Century-old Merivale villa has a new lease on life

PATTIE PEGLER
Last updated 05:00 30/06/2017
JANE USSHER/HOMED

This century-old Merivale home was stripped back to a shell, but has been reborn as something beautiful and modern. Open

JANE USSHER/HOMED
Liz Ball wanted to preserve the character of her villa, while having a light, warm and contemporary home.

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A stone's throw from Christchurch's Merivale Mall, a dark, modern stone wall contains inbuilt planters where hardy mondo grass grows in neat bunches.

It's stark and minimalist and blends into the landscape of new homes on this street with their straight lines and dark colours. But behind the wall lies a surprise: visitors are greeted by a handsome, weatherboard villa that has stood on the spot since about 1910.

It might be over a century old, but it clearly has had a bit of a facelift. Smart slate grey weatherboards contrast with white window frames and a smart new deck.

Inside a cosy lounge, owner and retired nurse Liz Ball is enjoying the morning sun that floods the room. Her six-year-old bichon frise yaps a greeting before returning to bask in a corner by the bifold doors, soaking up the rays from her bed.

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A sleek gas fire is recessed below the television on a black feature wall. Against the facing wall, a comfortable couch is well positioned for the sun and a modern coffee table with insect-like iron legs is scattered with a few novels.

Liz's dark feature wall makes a statement in the lounge. JANE USSHER/HOMED

Forget any preconceptions about draughty old villas with creaking floorboards, this home is welcoming and deliciously warm on a crisp morning.

"I wanted to keep the character and have it nice, light, warm and modern," Liz says.

She bought the house in March 2016, attracted by its great location and character. However, it was "a bit of an old dunger" in need of some love and care.

Liz loves the blend of old and new in her Merivale home. JANE USSHER/HOMED

It certainly fell into the right hands. Liz had lived in a home before, so was aware of their tendency to be cold and draughty and of the costly and time-consuming maintenance issues that can arise, but she loves the history and character of old homes.

"It's a real shame to see these kinds of buildings being bowled down," she says.

Bringing this somewhat dilapidated three-bedroom home into the modern day was an ambitious project, so Liz enlisted the help of two brothers, Mike and Brett Mather. Sons of a good friend, she knew they had successfully renovated a similar villa elsewhere in Christchurch.

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They understood what the issues might be, but they also knew what was achievable and, with Mike being a qualified electrician and Brett running his own interior design company, NED Collections, the pair had plenty of property and design experience.

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"We knew ­Liz wanted a warm, comfortable home, but she pretty much gave us a free licence in terms of design and how we went about that," Brett says. "We wanted to aim for that Victorian-style home you find in London, where they keep the character but are also very luxurious."

The desire to blend the modern and the heritage is clear as soon as you step through the front door. Framed either side by leadlight windows, it opens to reveal a typical villa corridor that runs the length of the house.

The home's original plaster arch was retained in the hallway. JANE USSHER/HOMED

The layout is simple, with living areas on one side and bedrooms and bathrooms on the other. White walls and pale grey carpet keep it light and bright.

Laminated oak floors have been used in the kitchen, bathroom and study. The wood and whites are nicely contrasted with modern black doors and window frames.

Among the unexpected features for a house of this era are low-level sensor lights running the length of the corridor. In the living room, speakers have been wired into the ceiling, keeping things neat and free of unsightly wires. Double glazing and a ducted heat pump keep all areas warm.

These modern features fit in seamlessly, partly because of careful sourcing.

A bay window in the dining room accommodates a snug boxed-seating area with a backdrop of sash-style windows.

"We wanted to keep the old sash windows," Brett says, "but they were old and jammed, so we sourced these, which are a new product, but in a sash style."

A juju hat has pride of place over Liz's bed in her light-filled room. JANE USSHER/HOMED

They also have the added benefit of being double-glazed and draught-free, a distinct improvement on the originals.

But this renovation has been about far more than just replacing windows and nice cosmetic touches.

"This house was stripped back so that it was nearly just a shell left," Liz says.

Floors needed relevelling and, while much of the internal timber framing was in good condition, many of the old lathe-and-plaster walls were stripped out. Removing the old plaster was messy and time-consuming, but getting under walls and floors offered the opportunity to address practical elements essential to comfortable, modern living, so all the walls are now insulated and the house has been fully rewired.

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Meanwhile, the interior design is sympathetic but modern.

"Anything new we were going to put in, we wanted to make it super modern," Brett says.

Gleaming white subway tiles create the kitchen splashback and are repeated under the white island counter. They're complemented by stark black pendant lights suspended over the worktop and unique black tapware. Unable to find exactly what they wanted, they had the taps sandblasted and painted to achieve the required colour and effect.

A kilim rug in the kitchen is a great example of how old and new can work together. JANE USSHER/HOMED

The white tiles and black tapware are repeated in the spacious bathroom. Attention to detail is evident in small touches such as the feet on the free-standing, roll-top bath, which were removed, dipped and powder-coated black to match the tapware.

There are also plenty of nods to the origins of this home. In the living room, a black, minimalist chandelier is offset by a white ceiling rose. The corridor has retained its feature archway with sculpted detail around the curve. Old-style, high-level skirting boards feature on internal walls. Such period features sit perfectly within the modernised whole.

The house was originally a three-bedroom villa of about 150 square metres. While the internal work has been extensive, the house has largely kept its original footprint with some alterations.

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For instance, a ramshackle shed tacked on to the back of the house has been converted into a "summer lounge" with bifold doors opening out to the garden. It is one of Liz's favourite rooms, perfect for relaxing on a balmy evening with the doors wide open.

But creating it was no easy job. Brett says the floorboards were so rotten he fell right through them. Also, as a new area of building, stringent requirements for the foundations had to be met. Both this lounge area and a new garage are set on raft foundations to comply with council regulations.

It's certainly not uncommon to hear horror stories when it comes to renovations, but this project has taken just under a year from when Liz bought the property to its finished state today.

A fiddle leaf provides a pop of colour against the kitchen's black and white joinery. JANE USSHER/HOMED
The kitchen's black tapware works in well with the home's black light fittings. JANE USSHER/HOMED

"The biggest challenge was getting all the builders and contractors organised, but with Brett and Mike project managing it all, that was all fine. Really, it's all gone pretty smoothly," she says.

She loves the finished house, citing its warmth, comfort and proximity to amenities. Her favourite spots include the sunny living area and the kitchen, which is "great to work in". She also loves the indoor-outdoor flow created by the use of bifold doors.

From old bones, Liz and her helpers have created a gorgeous home, which is an exemplar of what thoughtful and thorough renovation can achieve.

This sunny spot is one of Liz's favourites. JANE USSHER/HOMED

"It would be good if someone saw this and it inspired them to restore an old villa rather than bowl it down," Liz says.   

The feet of the original bath were removed and powdercoated to match the modern decor. JANE USSHER/HOMED

White window frames, solar panels and a new deck refresh the villa. JANE USSHER/HOMED
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