House of the week: Mt Victoria

17:00, Jul 08 2014
House of the week: Mt Victoria
The original wooden archway in the hallway has been augmented with carved wooden hands made by sculptor Simon Hunt.
House of the week: Mt Victoria
Above the living room fireplace is homeowner Diana’s re-imagining of Count-Duke of Olivares (the original was painted by Diego Velazquez in 1634).
House of the week: Mt Victoria
The plates on the trolley are mostly blue Willow pattern antiques, as are the coffee cups; the lamp is an op shop find.
House of the week: Mt Victoria
The English pond yacht on the teak sideboard in the dining room is more than 120 years old.
House of the week: Mt Victoria
The main bedroom is painted in Aalto ‘Gillflash’.

It was Diana Bidwill's mother, Margaret, who made the first big call on the Mt Victoria, Wellington cottage Diana now calls home.

Margaret wasn't about to drive all the way across town for an open home without going in. But Diana had taken one look at the place and announced she wasn't even getting out of the car. No amount of work would fix it, she reckoned. "This is not for us!"

Eventually, however, Diana relented, crossed the threshold and promptly fell in love.

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HAPPY AT HOME: Grenville Main and Diana Bidwell with their two Staffordshire bull terriers, Martha and Otto.

"I was entranced by the big, wide, full-length hallway that led to the enclosed brick-walled garden at the southern end. It felt just like a secret garden. And I loved all the wooden details in the hall, the timber archway, the very high studs in the rooms and the abundance of light. The rooms all had great proportions. We've loved it ever since."

Twenty-four years on, Diana still lives here with her husband Grenville Main, who owns a graphic design business, and Otto and Martha, two Staffordshire bull terriers.

The circa 1870s villa is tucked away in a quiet Mt Victoria street within easy walking distance of the beach and close to the city's entertainment and cultural hub. When they first moved into the house in 1990 it was "very rundown," says Diana. "At one stage a local rabbi had lived here with his seven children and it had also been an art studio." 

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Grenville Main and Diana Bidwell with their two Staffordshire bull  terriers, Martha and Otto.
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The interiors bore the decorative hallmarks of the late 80s, including bright paint colours and paint effects - not at all sympathetic to the era and style of the house. 

Bit by bit, they stripped back the carpets, exposing textured rimu floors, and chipped paint off the wooden door frames. 

"It has evolved over time," says Diana. "We pulled down all the hardboard that was hiding the decorative detail. We made a feature of the overhanging portico, with stained-glass windows behind, and the white picket fence in front, which was all but 
covered up by more ugly hardboard. We also exposed the tongue-and-groove walls in the bathroom, which had been covered over for years." 

Over the last 25 years the couple have paid many visits to family based in Warwickshire in the UK. They had been struck by the use of colour - bold but harmonious - in the area's historic homes and followed their example when selecting Aalto paints for the various rooms to complement the wood panelling. 

"Diana and I are both designers so our taste in books, art, colour and even what we display in the pantry is a big factor in the house," says Grenville. "We have toys, posters and ephemera from travels and years of collecting - it's all graphic, bold, 
colourful and talkative." 

- NZ House & Garden