The renovation of this Kingsland villa turned it into a real sanctuary

Appealing to the senses when designing a home can only reward you. It’s as simple as the smooth feel of a surface, the way tiles catch the light or how a dark, sumptuous room cocoons and soothes. By designing a home that’s more than just visually inspiring, we nurture the soul, reaffirming our dwellings as places in which to recharge.

ABOVE Decorated with a gifted vase (left) and another by Rynne Tanton, plus a vintage brush from Junk & Disorderly, an ex-Post Office drawer unit hangs in the spacious hallway below a mirror from Shut the Front Door and some hats-turned-art. Resene Half Rice Cake has been used on the walls and skirtings throughout the house.

This couldn’t be more accurate for Fiona Clarke in her home in Kingsland, Auckland, which she and her husband Michael McLean bought in 2016. “Michael always talks about how the world can throw what it wants at us, but our house is our sanctuary — everything within it is about that,” she says.

ABOVE The hallway is one of Fiona’s favourite zones. “Although this is a humble house and the way we’ve finished it is humble, there’s something about the space in here,” she says. “Friends have suggested taking a foot off it to add onto the bedrooms since it’s so huge, but the hallway makes the house.” The lighting here includes a pendant that was already installed when the family moved in, which they matched with a wall lamp by Made.

The couple had previously been living in a 1910 villa at the bottom of the hill a few streets away. Rainy nights would see them lying awake, hoping for no water damage. Knowing they didn’t want to stay there forever, Fiona spotted a house for sale — a villa built in 1905, but this time at the top of the hill on a flat section. They viewed it on a Thursday and won the auction on the Saturday.

ABOVE Positioned for easy access to the barbecue on the deck, a Radial bench and table by Città are teamed with No. 18 bentwood chairs by Thonet and lit by a Dimmable light by Valentas Wood. “We purposely don’t have anything too shiny in here or in the rest of the house,” says Fiona. “We wanted our home to be pared back and calm, so there aren’t any hard, reflective surfaces and there’s no reflective glass — even the hallway mirror has a pink tint.”

After living in the “almost unliveable” house for four years, they were financially ready to renovate. Fiona, an experience designer, and business-owner Michael called on friend and interior designer Jessica White of Room By Room to draw up some plans. They then turned to another friend, builder Glynn Hogg, to bring her ideas to life.

ABOVE Inspired by old houses they’d seen on a trip to Argentina, the couple used a thin slice of Corian in Witch Hazel for the kitchen benchtops. “When we renovated, it was fashionable to have a thick, marble-look slab, which I didn’t like,” says Fiona. “When I asked for a 1cm-thick surface, nobody believed it’d look good, but I think it looks perfect.” They coordinated the plywood, walnut and veneer cabinetry by Opus Libero (with the visible joints Fiona requested to celebrate their craftsmanship) with Radial bar stools from Città.

Beyond the villa’s modest frontage, there’s a hallway with a 3.10m stud height that exudes grandeur. The team kept three of the existing bedrooms where they were and turned the fourth into a living area, removing a wall to link it with the kitchen and a play nook for the couple’s daughters, Violette (5) and Evie (2). The bathroom was relocated and an ensuite created.

TOP Resene Atomic cloaks the walls in this space mostly reserved for grown-ups, while Lawrence chairs from A&C Homestore, a Humla coffee table by Hans Bølling from Bauhaus and a sofa from Freedom congregate on a rug that used to live in Fiona’s grandmother’s house in Wales. “I love that it hasn’t faded in the middle where her dining table stood,” says Fiona. The neon sign was made for the couple’s wedding by Custom Neon and the Ledlux Massimo table lamp is from Lighting Direct. ABOVE A Two-Armed light from Mr Ralph perches above photographs by Gaston Tomasetig and an Aspen sofa from Nood in the children’s play area. “We wouldn’t have removed a wall to open up the kitchen into the lounge if it weren’t for our interior designer Jessica White — we just didn’t think of it,” says Fiona. “This nook in between them is a way of using what would otherwise have been disused space.” A rug from Bunnings provides some extra padding on the original kauri floor.

While she was deciding on the look for the interior, Fiona was working on mood boards for a client. “One summed up my old aesthetic: bright and clashing. But with children, you end up with so many bright toys and clothes, so the other mood board, which was more pared back, was what appealed. I used to want my home to be energetic; now we need it to be calm. My job is to understand how people live, what motivates them, what their struggles are and where we can design new ways, and here it was about how to make the house easy to live in, enjoyable and not over-designed. It was about how this space works for us.”

ABOVE The main bedroom and ensuite exude a gentle luxury. This Buddy tapware is by Progetto from Plumbline, the white tiles are from Tile Warehouse and the Ecostone Amsterdam tiles are from Tile Space.

To that end, the kitchen was placed in the most extensive space in the house. “We’re in there more than we are anywhere else in our home,” says Fiona.
The kitchen flows through the girls’ nook to the “grown-ups’ lounge”, with its walls drenched in a dark grey-blue. “The children don’t tend to use this space,” says Fiona. “At night, it’s easy for Michael and I to shut the doors, hide the mess away and pull the screen down to watch movies.”

TOP The ensuite basin by Toka Boutique is from Stonebaths. ABOVE Some of the special finds in the girls’ room include the artwork from The Poi Room above their mantelpiece, their bunks from Made From Wood and their vintage Axminster carpet, which Fiona added to cart on Trade Me.

The bathrooms are fitted with brass tapware that will develop a patina over time, and rounded sinks that are velvety to the touch. “It comes back to everything in the house feeling nice,” says Fiona. “It’s the same with the wall tiles — they’re matte, and we like the uniformity of their square grid.”

ABOVE In this room judiciously decorated with only the essentials, including a Vetro wall light by Made, a Vivienne bath by Toka Boutique from Stonebaths is positioned beneath a pink ceiling in a custom Dulux colour amid walls in Resene Half Black White. “I love wooden houses, but they can be a bit echoey,” says Fiona. “We wanted to bring in some weight to make the bathroom feel solid, and these Ecostone Oslo tiles from Tile Space were a good way to do that.”

Among the home’s most celebrated new features is the deep, curved, limestone-resin bath that sits beneath the main bathroom’s pink ceiling. “I like to come in here in the evening and light candles, which makes the room glow pink,” says Fiona. “It’s heavenly — like being in a spa.”
Michael’s more likely to be found on the covered deck, stoking up the woodfired barbecue, a key part of his vision for the home. “He cooks out there a lot,” says Fiona. “After dinner, the girls toast marshmallows and we sit and chat. There’s something about fire and water — they take you back to what’s important.”  

TOP Michael’s dream barbecue by Flare is complemented on the covered deck by Zaza sofas by King Living, a coffee table from Freedom and a rug from Bunnings. “In the weekends, he does all of our cooking and mostly on the fire,” says Fiona. “I broke the oven once and he cooked on the fire every night!” ABOVE Out the back is a sweet little fairy house bought off Trade Me for Violette and Evie. “The backyard is huge,” says Fiona. “There’s enough space to throw a ball for the dog and we hope to eventually put in a pool. I’d also love to extend the vege garden so it’s big enough to feed the family from.”

Words Catherine Steel
Photography Larnie Nicolson


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