Portugal meets Cashmere

Last updated 16:08 28/07/2011

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Pam Elliott has brought a piece of Portugese summer to a small corner of Cashmere.

A glorious tangle

by Rosa Shiels

In a tiny, charming house at the foot of the Port Hills, primary colours paint a visual cacophony and every square millimetre of wall space, shelf, nook and cranny, indoors and out, has been decorated to evoke memories of life half a world away.

At another time, the house's owner, Scotland-born Pam Elliott and her husband lived in Portugal, where they managed holiday villas.

"My husband died very suddenly," Pam says, "and I came here because my daughter was here. I didn't know what to do. She'd been here two or three years. She said, 'Mum, I'll take you to the most civilised country in the world'. And I said, 'Don't be so daft, I don't know anybody in New Zealand'."

Thirteen years on, Pam is well settled here in the house she originally bought to do up and sell. Buying and refurbishing houses for sale was what she did before moving to Portugal.

"That's what I did in Scotland," she says in her broad Scots brogue. "So I bought this one. I didn't know the area, didn't even know there was a river nearby, and had a puppy by this stage. I made so many friends in this area that I never left."

Hamish, Pam's now elderly but spry Westie, left his mark all over the small front lawn, damaging it beyond redemption. The grass square surrounded by roses has since been replaced by a cactus garden.

"My dog wasted all the grass, so that didn't work. My gardener said, 'I think you'd be better off just paving it', so that's what we did. Then we put cactus in and they've been ever so happy."

The cacti have flourished so well, despite the cold and frosts, you have to be extra-vigilant of your personal space when you move about.

The spiky plants remind Pam of the warmer northern climes where life is lived outdoors much of the time, eyes shaded against the hot sun and the reflections off the North Atlantic Ocean. It is this bright, outdoor lifestyle Pam was attempting to emulate when she set about transforming her tiny, closed-in house.

"I was just going to do it up colourfully, so it might be easy to sell," she says.

A blue-and-white paint scheme evocative of the Mediterranean was her initial choice, but she decided it didn't suit the colours of New Zealand, so she opted for primary colours.

"With the ferns and the yuccas, it's exotic enough here."

The little house was warmed up like a Portuguese summer with a sunny yellow paint job throughout and post-box red, cerulean blue and lime green details and highlights. Photographs of family and friends overlap in joyous chaos in ever-growing tableaus on many walls, including the bathroom, ensuring Pam is never alone. Tiffany lamps light up every corner and throw back more colours, and candles - which Pam lights every evening, along with fairy lights in the garden - reflect off the mirrored garden gate and provide even more ambient warmth.

"It's just how I lived in Portugal," Pam says, "more outside than in - and I thought I could do the same when I came here. Not quite, but I do a lot of outside living here and I always have candles. I had candles in my house in Scotland, too, and my first job nearly every morning for years has been to scrape the candle grease off my tables. In Portugal, it was easy, because it was always outside. I spend more money on candles than I do on flowers."

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The lounge is awash with light and colour, and a woodburner efficiently heats the small space. Rustic platters cover the walls in the Portuguese manner, with spaces filled by framed pictures and photographs. Turkish rugs on the floor multiply the colour, as do bookshelves crammed with books. Kilims used as throws on the sofa lead the eye out beyond the arched windows to a verdant courtyard.

"It is pretty in the evenings," Pam says, "especially because I've got that slightly mirrored gate, so it's reflected from here to the gate."

One of her first jobs after buying the house was to open it up on to the back courtyard.

"I changed everything. It was like 1970s. I put French windows out to the garden from all the rooms, and put down tiles, because I was used to that in Portugal. And I got a good joiner to copy the arched windows that were already there."

Both the lounge and the two bedrooms open on to the Mediterranean-style walled garden courtyard, its latticed walls laden with grapevines, ivy and a Virginia creeper in its radiant autumnal reds. "I did everything in the back; it was just grass. In the summer, these vines are heavy with grapes."

The bougainvilleas she planted originally didn't take, so instead there is a profusion of pots and plants, real and artificial, out here. Café tables and chairs are placed to catch sun or shade, and a Balinese feature wall is garlanded by real and faux flowers.

In one bedroom, India meets Indonesia, with russet reds, swathes of fabric curtaining the bed, and a large carved Buddha blessing all who sleep there. A designer friend painted one of the walls in this room. Pam asked him for a bird of paradise, with the South African native plant strelitzia in mind, but instead he painted an ornithological scene, which fits nicely, all the same.

The other bedroom, bright yellow and blue in the late afternoon sun, echoes the primary spectrum in the box of coloured hair rollers and red hairdryer on the dressing table.

The small original kitchen is painted yellow with blue tiling and an archway leads through into the dining area, where photos on every wall attract attention and tiffany lamps radiate coloured light.

Despite the house being on a main road, it's very private, with the creepers and foliage muffling traffic noise.

"It's not too bad. I quite like knowing that the world is out there somewhere," Pam says. And inside, the joyous excess accentuates this private world.

"I arrived here with nothing - not even a jug. The plates I brought from Portugal, but the furniture I bought here and about a quarter of the pictures. I've got a lot less since the earthquake, I can tell you that."

Pam has no more room for books, so gives them away after she has read them or uses the library. The rest of Pam's colourful collections grow as the mood or the need takes her.

"Recently, I've just collected bright scarlet, blue or lime green, sometimes just to go with what's outside. At the moment, I'm collecting in red and green and I buy my candles red and green to bring the outside in."

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