House of the week: Retro Dunedin home is a blast from the past

JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER/NZHOUSE&GARDEN JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER JANE USSHER

The kitchen in Tannia and Dylan Lee’s Dunedin rental is fundamentally unchanged since 1974, and includes features dating back to the early 60s.

Tannia’s vintage clothing site Most Wanted Vintage includes a blog called Nova Vogue featuring baby daughter Nova in vintage outfits.

The blue 1960s print Boats Resting by G Roland Smith was discovered at Disc Den; the 1950s Blue Mountain Pottery jug vases once belonged to Tannia’s grandparents.

The cushion on the little cane chair in Nova’s room was hand-embroidered by Tannia’s aunt Adair, another keen op-shopper.

The Lees bought the dining set from Arkwright’s second-hand traders; the print is by artist friend Jinx in the Sky.

Tannia went through a phase of buying furniture specifically for the house because, she says, “you just don’t get an opportunity like this” – the Don fold-out bed in the lounge was reupholstered in vinyl to protect it from cats and daughters; the lamp on the sideboard is from Mac & Wallace, and the planter is from neighbourhood store Blackbird Gifts; the view of the harbour and Otago peninsula from the lounge is an added bonus, says Tannia: “We try to appreciate it every day.

Dylan, Nova and Tannia.

The original fabric sliding doors are burgundy on one side, cream on the other.

The gold lamp is an $8 score from a local St Vincent de Paul store, the dalmatian is from the Dunedin Pop-in Pop-up market.

Tannia found the wire chairs at Dunedin vintage homewares and collectables store Mac & Wallace, and had them reupholstered in vintage fabric.

The Lip chair is one of a set of four that used to belong to a Queenstown bar, found on Trade Me.

The fireplace was hand-built and is lovely to look at, but not so good at generating heat: “We’ll put it on if we want a nice cosy atmosphere,” says Tannia; the artwork above the mirror was found 10 years ago at a Salvation Army store in Hamilton.

Tannia says the bathroom is a joy because of its bold colours; the swan and fox are from the Pop-in Pop-up market, and the vintage orange towels are part of a set of four purchased still in their wrapping from Toffs Recycled Clothing.

The vintage ballet tutu is from Box of Birds.

Tannia bought the orange cane chair from Trade Me, then spray-painted the side table to match.

A spare bedroom serves as a walk-in wardrobe for Tannia’s collection of vintage clothing, shoes and accessories, which she sometimes draws on when styling photo shoots.

The stairs below the original wrought iron railing lead down to the garage and Dylan’s drum room.

It doesn’t give a lot away, says Tannia of the street view of the house: “If there was one thing we could do differently, it would be to double glaze the windows and add outdoor plantings to minimise the highway traffic noise.”

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If ever there was a house and a tenant made for each other, it's the Dunedin home you see here, and vintage obsessive Tannia Lee.

In fact, the manner in which the house came into the lives of Tannia, her husband Dylan and baby daughter Nova suggests some god of retro might have been watching over them, pulling strings. 

"It's sort of a funny story," begins Tannia, a fashion stylist who owned Wellington clothing store Most Wanted Vintage before the family moved south three years ago (she still runs her website mostwantedvintage.co.nz).

Tannia went through a phase of buying furniture specifically for the house because, she says, “you just don’t get an ...
JANE USSHER

Tannia went through a phase of buying furniture specifically for the house because, she says, “you just don’t get an opportunity like this”

"We first saw the house when it came up for sale on Trade Me, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Dylan and I would have loved to have bought it, but at the time we didn't know we'd be staying in Dunedin. So I posted it on my page, saying, 'Hey, everyone, check out this cool house!'"

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Six months later, the owner of their North East Valley rental told them she was selling and they'd have to find somewhere else to live. "We jumped on Trade Me that night and found this house was up for rent. It was like The Secret – I'd put it out there, and then it came back into our lives. We had to get it."
Tannia says the bathroom is a joy because of its bold colours; the swan and fox are from the Pop-in Pop-up market, and ...
JANE USSHER/NZHOUSE&GARDEN

Tannia says the bathroom is a joy because of its bold colours; the swan and fox are from the Pop-in Pop-up market, and the vintage orange towels are part of a set of four purchased still in their wrapping from Toffs Recycled Clothing.

Why such urgency? Take a look at the pictures. The house in Roslyn, uphill from The Octagon, is a time capsule, a message left on a Dunedin ridgeline detailing how life was lived in another, more vibrantly coloured age. 

It is like a starburst clock stopped at 1974, when the 1960s-built house had its last makeover. On the day they were shown through, Tannia was amazed to find the 70s wallpapers in mint condition, despite the previous owners having raised children there. 

"Walking through it that first time was surreal. Every single room was exciting. It was the sort of thing you see in magazines but never in real life. It felt like we were in a photo shoot or a movie." 

Tannia’s vintage clothing site Most Wanted Vintage includes a blog called Nova Vogue featuring baby daughter Nova in ...
JANE USSHER

Tannia’s vintage clothing site Most Wanted Vintage includes a blog called Nova Vogue featuring baby daughter Nova in vintage outfits.

Naturally, they took it on the spot. "I said, 'I'm a vintage enthusiast, and we love the place just as it is. You definitely won't have to paint the walls for us.'"

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Adding to the sense of a fated find, Tannia subsequently discovered she had a vague personal connection to the house: her second cousin's ex-husband was the son of the first owners and had lived there in the 1960s. When they invited him over to take a look at his childhood home, he brought photos of the house taken before its 1974 makeover. They showed that nothing substantial has changed. No walls have been knocked down. The kitchen is structurally untouched. Even the light fittings and kitchen bar stools are original. 

Taking her cue from the home's 60s bones and its 70s facelift, Tannia went to work furnishing the place, hitting Trade Me and Dunedin second-hand stores and auction houses.  

The cushion on the little cane chair in Nova’s room was hand-embroidered by Tannia’s aunt Adair, another keen op-shopper.
JANE USSHER

The cushion on the little cane chair in Nova’s room was hand-embroidered by Tannia’s aunt Adair, another keen op-shopper.

Tannia was completely in her element hunting for just the right pieces. An op-shopper since the age of 14, she'd initially been enamoured with the 1980s and 90s – Most Wanted Vintage specialised in that period – but later became fixated on the preceding two decades.  

"My very first collecting obsession was floral 1960s and 1970s lampshades. I've got about 20, and they make us so happy."

For the lounge, she and Dylan, an IT professional, began by ditching their comfortable but incongruous modern couch in favour of a 1960s Don sofa daybed. They found a set of classic Lip chairs going for a song on Trade Me, and an immaculate 1970s Schreiber sideboard with a lovely caramel glow. Picking up a hint from the striped wallpaper, Tannia accented the room with gold objects and furnishings. 

It doesn’t give a lot away, says Tannia of the street view of the house: “If there was one thing we could do ...
JANE USSHER

It doesn’t give a lot away, says Tannia of the street view of the house: “If there was one thing we could do differently, it would be to double glaze the windows and add outdoor plantings to minimise the highway traffic noise.”

Dunedin, it turns out, is blessed for op-shopping. "So much better than Wellington," says Tannia, who created Dunedin's Vintage Roundup, a three-monthly vintage clothing and craft market. "I'd collect so much more if I didn't have such a good husband, who reminds me to buy only what we can use. We try not to put things away in cupboards; we want everything out and seen, otherwise there's no point."

What is it she loves so much about the 1960s and 70s? "It's the quirky shapes and the mixing of patterns. And the colours are so bold and bright; they have this positive energy to them."

The home's bathroom says it all. With its pink vanity and vivid floral wallpaper, it's a flower power powder room. "Those colours are in the toilet as well; we always say it's the happiest toilet on earth." Nova's sunflower yellow bedroom has a similarly jubilant vibe, and the kitchen is almost too funky to defile with the banal business of cooking. The wallpaper is original, according to Tannia. "And it's on all four walls – there was no such thing as doing a feature wall, it's everywhere!"

The couple do a lot of their entertaining at the kitchen bar, with Dylan playing barman. What do guests make of their time-warped home? "They're amazed, and they want it to be preserved as much as we do," Tannia says.

Q&A:

Which unlikely colours work together? After living in this house, I've discovered mint and orange are an interesting combo. (Tannia)  

The first change we made after moving in: Swapping out the dark maroon curtains in the lounge to a lighter, non-intrusive neutral colour. The room and the view now feel more seamless. (Tannia) 

My Favourite kitchen appliance: I imported a gas-fired pizza oven to perfect the art of Neapolitan pizza making. We find it's a great excuse to get friends and family around. I use it a lot. (Dylan) 

Best money we ever spent: Buying artwork by artist friends Jinx in the Sky, Mica Still and Dylan Bakker. (Tannia)

In the future I'd like to: Buy our own house with as much character and quirkiness as this place. (Tannia)

Favourite Dunedin restaurant or bar? We love Alley Cantina which is a little Mexican restaurant down an alleyway covered in street art – nice vegetarian options and tasty margaritas. (Tannia) Pequeno is good for a low-key beverage or two. (Dylan)

Tannia and Dylan Lee

 - NZ House & Garden

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