Athfield warehouse revisited after 20 years

By Sharon Stephenson
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #39
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Abandoned and unfinished for 20 years an Athfield warehouse is now home to two happy tenants. Exposed concrete and industrial chic provides the perfect creative environment.

So surprised were Khandallah locals that an industrial-style loft which had lain empty for 20 years was finally being inhabited that there was a car accident outside the day Chloe Rose Taylor and her partner Luke Rowell moved in.

“Lots of people have said how glad they are the house isn’t empty anymore,” says Chloe, a jeweller and part-time nanny. “And we’re glad to be the first to live here.”

A serendipitous twist of fate saw Chloe and Luke, a musician/animator, and their miniature pinscher dog, Ralph, land the four-storey property in July last year.

“We had been happily living in a loft in Mt Victoria where Luke had been for about nine years. But the landlord told us it was going to be torn down and we had six months to get out.”

Keen to find a similar open-plan space to accommodate both her jewellery studio and Luke’s recording studio, the couple spread their net wide. But there are very few warehouses left in central Wellington and those that were available were charging “ridiculously high” rents. Worried they would have to move in with Luke’s parents in Lower Hutt, Chloe told her employer, architect Zac Athfield, son of the late Sir Ian Athfield, of their predicament.

“They told me about this place which Sir Ian and Zac had started building in the 90s but somehow had never got around to finishing. Zac and his wife Sarah kindly offered to rent it to us.”    

Ironically, Chloe often walked past the industrial-style warehouse/townhouse on her way to work every day as a nanny for the couple’s four children.

“I used to look up and think what a cool space it was. I’ve always been a fan of Ath’s work, even before I worked for the family, way back when I was at art school in Christchurch.”

But their luck didn’t stop there – Zac offered to complete the build, installing plumbing, connecting the electricity and finishing the concrete floors. Six months after moving in, the couple say they love their new home with its sweeping views across Wellington Harbour to the east and rugged bush-clad hills to the west.

“It’s so peaceful and isolated here. It’s been great for our creativity because it allows us to get on and make music and jewellery,” says Luke whose 14th solo album of “fun, electronic music”, Sweatshop, is due to be released in May.

Past the garage (which has been converted into the couple’s studio), a flight of stairs leads to the open-plan kitchen/living/dining space. 

The defining feature here is the 3.5m tall mullioned windows, which were recycled from a previous building. Not only do they flood the second level with light, they also reduce the need for a major heating source – a small gas heater sees the couple through winter.

In keeping with the owner’s ethos of reusing building materials, the industrial-style pendant lights came from Samuel Marsden School in Karori, which Athfield Architects were renovating. “We started polishing them but Ralph could see his reflection in them and started freaking out. So we just left them as they were,” laughs Luke.

The roof is made from cast concrete: concrete was poured into corrugated iron moulds, leaving the look and feel of rusty, corrugated iron.

The industrial style continues in the kitchen, which is tucked under the stairs at the far end of the second level. The couple found the commercial oven on Trade Me and installed hardy stainless steel trolleys instead of cupboards and fitted bench tops. An old filing cabinet has been re-purposed as a cutlery drawer, while the vintage locker that serves as the pantry came from their previous Mt Victoria loft, as did the wooden dining table and chairs.

The couple, who have been collecting furniture for years, were gifted the blue couch, while the “part kitsch, part funky” green “hand” chair was an $80 TradeMe find.

“It harks back to my 90s childhood and adds colour to the space,” says Chloe. “To be honest, it’s not that comfortable but it’s a great place to sit and look out at the harbour.”

The snow globe collection was a gift from a friend who moved to Melbourne, while the fish tank was made by Luke from an old TV he found in Lower Hutt.

“I ripped out the innards and turned it into a fish tank for Chloe’s birthday.”

The quirky neon light, which once lived in a hairdressing salon, cost $30 on TradeMe. The couple love the eerie red glow it casts at night.

Up two flights of metal stairs are the bedroom, bathroom and laundry. The generous bathroom features a claw-foot bathtub and a vintage basin and toilet cistern. Tommy, the Athfield’s eldest son, is in the process of tiling the space using an assortment of various Porteous Art Tiles which the building owners always intended to use. “Some of the tiles are quite old and feature street scenes of Lambton Quay.”

Chloe has also painted the windowsills black here and in the dining/living space. “Even though we’re renting, it’s good to be able to contribute something to the building.”          

Luke is in the process of fixing the pinball machine in the bedroom, which came from their previous flat. The headboard was found on TradeMe and Luke liberated the 70s-style bedside lamp from an abandoned building.

Go up another flight of stairs and the roof garden features spectacular harbour views and all day sun. Not surprisingly, it’s a favourite spot for the couple, who often start their day with breakfast here.

As much as they love this living space, the couple spend the bulk of their time in their garage-turned-studio.

Luke has commandeered the back half of the space to write and record music. He bagged the carpet, embossed with $2 signs, from the Cuba Street $2 Shop when it was closing down. He also installed a ply wall to help differentiate his and Chloe’s studios.

Chloe, who moved to Wellington for the three-year jewellery degree at Whitireia in 2011, designs and makes her resin rings, earrings and brooches in this space. She’s currently busy producing pieces for a group show at Nelson’s Suter Gallery and for a solo show later this year at the National Gallery in Christchurch. Her colourful quirky pieces are also available online (

“We love pottering around doing our own thing and are lucky to have such a cool space to do it in,” says Chloe. “We’re almost becoming hermits up here and because my job is a minute’s walk from this house, there are weeks when I don’t ever leave this hillside. But we love it here and will stay as long as we are able.”


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