Wellington fashion designer Robyn Mathieson knew she and partner Anthony Hill needed a project when Covid hit – her new real estate career was more or less on hold, and she knew she was in trouble with her two Airbnb units.
“When Covid hit, my reservations went AWOL,” she says, “I completely freaked out thinking I am going to have two empty properties, so I decided to sell one of them and buy something that could be a project. I figured as soon as restrictions lifted we would be able to do something to keep us busy – everyone was feeling a bit insane at that time. “
Mathieson says she looked around, ideally for an old bach on the water, but there was nothing available in her price range, so she eventually settled on a small 116m² Art Deco home in Levin, built in 1949, buying it between the first lockdown and the second.
“It was really rough, but it had a gorgeous feel,” she says. “There were holes in the walls, mold on the walls and black around the windows. There was even graffiti on the walls, and a dog had chewed through the architraves. An old tarpaulin outside covering part of the cladding turned out to be hiding rot in the framework, which needed to be replaced. “
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And so they went for it, stripping, sanding and painting to completely transform the house. They both brought different skills to the project. “I have done up properties before, and am good at stripping, sanding and painting. Anthony’s background is in doing places up for people who are selling. And between us, with my fashion background we knew we could create something new.
“Anthony is very good at working things out – he looks online, googles stuff, watches video and then gets on with it.”
Mathieson says there is not a lot of the original Art Deco character evident inside, although some original coving remains in the front two bedrooms. The fireplace had been stuccoed over. And the house had been added onto more than once, losing character.
‘I’m a forager,’ says Mathieson
“We started gutting the front two rooms, and took them back to the Gib, then plastered and painted. All of the doors had to be replaced – we found second-hand ones. Two of them came out of a skip in Oriental Bay.
“And while the doors are all old, they may not be exactly true to character. We also found second-hand door handles, and mismatching glass bricks the same size for a wall inside the house. They are joined with concrete – Anthony had to do quite a lot of googling to work that one out. “
The house was reroofed, the exterior was stripped and painted: “Antony did all the prep and I painted it, apart from the high bits,” Mathieson says.
A new kitchen and bathroom were needed, but again the couple have done it simply and cheaply: “I’m a forager,” says Mathieson, who also still makes clothes that sell at the Mews.
Hill made the kitchen out of recycled timber. There were holes in the timber that have been plugged up, and are simply part of the character. The timber was coated with a satin polyurethane.
“My old shop counter (from the Robyn Mathieson store) was brought into the kitchen, and given a new benchtop. Drawers were added to make it more ‘kitcheny, than shoppy ”’. And the totara wood floors throughout the house were sanded back (by a professional) and given a water-based polyurethane coating that provides a light, Scandinavian look. “
“We describe the style as Mid Century / Industrial, and it suits the wee house.”
Quirky features of the three-bedroom house include the yellow-framed windows, but Mathieson says the house needed a point of difference. “So many houses in Levin are all gray and white.”
‘It has been incredibly stressful’
Now they have finished, will they do it again? “I don’t know, but we probably will,” Mathieson says. “But next time we both think we’d like to pay someone to do the hard physical stuff, so we can focus more on the fun designer stuff.
“The project saved us from going mad during Covid, but it has been incredibly stressful. This sort of reno for two people who do not have any trade is not for the faint-hearted.
“We had some hugely challenging times – for me personally – and also with our creative processes. Both of us are perfectionists, and we have not always agreed on how things should look, but we both persevered through that, and the end results are so worthwhile. “
The couple envisages the house being in a price range that will attract first home buyers and downsizers, as well as families. They say while it doesn’t have a garage, there is plenty of room to add one at some stage.
The property has come onto the market today, and is listed with Bre Heythuysen of Harcourts Wellington City, who says Levin is now in Wellington’s commuter belt, thanks to Transmission Gully.
“It’s a bit of a secret right now,” she says. But presumably it won’t stay that way. “
The property, at 5 McKenzie Streetwill be auctioned on 2 November, 2022.