House of the week: 1930s wool store turned colourful, arty apartment
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."
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 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 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.
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."
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."
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.
- NZ House & Garden