Old-fashioned style on a shoestring budget

The perfect Frankton railway cottage

Last updated 14:24 01/04/2014

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When tourists drive by this charming railway cottage in Frankton, they often take photos. It must be a hit on social media.

It's like a doll's house with its licks of lavender paint, pretty window boxes, hanging flower baskets, and letterbox announcing that you're now at Lavender Cottage.

And that's all the owner ever wanted.

Growing up on a farm in Australia, she developed a love for all things old-fashioned and always dreamed about something others sniff at: the white picket fence.

When she came to New Zealand for work, she rented the railway cottage and was smitten.

What came over her, she doesn't know. Railway cottages, built to house railway workers and their families, in their original state are hardly the pinnacle of comfort. The kitchen was the pokiest thing and the bathroom - equally narrow - led off it. Everything was dark.

But, as is often the way with people in love, she could see its potential.

So she pleaded with the owners to sell it to her. Then she poured her heart into making it all hers.

Working with the smallest of budgets, she had to be innovative. But, for people with a good eye, there's comfort in that saying: money can't buy style.

Now friends think she spent an enormous amount.

But it's filled with a few inherited pieces, mixed with plenty of op shop buys, furniture bought on sale and paid in instalments and recycled things used in innovative ways.

There's nothing a lick of paint can't do.

Because the house is so small, she painted everything white, including the skirting boards. This horrifies some, but she didn't want to make a feature of wooden fittings when white - Resene's Quarter Lusta Pearl, white with a whisper of pink - adds such a sense of height and airiness.

She's even removed the bedroom doors to add some space. You don't even miss them.

Every detail is taken care of, everything is colour co-ordinated. Inside and out. Lavender is her favourite flower and colour - and she's mixed this with other pastels. Not a strong colour in sight, and that includes the roses in the garden. One red rose slipped in and it bothers her. She likes cohesion: it calms the senses.

And all of them are engaged here. Soothing instrumental music and fragrant oils fill the air. A cooling wind blows through the front window. Friends remarking on the tranquillity, or leaning back against the cushions of the deep, deep couch in the front lounge is the ultimate compliment for her.

They must love visiting. In the two spare bedrooms, guest soaps perpetually sit atop towels in case someone stays over. But it's also a practical measure: there isn't much storage place.

By removing the wall between the lounge and the dining room, she's added an enormous amount of light compared to the almost-untouched railway cottage next door. But she's kept the back-to-back fireplace (facing the living room) and coal range (facing the dining room) - an original feature she loves.

The front living area is her favourite. (There's also a den out back that's just for her and houses the TV and computer.) The world's most comfortable couch, toile de jouy armchairs, a white coffee table and heaps of light. Instead of paintings, she's bought puzzles of period scenes in matching hues and framed them. It's cost-effective, and adds to the period look.

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An unfinished puzzle lies on the dining room table next door. "This is my last one - I swear to you, it's my last one!" But it's a way to relax.

There are chandeliers everywhere. She likes formality, but not stiffness. "You don't want to feel as if you have to be on your best behaviour."

The décor followed the look of the house, which was built between 1920 and 1924. "I say, don't go with trends. Honour your needs and respect the house."

The period look continues in the rest of the house, where she's enlarged the kitchen by getting rid of the tiny old bathroom that used to be next to it, and adding a new bathroom. A kitchen benchtop - an offcut from a kitchen business - was bought for $100, and rimu cabinets were given a fresh look with white paint. An old cast iron bath was found for the bathroom and a French-looking cabinet houses the towels.

The back door used to lead out to nothing apart from a ramshackle outside loo the railway authorities added somewhere along the line, but now there's a shady verandah and she's converted the toilet into a laundry room.

The verandah is the perfect extension of the house, down to the finest detail. The floorboards and wicker outdoor furniture have been given the whitewash treatment. A floral quilt covers the barbecue and similar quilted pillows have been folded to form pretty seating and backing for the outdoor chairs. Nothing unsightly is allowed.

This space overlooks a pagoda named Maverick, after one of her fur babies who died, which serves as another outdoor dining area. There's also an enclosed orchard, where her three labradors hang out. Their dog house even has "Lavender Cottage" painted on it.

"It's an instinctive thing, when you're Australian, to name your property. Our farm had a big sign that had our farm's name, and, at the back, be careful, drive safely, come again."

It's welcoming, and making a house a home is all about welcoming people.

- Waikato


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