margot stands there with us making her own breakfast or snacking while we’re prepping dinner, and whenever we’ve got friends over, everyone congregates in this area.” Pendants from Lighting Plus shed light on this scene, with its vintage bar stools and Margot’s stool from Ikea.

Colour-wise, Gem says she did her “typical white-ish-ness”, opting for soft Resene Wan White “because I felt with the heritage aspect of the house it needed to have a bit of warmth to it. I then brought in some colour, including greige Resene Fifty Shades in the kitchen and green Resene Waiouru in the bathroom. Sunny’s room is in nudey pink Resene Rascal and Margot’s is the same, but we did a paint effect on her walls; it changes quite a lot when it’s diluted — you get a much more peachy tone.”

ABOVE Using handmade tiles by Atelier from Tile Warehouse here and in the kitchen created the look the couple wanted and meant that slight imperfections in their DIY wouldn’t matter — though that’s not such a problem with perfectionist Gem and meticulous Nathan on the job. Other highlights here include DIYed lighting from Lighting Direct, Resonance tapware by Mondella and a stool from Trade Me.

Gem went for bolder colour on the exterior of the house too, without straying from her and Nathan’s preferred tonal look that helps to create an atmosphere of calm. “I tend to view and incorporate colours in a textural way,” she says. “The other parts of the house we added colour to are tongue and groove, because I think it brings more dimension to it than painting it white.

TOP The previously “dark and horrible” main bedroom is now a calming sanctuary thanks to additions such as the sheer curtains from EziBuy that provide privacy but still let in light and the soft, pink glow of the stained glass behind them. Gem created the large-scale artworks herself. ABOVE Basically a closet before they moved the bathroom wall, this third bedroom was one of the couple’s smartest moves. “I’m really proud of the way we configured this, and the bathroom still functions really well,” says Gem. The walls here are in Resene Rascal and the trim and floor are in Resene Wan White. Sunny sleeps in a cot from Ikea on a Turkish rug from Blackbird Goods.

“Renovating a family home with our family has been a cool experience,” she says. “Margot has been part of the process, painting with our hands on the brush to help her and passing Nathan the screwdriver when he put on the bathroom doors. This home has been exactly what we needed for this time in our lives.” Now it’s looking so swish, it’s bittersweet to be leaving this place where they’ve nurtured two newborns, but their next project beckons – a 1984 Ian Burrow design they hope to stay in for the foreseeable and make only minor tweaks to.

ABOVE For the colourwashed walls in Margot’s room, the couple used Resene FX Paint Effects Medium tinted with Resene Rascal, brushing it on, then rubbing it with a damp rag to create visual texture. The lower halves of the walls are in Resene Santa Fe and the floors are in Resene Rascal. New pieces (such as the duvet set by Dehei from Blackbird Goods) are deftly combined with old (including the vintage pram), and others made by Margot (the framed whānau portrait) and her parents (like the mini kitchen in Resene Grey Olive).

While they’re finding their feet there, they’ll also be fitting out a new Blackbird Goods store in Hastings, secured in their signature fashion. They lost out on the retail space two years ago, but recently, right after learning they’d been outbid on their new home, they were offered a second chance to lease it. Ink still drying on the contract, they got back in the car to find a missed call from their real estate agent… The competing offer on the house had just fallen through and it was theirs if they wanted it.
“Perfect timing is a complete and utter myth — or I believe it is anyway,” says Gem. “We’ve always taken opportunities where we’ve found them.” She’ll be the first to tell you committing to two new projects is a crazy prospect, but what do you do? You see the potential, and take the leap.   

Words Philippa Prentice
Photography Hazel Redmond


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