House of the week: 1930s wool store turned colourful, arty apartment

BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS BRUCE JENKINS

The lounge is an ideal reading space for Anne and Peter Stephens who are both avid book lovers.

Anne’s painting in the dining room was influenced by prayer meetings at ashrams in Rishikesh in India.

In the lounge of Anne and Peter Stephens’ Napier apartment, a large wooden chest from southern India is draped with a hand-woven camel trapping from Turkey; one of Anne’s paintings depicts an elderly Indian man she saw hit by a car.

A tapa cloth bought in Auckland hangs in the apartment’s main foyer: “I love tapa and use it often in my work,” says Anne; her three-year-old granddaughter calls the cowhide rug “flat cow”; an abstract Australian landscape echoes the red office door.

Anne on the upstairs landing, beside one of her own favourite paintings, The Masks We Wear.

The mezzanine floor of the apartment was built using Oregon pine from the original wool store; retaining original features such as the roller door fixture was important to the couple; a wooden statue of a woman from India reclines at the top of the stairs.

Anne works on a fine pencil drawing in her studio: “It’s north facing and has magic light.”

On the couple’s bedroom wall hangs a much-treasured kimono, handmade by Anne’s youngest daughter as a university art project; Indian louvres, from Barron Imports, make an eye-catching bedhead; the paintings over the side tables are from Anne’s My India series.

A rustic bird feeder in the courtyard is the work of Central Hawke’s Bay artisan Perry Davies.

Anne says the patio courtyard with gabion stone walls is very private; on the left, maple trees – “my pride and joy” – grow in galvanised pots that Anne and Peter designed and had made locally.

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In artist Anne Stephens' Ahuriri, Napier apartment, the bones of the building's former existence as a wool store poke through – and that's exactly what she likes about it.

Upstairs, where her light-filled studio and the bedrooms are located, the rough textured concrete walls and metal beams hark back to the days when the wool store, built in 1932, was humming with industry.

Anne and her husband Peter, who bought the property 30 years ago, were determined to preserve those raw elements when converting the building into living space. The council wanted them to clad over the walls, but Anne dug her toes in. "We had quite a battle, but I said, 'I'm sorry, these are staying.' In the end we persevered and were allowed to keep them."

On the couple’s bedroom wall hangs a much-treasured kimono, handmade by Anne’s youngest daughter as a university art ...
BRUCE JENKINS

On the couple’s bedroom wall hangs a much-treasured kimono, handmade by Anne’s youngest daughter as a university art project; the paintings over the side tables are from Anne’s My India series.

In the little side street where the Stephens' apartment is located, a bright red door stands out on a grey wall. Inside, colour pops from paintings, mostly Anne's, on walls painted in what she calls the best white in the world: Dulux 'Quarter Chalk USA'. And although Peter says he'd prefer the walls to be more colourful and to have more wood around, they both love displaying collections from their many travels, such as the spectacular hand-woven rug from Rajasthan, India in the living room. "It's like a piece of art," says Anne.

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Peter was visiting Auckland when he met Anne at a dinner party in the mid 90s. She eventually moved to Hawke's Bay, on the proviso that she would return to Auckland every time she wanted to have her hair cut by her favourite hairdresser. "That has happened for the past 19 years and Peter thinks it's ridiculous!"  
Anne works on a fine pencil drawing in her studio: “It’s north facing and has magic light.”
BRUCE JENKINS

Anne works on a fine pencil drawing in her studio: “It’s north facing and has magic light.”

Peter must have known a thing or two when he began buying property in Ahuriri, long before the seaside village near Napier became a chic destination.  

Peter used the old wool store as retail premises until the couple decided to develop three studio apartments in the building, running them as bed and breakfast accommodation for three years. Then they launched into their next project – renovating a space in the building to create their ideal apartment. 

They work well as a team, Anne says, despite some initial disagreement about where in the building the apartment would sit. "While I see the finished project, Peter is very practical: he sees the nuts and bolts and the logic. That is just as well, because with a conversion, I think it's a lot more difficult than beginning from scratch. You're working within the constraints of an existing structure, and both of us wanted to preserve the unique architecture such as the saw-tooth rooftop."

Anne’s painting in the dining room was influenced by prayer meetings at ashrams in Rishikesh in India.
BRUCE JENKINS

Anne’s painting in the dining room was influenced by prayer meetings at ashrams in Rishikesh in India.

Anne's eye for architectural detail was honed by fine art and interior design studies, which she began later in life, having initially trained as a dental nurse and worked as a visual merchandiser in Auckland and Hawke's Bay.

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Now a full-time artist, she travels whenever she can and soaks up ideas to use in her work, which can be anything from fine drawing to abstract mixed media. "I do a lot of social commentary art. I tend to go off on tangents and often have several different works on the go at once."  

A recent trip to India left a big impression. "My Indian travels have transformed quite a dark period in my art to absolute bursts of colour. It was a big transition. I absolutely fell in love with India. It's not only the colour but also the people – you see every spectrum of life there. It was a very emotional journey."

Anne says the patio courtyard with gabion stone walls is very private; on the left, maple trees – “my pride and joy” – ...
BRUCE JENKINS

Anne says the patio courtyard with gabion stone walls is very private; on the left, maple trees – “my pride and joy” – grow in galvanised pots that Anne and Peter designed and had made locally.

She's planning a trip to Morocco and Barcelona later this year with her son, art photographer Jeremy Blincoe, who lives in Melbourne. "It will be interesting because we will see these places from different perspectives."

While Peter prefers journeys of the less intrepid variety, they both agree they are hooked on apartment living and the freedom it allows them. "We enjoy our small enclosed garden, full of edible and flowering herbs used for cooking and attracting the bees. Our olive tree attracts our visiting thrush."

Says Anne, "We are both at an age where we can just shut the door and go travelling."  

Q&A

Best advice: Always think outside the square. For example – we lived in Pete's billiards room while the apartment was under construction.

Favourite room: Our lounge, filled with books and soft lighting.

What we're eating: I love to cook. Autumn is a favourite time: lamb ragout with home-made pasta, and walnut and spice cake.

And drinking: Pete is a shiraz man.

Best Ahuriri secret: The Globe Theatrette nearby. I am found there often, in my favourite seat.

If I changed anything: It would be to have a smaller studio and bring the lounge ceiling up to the full height of seven metres.

Happiest Day: Good Friday this year when three of our five children and their children were with us: 20 for dinner. Such fun!

Worst Day: When we discover a leak. Old buildings have secrets of their own.

Anne Stephens

 - NZ House & Garden

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