A designer paradise

Last updated 11:54 27/06/2012
Rosling house
Kelly Shakespeare
The entrance resembles that of a colonial Georgian cottage.
Rosling house
Kelly Shakespeare
Georgina and Stephen, with daughter Stella.

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The Tai Tapu home of Stephen and Georgina Rosling brings city chic to the country.

A glorious tangle

In this deceptively large house on four hectares in Tai Tapu, you can step out one door and enjoy the finishing line of the Port Hills against the eastern sky. Step out the other side of the house and you look across to the Southern Alps.

From the front, the scrubbed-back brick house - with its storybook symmetry of garden pathway leading to a central door with deep sash windows either side - looks like a colonial Georgian cottage. This is where the trickery begins.

Once upon a time, a pair of spinsters spent six decades here in a tiny, colonial cottage with a lean-to and shy demeanour. That cottage has been transformed into a rather grand, but in no way self-important, ensemble of rooms, leading one on to another and opening out into a sunny living area with rural panorama.
It's country, but not as you might know it. Maybe it's more about town and country, where the surroundings evoke rural South Island, while the interior appointments speak more of the city.
Parts of the original cottage still lie within the heart of this transformation from small to spacious and old to new, but unless they are pointed out, you would be hard pressed to recognise them.
Where the original rooms would have been dark and closed in, with low ceilings, Stephen and Georgina Rosling have added on, lifted, widened, and opened up various spaces to let in the light. They have created a feeling of relaxed expansion, with more than enough room to swing several cats, if you were that way inclined.

In the hands of those who know how to combine styles without messy clamour, eclectica becomes a genre of its own. The couple have made diversity work effortlessly.
Stephen is a professional interior designer and his company specialises in large-scale design and management projects. Georgina has a full-time job, but gives her spare time and talent over to private interior design projects for those who recognise her flare and personal style.
When you step through their front door, a White Rabbit trip of possibility down various time tunnels seems to open up. Stephen and Georgina answer the question of "what could we do in here" with a stretch of imagination that delights.

Both enjoy auctions and pick up any items that spark their interest and push their particular aesthetic buttons. In this house, happily mismatched items and eras casually co-habit: surrealist art works sit in Biedermeier-style frames; acrylic chandeliers illuminate rooms wallpapered in burnished chinoiserie or brocaded art nouveau; soft leather couches are paired with angular one-off chairs, and so on. The mood is lush and inviting.

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The hallway, with its high stud and polished floorboards, is striped in regency papers. Underfoot, where the old floor met the new, Georgina had new boards made and polished to match the old. Coloured reflections on the boards are from light shining through the front door's twin stained-glass panels, made to order by a friend.

Edwardiana reigns. As you make your way past rich, dark rooms with nouveau armoires, plaster ceiling roses, chandeliers and rococo wallpaper, you sense a touch of Agatha Christie.
There is a guest room at the front of the house opposite another spare room. Further along, the master bedroom features stripes and florals, with antique and reproduction furniture side by side and favourite artworks, such as a trio of gilded crosses by Rae West, and June Douglas' impressionistic horses above the bed.

Horses and agricultural shows feature large in the world of Georgina (nee Fantham). A rider all her life and frequent competitor at shows and equestrian events, her great-great-grandfather, Arthur Fantham (whose portrait hangs in the hallway), was a champion cattle breeder and committee member of the Canterbury A&P Association in the 1860s.

Georgina has sold her horse and riding is on hold for a while, but you get the sense it is not off the scene forever.
Opposite the master bedroom is daughter Stella's room, a delicate, girly confection for the four-year-old, papered and carpeted in soft pink with a striped pink-and-white dado. The sash window is draped in gauzy white voile and there's a dappled, child-sized toy horse and Victorian cane pram.

The main bathroom (and ensuite) gleams in black and white. Large black tiles cover the walls beneath the dado, with wallpaper above in black-rose tracery on a white ground. The mirror is framed in antiqued black and ormolu, while the basin and bath are plain sculptural white.

Another hallway, which links the older part of the house to the living area, bears a more visible reminder of the old cottage: the former outhouse's brick wall has been retained and now lines one side of this interior passage.

The huge, 90 square metre living area is the "hero" of the house. The Roslings call this their "everything room". It's where the family comes to cook, to eat, to play, to entertain and to simply plonk down in front of the fire and gaze out through the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, across the fields towards the mountains.

When the artist John Constable was painting various manifestations of cloud and wind upon the northern English sky, he called it "skying". In this house, you can enjoy vistas of the sky in equal measure without having to take up colours and brush - the owners have done that for you.
And if you don't want to look at the mountains, you can focus on a native-forest mural painted to order on an outside wall by "Pops", a Jamaican-English artist living in Christchurch.

The large open space of the living area is heated (fortuitously, on this frosty part of the Canterbury Plains) by a wood burner, a heat pump, ducted heating and an underfloor system.

There's a 12 to 14-seater former banker's table from West Sussex with high-back chairs (bought separately at auction) and a slate-tiled, open-plan kitchen with a narrow scullery-cum-pantry and prep room behind, running the width of the room.
Beyond pivot doors beside the fireplace is a sunny sitting area for late-afternoon reading or for Stella to play when going outside isn't an option.

Design-wise, nothing is forced. Drapes and furnishings in various colour combinations and patterns all work together somehow, as do the couple's eclectic artworks and auction collectibles.
Like many other post-quake dwellings in Christchurch, the Roslings' house is in a state of flux, with small rents in the wallpaper and the occasional crack and split, but the transformation of the house continues.

The outdoors is an ongoing project. An over-sized chessboard and large goldfish pond are situated in one sheltered outdoor area that Stephen is about to tile.

There is lots of hedging and gardening works-in-progress in various corners and Rupert the Rooster lords it over his seven speckled hens in his own packed-dirt boulevard.

The former garage will be transformed eventually into a neo-Gothic chapel replete with stained-glass windows and church pews (Georgina has these already), so that the house, chapel and surrounding garden can be used as a wedding venue.

The two huge plane trees in the backyard will be perfect for photo sessions, with the vista stretching away into the distance.
"We're so lucky with all the old trees," Georgina says.

Originally, their land was part of a single 10-hectare block, which was subdivided through an orchard, thus the name of the house - Split Orchard Cottage. They still have a black boy peach, pear trees, a vintage greengage, walnut trees and nectarines as a reminder of the former orchard.

Old, new, borrowed hues, paper, paint and brick - this house resonates with all manner of poetic allusions and shows what can be done when good taste is combined with humour and an unconstrained palette.  
More than anything, it is a place for rest and renewal.

"Everyone tells us they love it," Georgina says. "They all come here to relax. Stephen's father says 'it's a magical house - you just come in and relax'."

And, at the end of a working day in the central city, Stephen says: "After zipping around all day, it's good to get right away from the red zone and so nice coming home."
Georgina agrees. "It's good for the soul here."


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