Serene cottage in commercial Newmarket
Jo Nicholls has heard the whispers – "What's behind that gate?" – as she sits in her lush Newmarket, Auckland backyard. Passers-by are intrigued by the black painted gate down an alleyway nestled between the towering concrete buildings of commercial Newmarket.
Open that solid gate and you'll find a tidy little formal garden, a black and white cottage with striped awnings and a friendly golden retriever, Tully, looking for a pat. Step inside and you'll discover a newly renovated, serenely monochrome interior.
It's the home of beauty therapist Jo Nicholls, who moved in a year ago. Her daughters Aimee, 32, and Alice, 29, had left home, so Jo decided it was "time for change and to move on".
Parting with her large family home of 20 years wasn't easy, but it felt as if fate was giving her a nod of encouragement when a week after Jo sold, she found the little cottage tucked away in Newmarket. Although her first reaction to the listing was, "No, I don't think that's me," something made her go to the next day's viewing regardless.
"It was pouring with rain and I had 20 minutes in between clients to view it," says Jo. She didn't even notice that there was no proper front door and she barely had time to glance at the garden, but she couldn't get it out of her head. The next day she bought it. "It was an emotional buy," she admits.
Jo's been dubbed by her family a "restless relaxer", someone who just can't sit down and read a book or watch television. She does own a TV, but it's tucked away in the corner like a naughty child, clearly not used often.
So this little cottage with heaps of potential but what Jo calls some "nightmarish qualities" was the perfect project to get stuck into. The whole house needed rewiring. "It was basically a ticking time bomb," she says. The home was also on a slight slant and needed to be re-roofed. "It was just about to cave in."
But when these pressing problems were seen to, thanks to the help of Jo's partner Andy Pope, a builder, Jo set to work giving it her signature touch – a black and white palette.
Much to Jo's distaste, the inside was like "Joseph's Technicolor Dreamcoat", with gingery floors, sequinned cushions, embellished curtains and lavish chandeliers left behind by previous owners.
"I ripped out everything," she says. She was surprised to find after it was stripped back to its bones that the chandelier and draped curtains were beautiful pieces. She was happy to be able to reuse them.
Painting the floors white transformed the house, she says, and was also budget-friendly. "It gives it a peacefulness, which I love."
Jo's not the least bit precious about scuff marks: "It's a home, a real home, so I never ask people to take their shoes off. I mean, I have a dog." If they get marked, it's easy to touch them up. "I've never had so much paint on my hands in my life," she says.
Black and white was the colour scheme of her previous home too. "It's just me," she says. "Black gives it a smartness and edginess and white is so peaceful."
Downsizing meant getting rid of a lot of clutter, but she still has a large storage unit filled with the things she couldn't bear to part with.
Baskets scattered around the house have become indispensable for storage within the tiny home. "It's amazing how many things you can put in them," says Jo. Three large outdoor cushion boxes have also been a saving grace, housing Jo's gardening tools, firewood and dog paraphernalia.
Much to Jo's delight, when she finally took a good look at the garden after she had bought the cottage it turned out to be just what she was after. Just like the house, it had great structure, with existing topiary that just needed a little bit of love.
Jo got rid of the overgrown vegetable garden and put in some synthetic turf. "It was the best thing I did, it just created a whole other room out there," she says.
In the long term, Jo thinks the cottage's days are numbered and it will swallowed up at some stage by a commercial development. "It will eventually be bowled, which is why I did it on a budget. Why spend 30 grand on a kitchen when its future is to be demolished? But as long as I'm here it will stay standing, and I don't plan on moving out any time soon."
My favourite spot: My bedroom in the afternoon with the sun coming in through the blinds with the most beautiful filtered light.
Best local place for coffee: Little and Friday. Always gorgeous treats and a lovely atmosphere – a real girls' catch-up place.
Favourite time of the week: Friday evening when I catch up with friends for a glass of wine. We sit outside with the fire lit and there are lots of laughs.
Favourite time in the garden: Watching and feeding my fish. It's so peaceful.
I plan to: Plant some annuals in the garden. I'm thinking mixed pansies in all the pretty pastels.
I love this location: Newmarket is two minutes away and the train station is right there. I can be in the city in five minutes.
- NZ House & Garden