Fashion house

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By Sarah Catherall
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #66
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Robyn Mathieson used to drive past a mid-century house on Evans Bay Parade and imagine she would one day be its owner. Eleven years ago, both units of the two-storey house on two separate titles came up for sale. Robyn, who is now a real estate agent, recalls the separate listings: One was listed as Evans Bay Parade and one was Haitaitai, and they had two separate vendors, with signs on the front lawn pointing in different directions.

“I realised my dream house was on the market. I had always driven past and thought the house was so grand.”

Determined to own the entire house, she bought it and has spent the past decade turning it into a striking two-home residence. Today, Robyn lives upstairs with her children, Thor, 15, Lola, 18, and their dog, Sadie. Earlier this year she sold the downstairs three-bedroom residence to friends.

From the top floor, the house has a bird’s-eye view of the Evans Bay boat sheds and trailer sailers parked up and yachts bobbing in the marina beyond. It is distinctive from the outside, with a brick exterior on the bottom storey and painted batten and board covering the upper facade.

It was built in 1958 as separate homes for two Jewish couples, who were two sets of twins who married each other – Hannah and Esther Zimme married brothers Maurice and Michael Hayvice. The Hayvices – who still owned the top storey when Robyn bought it – also ran a tailoring business on Willis Street, Zimme’s.

“One family lived downstairs and one lived upstairs. This area was known as a Jewish enclave and this particular house as a bit of a party house,” says Robyn, who has only recently shipped off the liquor cabinet that came with the house.

The owner of the Robyn Mathieson clothing brand, which she closed three years ago, Robyn spent decades designing floral, abstract, and geometric-patterned garments for women. Today, along with working in real estate, she continues to design and sew a small range of clothes in a workroom in her garage selling them at selected outlets and online.

Her interior style shares design characteristics with her clothing – loud, retro prints and bright colours. She made most of the cushions and all the curtains in her home.

Mid-century architecture and style has always attracted her. The living room is decorated with things she has made and found over the years, and she has deliberately tried to source items that are used rather than bought new.

Robyn laughs that she doesn’t do minimalism. “I’m a hoarder and a junk queen. Everyone who knows me knows that about me. I struggle to throw anything out, particularly if it has been laboured over and crafted.”

Many of the mid-century features in the house are original – glass light fittings hanging from the walls and ceilings and the glass and wooden doors date from 1958. In the entrance way, the brown patterned wallpaper has been there since the house first went up, along with the quirky wallpaper in the kitchen.

The pale green bath and pastel pink bathroom tiles scream 1950s, as does the wood-panelled stairway entrance.

The kitchen is eclectic and inviting. Robyn left the original island but had a wider bench top built to match the original red formica benches. She found the vinyl mid-century kitchen stools on Trade Me, and many of the cups, plates and glasses, along with her art glass and crystal decanter collection were found by ferreting online or in secondhand stores.

She stripped back the original kitchen cupboards, and painted them cream and powder blue, and got a matching powder blue Smeg fridge, which is in keeping with the home’s retro look. “It’s quite a cosy room too. This is where Sadie sleeps and it’s really warm in the morning,” she says.

Some of the pieces in her home have their own stories – the deer head in her entrance way is from a deer that her father shot in Fiordland, where she grew up. She also likes skins, bones, and taxidermy, and has thrown a zebra skin on her living room floor. Her mother and father crafted the wooden coffee table in the living room, while Robyn bought the 1970s leather lounge suite from a woman who was moving out of her Kapiti home into a retirement village. “I went to buy a table and chairs, and I asked her, ‘Gosh, you’re not thinking of selling that are you’” And she told me that she had tried to sell it but no-one would buy it.”

The original stone fireplace now boasts a modern wood-burner. German and mid-century pottery displayed on shelves nearby add colour. In the corner of the room, Robyn’s vinyl collection is stored in a mid-century Backhouse cabinet. The dining table came with the house, and the mid-century-style dining chairs are a mix of new and second hand. Just like the home’s previous owners, Robyn continues to entertain in the 50-square-metre living room – her favourite room in the house. “It does look amazing in here at night when it’s all lit up outside,” she says.

Her bedroom has an alcove dressing room and a view of the harbour. Lola’s room is decorated with art works the teen has made.

Robyn – who received an MNZM in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Jubilee Celebrations for Services to Fashion – also loves the proximity of her home to everything she needs. A keen swimmer, she is close to Kilbirnie pool and heads to Hataitai beach and Shelly Bay in summer. Several days a week, she takes Sadie to Lyall Bay beach, where she meets up with other dog mums. Her partner, Anthony, alternates between living with her and on his boat moored across the road in Evans Bay.

In summer, she loves using the covered outdoor barbecue area she built up the back of the house, nestled into the green bush backdrop. She likes to sit in front of the chiminea and socialise with friends.

“I love the view from my home. That has to be one of the best things about living here.”

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