A characterful mix of old and new

By Sharon Stephenson
Photographed by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #48
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A home with a large, open-plan, light-filled interior, suitable for their twin son and daughter, was what Karina Lagreze and Kevin Rumble envisaged when they began house-hunting in 2005.

So when they stumbled upon this Mt Victoria villa, it didn’t quite fit the mould.

“It was totally run-down,” recalls Karina of the 1890-built house. “Very little had been done to it and no-one had lived in it full-time for a while.”

But Karina, a lawyer, and Kevin, an IT consultant, saw beyond the rotten weatherboards and dark, dated interior to a house that they and Isabella and Hayden (now 15) could grow into.

“It had a homely feel and lots of character, which is what I’ve always liked,” says Karina, who was born in Chile but moved to Wellington when she was 15. “Kevin prefers more minimalist new builds but I’ve always wanted a character villa.”

The two-storey home also ticked multiple boxes on their wish-list: it had a garden, buckets of potential and, the holy grail of inner-city dwellings, a garage and a driveway big enough to fit three cars.

Having lived in Mt Victoria previously, the pair were keen to return to one of Wellington’s oldest suburbs. So although they viewed numerous houses all over the city, this 145sqm house won their hearts.

The first item on their renovation list was replacing rotten weatherboards and painting the exterior a light blue. They also re-carpeted the stairs and the three bedrooms upstairs.

But when the couple came to lift the carpet in the front formal living room and the family room, they discovered rotting floorboards. They replaced them with matai floorboards which Karina had painted black to match the staircase’s black balustrade.

Keen to bring more light into the interior, Karina replaced the “dark, oppressive” mushroom wall colour with lashings of white paint. She also swapped the heavy curtains for sleek blinds, and gibbed over the oddly-shaped brick fireplace in the living room, painting it black for a contemporary look. 

“We did as much as our budget allowed,” says Karina.

That included removing a built-in window seat in the formal living space and replacing it with a mixture of vintage and more contemporary furniture.

“My style is quite eclectic and I’m all about mixing the old and new.” The emerald green velvet couch in this room was given to Karina by a friend, while the more modern red chair was a gift from Kevin for her birthday.

Karina is an artist (she has turned a small shed in the garden into her studio) and her oil and acrylic paintings feature throughout the house. The large textured artwork above the fireplace was commissioned by Kevin from Auckland artist Peter J Hackett after Karina admired his work, as a surprise for her 40th birthday.    

The spoils of browsing antique and second-hand stores are evident, such as a wooden trolley that once served meals to hospital patients but now holds a range of objets d’art, and the covetable vintage wooden tie presses which adorn the walls. Kevin found the large vintage ‘Frankston’ sign and the wall clock in Melbourne and had them shipped back to Wellington.

The two Singer sewing machine tables were bought for a song and re-purposed as side tables either side of the fire. Karina recalls her grandmother in Chile using the same style of sewing machine and says they bring back memories of her childhood.

Two years ago, the family realised that their house was bursting at the seams with themselves and their teenage children and their Rhodesian Ridgeback Simba and cat Matisse. In early 2015, Karina gave Kevin an ultimatum: “Either we move to a bigger house or we extend this one”.

So they cast around for a new home but everything they saw in Mt Victoria was either out of their budget or didn’t have the accustomed alchemy of location, garage and garden. Eventually, they realised that if they pushed out the back of the house, they could open up the cramped kitchen and laundry and provide another living space. It would also give them a much-needed connection to the garden, which they hardly used because it was inaccessible and muddy.

“Our brief to architect, Anne Kelly, was clear – give us more living space, more storage and a better flow between the indoor and outdoor spaces.”

Anne, a fellow Mt Victoria resident, provided an airy extension, which flows seamlessly from the existing living room. Gone is the postage-stamp laundry and pokey kitchen/dining room which was barely big enough to house the 2.3m-long dining table and Emeco chairs bought from Thonet. In its place is a spacious kitchen arranged along the eastern wall and an island which is stepped to deal with the sloping section.

“We entertain quite a lot and this house is always full of family and friends. It was chaos trying to cook for them in the tiny previous kitchen so one of my non-negotiables was a large, user-friendly kitchen where several of us can be at the same time.”

A long bank of cupboards next to the kitchen conceals the laundry while the additional family space to the rear of the extension features a sun-drenched window seat, a favourite place to curl up with a book. 

Off to one side is a toilet and shower, which was designed as a wet room for bathing Simba, their 43kg dog, who doesn’t fit in the shower upstairs.

Although Anne was keen on a flat roof for the extension, Karina opted for an A-frame roof-line. Not only does it enhance the sense of space, it also aligns with the classic villa look and its more traditional neighbours.

Slide back the large double-glazed doors and a stepped deck leads to the garden and what Karina calls the man-cave. This is on the site of the old garage, which was in such disrepair it had to be torn down. It was replaced with a versatile space which serves, variously, as Kevin’s office, spill-over accommodation for family and friends and storage for surfing and rowing gear.   

Having completed the downstairs renovation, Karina is now turning her gaze to the first floor.

“Although we painted and re-carpeted upstairs seven or so years ago, it might be time to redecorate.”


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