The Workroom interior designer Anna Baxter’s Tudor-era Wānaka renovation

It’s hard to imagine this storybook Tudor cottage was ever anything less than charming, although its renovation did come about through something of a fairytale romance. Interior designer Anna Baxter first met her roofer husband Adam in Wānaka one New Year’s Eve. Anna was living in Australia’s Byron Bay at the time and Adam was based in Ōtepoti/Dunedin, yet it was Wānaka that captured Anna’s attention as a possible place for them to settle together. Close-ish to where she grew up in Balclutha/Iwikatea, for her, it also had just enough buzz to balance its great outdoors.

TOP Anna believes having dedicated spots in which to create decorative vignettes is key to the art of display. On this shelf in the dining nook, below a painting by Jeannie Dolan, she’s arranged favourite books, vintage candlesticks and one of the Tuscan stone lamps she sells through her business, The Workroom. MIDDLE One of two living areas, this cosy zone features a sofa, an ottoman, cushions and a throw all sourced through The Workroom. The rug is from Hawthorne Collections and the cabinet was rescued via a Facebook group — someone was planning to throw it away, so Anna got it for a steal. The artwork on the left was a secondhand find in Waitati, and the oil painting of Frida Kahlo was from a Wānaka tip shop. ABOVE Anna and Adam bought their dining table and chairs off Trade Me; underneath them is a rug Anna purchased while working in Indonesia. The new curtains were made by The Workroom from Satori Stonewash fabric by Mokum from James Dunlop Textiles.

Trawling Trade Me, Anna had a hunch she’d met her match when she landed on this three-bedroom home (plus sleepout). “I was sending my dad all the links all the time, asking what he thought — then I saw this place and knew it was the house I wanted,” she says. “Dad went to look at it and his immediate reaction was that it was too dark and gloomy. My response was, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll just paint it all white.’”

ABOVE Painting the walls with Dulux St Clair was one of the first updates the couple made to brighten the previously dark timber-panelled interior. New French oak flooring by Marchand from The Workroom has been one of their more recent upgrades and brings a sense of refinement to the rooms. A swing chair determinedly brought home in carry-on luggage from Indonesia tucks into another corner of the living room, alongside a stool from Maytime and an antique horse from The Workroom. Through the window, you can see the sleepout.

Anna had previously lived in Europe, where she’d developed a passion for character buildings and old stuff, so she “wasn’t just going to buy a stock-standard Wānaka new build — that doesn’t speak to me. I need spaces that makes my soul sing.”
The happy couple purchased this 1983 cottage in the older part of central Wānaka, surrounded by classic baches of a certain vintage and just a short walk from the lake, before the major building boom; these days, properties like this are as rare as hen’s teeth. The house was tired and rundown, but it didn’t need any major renovations to make it liveable, so after that lick of white paint, they moved on in.

TOP Lit with one of existing wall sconces, this second living space includes a Chesterfield-style sofa from Le Monde covered with comforts including a sheepskin from Wilson & Dorset and cushions custom-made by The Workroom. In summer, these accessories will be swapped for warm-weather alternatives. “I always try to buy neutral furniture, and then layer it up,” says Anna. “In Wānaka, we get really distinct changes in temperature, so I switch our décor to suit the season.” ABOVE The couple inserted batts into the walls for improved insulation and replaced the open fire with a log burner. The mirror on the mantel is by French Country Collections, as is the occasional chair that gets moved around to chase the sun and pulled closer to the fire on chilly evenings. The console table on the right-hand side is an old children’s school desk given to Anna by her uncle, on which she’s popped a hand-turned lamp with a Le Bon shade by Mr Ralph.

In typical Tudor fashion, their new home was a collection of distinct rooms demarcated by their various functions, and having originally been designed as a holiday home, it was missing some everyday practicalities. Stage one of its update saw Anna sourcing secondhand finds to make it comfortable until she and Adam could afford to give it the more major makeover it deserved.

ABOVE “I worked with local joiner Simon Douglas of Contour Joinery, who specialises in creating timber kitchens,” says Anna. “He’s more like an artisan and made all of the cabinetry with the beading, and the dark cabinetry in stained oak veneer, which opens to reveal another work surface for small appliances.” Mestizaje zellige tiles from The Workroom echo the calming greys of the Carrara marble benchtop, a palette that’s punctuated by brass handles and hardware by Sibella Court for The Society Inc from The Workroom, and brass Cape Cod wall lamps from CC Interiors. “It took a long time for me to decide on those little details — I didn’t rush into it,” says Anna, although the rangehood, cooktop and oven by Fisher & Paykel were a no-brainer for their efficiency.

In the eight years since, they’ve tackled the upgrades room by room. At the same time, Anna has been building a business, The Workroom — a homeware store with interior design and styling services plus fresh flowers to boot. Like her home, the shop is filled with characterful curios and unique furnishings fit to feather any nest.
“I have quite a clear vision of what I want when it comes to my personal style,” she says. “In every room of our home, I was conscious of not following trends. I didn’t want it to feel like I’d just put in a kitchen that was the look of the moment on Pinterest. I want the interior to stand the test of time.”

ABOVE This bathroom was completely gutted, then the couple lined the ceiling and walls with grooved ply, retiled, reoriented the existing bath, and added brass elements including Buddy tapware from Plumbline, along with another mirror from French Country Collections and a stool bought in India. Anna’s rule of thumb when combining tiles of different shapes, as they’ve done, is to ensure they have something in common. “Here, we went with white, but changed the scale and the pattern, and stuck with the same grout.”

To achieve this, she made choices that respect the history of the house without slavishly adhering to the Tudor aesthetic. Sticking within the existing footprint has so far economised on structural work. The kitchen has been modernised with plentiful cabinetry that works as hard as the sophisticated finishes to make the most of every bit of space without feeling cluttered. Its furniture-like look with ‘legs’ extending down over the toe kicks teams elegantly with the room’s beaded mouldings and the tiled splashback that wraps around the rangehood.
“I was also set on having a marble benchtop with a cornice,” adds Anna. “The rounded nose softens it and gives it an aged look.”

TOP The wardrobe in the guest room was another good save, taken off the hands of a neighbour who was chucking it out, and Adam’s mum got in on the act with the chair, picking it up for just $1. On top of the wardrobe are some authentic French wicker demijohns, while a kauri laundry tub turned on its side is repurposed as the bed end. MIDDLE The upstairs bathroom also includes a basin from The Kitchen Hub with a bottle trap to match those avian-like taps from Turkey and a Compass soap caddy and Miner’s Cleat drawer pull by Sibella Court for The Society Inc from The Workroom (used as a hook). ABOVE Religious iconography was something Anna developed an appreciation for during her time living in Italy, and now saintly statues pop up throughout her home, like the Italian holy water holder in the window in this guest bedroom, in which the headboard was custom- made to fit under the angled ceiling.

Attention to detail brings a building like this back to life, and Anna’s passion for collecting and “thing for hardware” have seen her go to great lengths to seek out special touches. No fixture or fitting has been left to chance. “There’s also a bunch of random things I’ve collected from all sorts of places, which I keep in storage, knowing I’ll want to use them one day,” she says. “I add them in when I can.
“Now that I’m sure of my own style, I only bring things into our home that I really want, though,” she continues. “It’s all about that slow process of acquiring things you truly love. If I’m sourcing items for the shop and fall in love with a one-off must-have I’ve found through a vintage dealer that I really want to use, I won’t sell it, but I don’t actually take much home from the shop or buy much for myself when I’m buying for it. I don’t have to own things to enjoy them — curating them for others is rewarding as well.”

TOP To the laundry and adjoining bathroom downstairs, they added more grooved ply, plus marble mosaic tiles from The Workroom. Atop a TV table adapted to become a vanity is a reclaimed marble sink from India that Anna stashed away for several years before finding this home for it. The towels are by Hale Mercantile Co from The Workroom. ABOVE The home’s first owner made the internal doors by hand.

Swearing by neutrals as a timeless base onto which other colours can be layered, the couple’s living spaces are all warm caramel and cream, with plenty of texture on top. “I’m always moving things around and changing the cushions and bedding,” says Anna. Chairs, too, are the subject of regular restyling.
The bathrooms are particularly interesting, variously featuring a marble sink found in India, bird-esque brass taps from Turkey, and a mirror removed from a dressing table sourced from a secondhand shop on the Kāpiti Coast. As in the rest of the house, their original leadlight windows remain steadfast among the fresh finds that expertly bridge old and new.
Outside, the garden is another project Anna and Adam have thrown themselves into, getting on top of the wildly overgrown plants to give it new life. “Pottering around the house is our happy place,” says Anna. “It might sound boring, but that’s my idea of a good weekend. We thrive on spending time here, and both really enjoy gardening. The backyard becomes an extension of our living space in the warmer months. In summer, it’s like a little Italian oasis, dripping with wisteria.”

ABOVE Maple and tī kōuka/cabbage trees stretch up towards the original roof tiles. Anna and Adam opted to retain the existing plasterwork, but repainted the characteristic Tudor battens with Aalto Essential and the window frames with Aalto Salt. “It’s a lot fresher now than it was with the dark contrast,” says Anna.

Not ones to sit still for long, Adam now has his sights set on a bigger garage, while Anna has dreams of building an atrium — a garden room of sorts that would expand their living area and give them an even closer connection to nature. In the meantime, they’re content to chip away at improvements as their busy work schedules allow — not to mention their weekends away camping. After all, along with her southern love interest, Anna’s soft spot for being immersed in the environment she was raised in was what brought her home. 

Words Alice Lines
Photography Mickey Ross

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