House of the week: Hidden gem

20:44, May 20 2014
John built the kitchen island using old floorboards and marine lacquer.
Faux fur throws and a Natuzzi patchwork cowhide rug give the formal lounge a touch of exotic comfort.
Rich ochre Ralph Lauren wallpaper is used in the formal lounge.
Pineapple lamps and a chandelier light the hall, which has Amber’s trademark dark ceiling.
Iceberg roses, lavender and buxus lead to the entrance of this Christchurch villa belonging to Amber and John Hamilton.
The bedroom was a winner in the NZ House & Garden Interior of the Year 2013 awards.

Amber Hamilton claims to be a magpie. If that's true, she is a most discerning bird with an eye for the opulent.

"I admire minimalism but it's just not me," she says, standing under an enormous chandelier in her Christchurch home.

Amber, an interior designer, and husband John, a master builder, are birds of a feather and their villa in Opawa is a trove of things they love. They also love houses and have done up a phenomenal 55 to sell or rent since 2002. But this venerable villa is home to John and Amber and their three sons.

"You've got to have your oasis to come home to," says Amber, who won the NZ House & Garden 2013 Interior of the Year bedroom category. "This house is quite glamorous, but it's homely and comfortable as well."

The 1907 double-bay villa had only had a handful of owners when the Hamiltons bought it in 2000. Soon after they moved in, a car pulled up while they were gardening. The visitor had been born in the house and had a scar on his thigh where he had pulled a hot coal out of the fireplace as a toddler. It was his father, a railway engineer, who had closed in the verandah so he could sleep there after late shifts.

These are the stories Amber loves. "It's a house full of memories and family times."


There won't be any more fire-related scars though. The internal chimneys were removed after the Christchurch earthquakes, although the Hamiltons left the wrought-iron tiled fireplaces. 

Amber and John agree on almost everything. Everything, that is, except colour in the garden. "Johnny likes colour," says Amber. "I like white and green. We have to compromise." Amber has planted 'Iceberg' roses, white daphne, hellebores, white tulips and dog's tooth violets. John has added splashes of colour with yellow 'Freesia' roses and pink peonies.

Amber has no such reservations about interior colour. The rooms exude rich reds, earthy ochres and golds. Several ceilings are near-black and the one in the family room is deep red. 

Most rooms have original mouldings and ceiling roses, and the light fittings are lavish. "I think lighting absolutely makes or breaks a house," says Amber. "It creates the ambience. Small is okay in bedrooms but otherwise it has to be a statement. I tell my clients, 'Go big or go home!'"

Whether in their own house or the ones they do up, Amber says they go by the principle that, "If you are going to do something, it's only a little bit more effort to make it special."

This story first appeared in the May 2013 issue of NZ House & Garden.

- NZ House & Garden