If these walls could talk: A renovation spanning 35 years

By Sharon Stephenson
Photographed by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #44
Subscribe to get the real thing here.

People who often renovate houses fall into categories. There are the serial renovators who move before the paint is dry, and people addicted to renovation who constantly fine-tune their efforts.

“And then there are those who never quite seem to have finished.”

Anne Scott and her husband Roger Howard slot firmly into the last category. They have been tinkering with their two-storey Newtown villa since they bought it in 1982.

“We’re almost finished,” says Anne of their 35-year labour of love. They have completely overhauled the home they purchased after returning from Singapore where Roger, a lawyer in the NZ Army, was serving, with Anne posted to the NZ High Commission.

Their home wouldn’t have won any beauty contests when they first laid eyes on it. Built in 1903 for Sarah Jacobson, a local draper, the house was split into three flats in 1942. Although dry and clean, it was basic and in need of modernising, with disconnected living spaces and the original scrim still on the walls.

But Anne, who has owned the Minerva bookshop on Cuba Street for over a decade, could see past the home’s flaws to its good proportions.

The couple were the first outside the Jacobson family to own the property and when they bought it, family and friends questioned their sanity.

“We’d never owned a home before, let alone done a renovation, but Roger had helped his brother renovate a house. In hindsight, we didn’t really think about the scale of the project, but we were young, we’d just got married and we didn’t have children yet, so we knew we could take our time.”

They rolled up their sleeves straight away, starting with the three Rs – re-piling, rewiring, and re-plumbing. Then there came knocking down walls and changing the layout to convert the three flats (one upstairs, two downstairs) into a generous 340sqm family home.   

The couple did most of the work themselves, not just for budgetary reasons but because they like a challenge. They enjoyed transforming the down-at-heel structure into a family home for themselves and their children: Charlotte (now 28, and studying medicine at Otago University), Izzy (25, working for an art gallery in New York) and eldest, son Jack, who was serving with the British Army in Afghanistan when he was killed seven years ago.*

One of the biggest changes was to the rear of the ground floor. Originally, a series of poky rooms housed the kitchen (with non-working coal range), dining room, and an external laundry. The couple opened up the space to create a light-filled kitchen/dining area with bi-fold doors which open to a sun-splashed garden.

Anne is a dedicated foodie who has so many cookbooks she had to have a dedicated floor-to-ceiling bookcase installed in an adjacent alcove. Five years ago, she decided the kitchen needed a refresh. She brought in kitchen designer Frances Hussell, and the result is a lime-wash paint-finish space with a custom-built kitchen island whose marble top is ideal for pastry.

Storage was high on Anne’s wish list for the new kitchen, and she has it, including a special drawer above the oven which Roger designed with slots for muffin trays and baking pans. Most of the large blue and white china jars and plates dotted around the kitchen were brought back from Singapore, but several were sourced locally, including one from Anne’s great-grandmother which is estimated to be more than 100 years old.

Across from the kitchen is the main living room, which was a dining room in the original layout. The marble-topped table in the bay window was brought back from Malacca, while the Crown Lynn pottery has been lovingly collected over the years. The blue chairs in front of the open fire were re-covered in fabric Anne bought at Sanderson in London. French doors were added to the northern side of the room, opening it out to a deck.

Next door is the TV room, or snug, which features more spoils from their travels, including a large Burmese wall-hanging and a brass gong Anne picked up in Laos on one of her many visits to teach sewing to women with HIV.

The wooden sideboard was one of the few items the couple salvaged from the three original flats. Roger has painstakingly brought it back to life, patching up missing boards and installing wine racks.

The upstairs flat was accessed by an entrance on the south side. Anne restored the original entrance and porch to the north side. The architrave over the doorway was created from a solid piece of rimu to echo the arched entrance. An engraving dating from 1774, The Field of the Cloth of Gold, given to them by a friend 25 years ago, has pride of place above the velvet-covered sofa in the entrance.

“The kids loved this engraving when they were small because there’s so much detail,” says Anne

The street-facing front room, which previously held a kitchen, bathroom, and hallway, was once the HQ for the New Zealand Quilter magazine, which Anne set up 25 years ago. She recently published the final issue, so the sunny space will probably be turned into another living room.

Although the entrance and several of the bedrooms feature Laura Ashley, Nina Campbell, and Sanderson wallpapers, Anne went for a neutral tone in the rest of the house, importing the British Farrow & Ball paint she loves. It provides the perfect backdrop for the many hand-stitched quilts that adorn the walls. Some are Anne’s work, while others have come from fellow quilters.

Walk up the reconfigured staircase and you’ll be greeted with an old school desk, and a chair from the former Canterbury Frozen Meat company, where Roger’s father worked. A white seat in the front garden hails from the same factory.

While the configuration of the upstairs space has remained largely unchanged, the rooms have changed in function. For example, the sunny master bedroom used to be the living room, while daughter Izzy’s room was once a bathroom. And the old linen cupboard has been expanded and turned into a bathroom, complete with claw-foot bath and windows sourced from a former Willis Street shop (also used in the downstairs bathroom).

Anne’s all-important sewing room was once a bedroom, but now it is home to 30 years’ worth of fabric, including kimonos she buys and unpicks for use in her quilts. 

Outside, the couple have extensively landscaped the property, terracing the back yard to provide the flat back lawn that Roger wanted. They’ve also made a veggie garden and planted an array of natives and herbs which keeps them busy.

Ask Annie if she’d ever leave the 14-room house and the answers is a resounding “No.”

“We’ve worked it out so that as we get older, we can live in the downstairs part of the house without having to worry about climbing the stairs. But, to be honest, we’ve poured so much time, money, energy, and love into this house that I can’t see myself ever leaving.”

*This archive piece ran in our print issue in 2017. As such, dates and ages reflect that year.


Sign up to our newsletter