Their lovely bones

SOPHIE PREECE
Last updated 15:36 10/05/2012

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When Jason Yank first laid eyes on an old wooden house in Severne St, he wanted to reverse the car straight back down the tree-dappled driveway, but knew he didn't stand a chance.

When he took his wife Liselot back for a look, her response was as predicted.

"I loved it instantly," she says. "I knew I didn't even need to go inside – it was exactly what we had been looking for."

The two-storey wooden house was battered from a journey across town in three parts, and was practically an empty shell.

But timber floors gleamed, a high stud loomed and classic bones called to Liselot's renovating spirit – where most saw a whole lot of work, she saw a house-load of potential, set in a "unique and special spot". Sitting in a park-like setting, with autumn-cloaked trees on one side, and paddocks and vines on the other, it felt like the edge of nowhere, rather than the edge of town.

Two years on, the couple have stayed true to the elegance of the home's structure, and juxtaposed it against bright and beautiful contemporary decor, in a lovely twist on classic lines.

Jason gives Liselot most of the credit for this and two previous renovations, saying she has the ability to see the final product, when most can't see past chipped paint, odd rooms and ugly carpet.

"Liselot has the vision. Some people can do it and some people can't."

Their first renovation was an apartment in The Meadway in London, a 1906 building they say is reminiscent of Harry Potter's school. With a high stud and classic lines, it had elements they loved, but before they made any plans for its future, they tore up the carpet to see what they had to work with.

"That's what we have always done," says Liselot.

"Then you think, `right, now what?"'

It's the same routine they used when they moved to Marlborough in 2004, and bought an old villa in Blenheim's North St.

Liselot was five months pregnant and renovation plans were supposedly on hold, when Jason returned home from work one day to discover she had started removing the carpet from every room in the house.

He spent the next few weeks pulling nails out of the timber floors her handiwork had revealed.

"I was nesting," she explains.

"It wasn't forecast," Jason responds.

When they came to Severne St in 2010 with their sons Joe, now 6, and Sid, now 4, much of the tearing apart had already been done.

Seven years earlier, the house was moved in three pieces to its leafy location from Budge St, where it had been used as NMIT offices after being donated by Ralph Ballinger.

The house was still empty when the Yanks found it, apart from a kitchen, two toilets and two basins put in by the previous owner.

They nonetheless set about revealing more of its potential, promptly taking out a wall by the kitchen and putting in bracing, while they worked out what to do next.

A window from an adjacent wall was moved to the end of the room, creating a dining room overlooking the backyard, while large french doors, modelled on the original windows, were made for the space they left.

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Then they added coving and skirting, all in keeping with the home's era, as well as new electrics and plenty of insulation under new gib and plaster, adding the hidden but welcome comforts of a new era.

Like the former renovations, the entire interior was then painted white, from sills to ceiling, giving Liselot a simple backdrop for her signature pieces.

"If you have a white canvas you can bring colour in the house through your decor and it's a lot easier and cheaper to change things around when you get bored."

She says she doesn't have a particular style. "I buy what I like, and can usually always find a spot for it."

Black glinting chandeliers dangle above both the dining room table and living room, their colour stark and design frivolous against the white simplicity of the walls.

Two antlered stag heads lose their solemnity, thanks to their makeup of bright and glossy paper mache, and industrial dining-room chairs in bright block colours are the perfect foil to the old wooden table they surround.

Many of the Yanks' lovely possessions were collected in Holland, where she hails from and where they met while at the University of Amsterdam in 1997, or from London, from where Jason hails and where they lived for six years before moving to New Zealand.

Liselot lived in Auckland from the age of 7 to the end of high school. Then she travelled to Holland for a six-month trip that stretched to 11 years.

After spending many Christmases in New Zealand, the couple decided to move here for good, choosing Marlborough because Liselot's parents had an Awatere Valley vineyard.

These days Jason is part of the wine industry too, his role as general manager of Astrolabe Wines committing the couple further to their life in Marlborough.

They say because they are here for the "long haul", they're not in a hurry to complete the renovation, with one section of the home once walled off for offices destined to be a sunny living area for the kids. With 5-month-old baby Bo on the scene, they're happy to be renovation-free until they need more space, and Liselot says they have learnt from experience that it's better to take your time.

"You have to wait and live in a place for a while. To work out how it flows," she says. "We're still chipping away at it, and have plenty of time." 

- The Marlborough Express

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