Slice of Greece caps ideal fit

A mid-century design has proved the perfect family home, offering charm and size in equal measure. Sophie Preece hears of a long hunt and a happy ending.

When Barbara DeLeo and husband George began hunting for a new home eight years ago, their wishlist seemed simple.

They wanted the character they'd had in previous bungalows, north facing on a single storey, with enough room for them, two sets of twins and any visiting grandparents.

But the character homes were too small, the large homes too contemporary and the search frustratingly long.

Then they wandered up a long drive in Witherlea and found a 1960s home with 1980s decor and equal measures of size and charm.

Undeterred by salmon pink walls, electric blue window seats and a long list of potential changes, they saw instead the promise of this long sunlit house on a 2000-square metre leafy section, with a pool for Marlborough's hot days and outdoor fire for cool nights.

Nearly a decade on, this lovely home stays true to that promise, proving the perfect spot for family life and entertaining.

The salmon walls rapidly gave way to a fresh white paint, but the structure remains the same, with open plan living that flows from a sunlit TV alcove to the kitchen, then wraps back to the living room, two steps down.

Three of the five bedrooms face north, with views over the garden, which swoops down the section and is split into various spaces by plantings and the pool.

The four children, aged 13 and 10, can hang out at the bottom of the garden while Barbara and George entertain at the top. "It's like an extension to the house, with all the spaces you can be in."

One of the most often used spaces is a teak table beside a built-in fireplace, which allows for al fresco dinner parties on Marlborough's cool summer evenings.

Barbara thinks she was probably Greek in a past life, and the home reflects the couple's love of that culture.

George's grandfather George Papageorge moved to New Zealand in 1938, thanks to misdirected mail.

He was in a quiet old village in Cyprus when he received a letter addressed to another George Papageorge in his village, from that man's cousin, who had moved to New Zealand. The letter spoke glowingly of life there.

"He opened it up and said, ‘Well I'm going to New Zealand too'," says Barbara.

George left his young family behind to set up their new life, then war broke out and his wife Maria and 1-year-old daughter Eleni, George's mother, could no longer join him.

Eleni was 7 by the time she met her father again, having finally travelled to their new home on a New Zealand troop ship.

George's father's father had come to New Zealand in the early 1930s, and was soon joined by a new bride from Greece, who didn't speak English in the 50 years she lived here.

So when Barbara met George when she was 18, she was swiftly initiated into the Greek New Zealand culture, which she describes as very gregarious, with close-knit families who live near each other and socialise with each other, through community and church.

For a girl from small town South Canterbury, where people were more restrained, it was quite a transition.

The couple moved to Athens in their early 20s, both teaching English, and she soon learned the language. "You

just have to. It's not like other European cities where you can get by with English. And I just loved it."

The home wears that love in treasures they collected in Greece, were given by George's family, or have gathered for their Grecian touch, like the gorgeous collection of icons on one wall and Greek inspired art throughout the home.

Barbara's work also wears it, with a few Greek heroes in her romance novels.

When the couple returned to New Zealand and had their first set of twins, Barbara couldn't stand watching or reading anything grim, and started reading romance for the guaranteed happy endings.

So when the English teacher decided to start writing, she chose that genre, juggling motherhood and writing for nearly a decade before she was published.

Barbara now has three books available electronically and in print, another on the way, two planned to follow and a publisher eager for more.

The books always deliver on their promise, she says. "The only thing that has to happen is it's happily ever after. If it's not a happily ever after then it's not a romance."

Barbara is one of the speakers at the Marlborough Book Festival in July, where she'll continue to celebrate happy endings. In her Romance 101 session, she will challenge some of the myths surrounding the writing and reading of romance, and celebrate the genre's ability to take readers out of their world and guarantee a happy ending. She will talk of her journey to success, the heart-warming feedback from readers, and the rise of this genre, which is the world's best-selling fiction.

Thousands of readers download her books and her session will also discuss a Kindle revolution, through which no-one is judged for the cover of their book.

"We can read whatever we want. No-one can make a judgment."

Barbara DeLeo will be at the Blenheim Club at 5pm on Saturday, July 26. For more information go to

The Marlborough Express