Light and shade: The duality of a contemporary cottage

By Sharon Greally
Photographed by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #81
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Tenant and teacher Glen Jorna liked the neighbourhood so much he came back with his partner to buy and build. Sharon Greally talks to the contented couple about their Mt Vic reno.

Much like artist Glen Jorna’s art work, the 80-square-metre bijou home he has renovated with partner Andy Pickering is full of contrast and variety. I visited them on a Saturday morning, sitting around their engineered-stone island drinking coffee. The Resene Dark Knight kitchen had the snug feel of a wine bar, and indeed Glen says they were inspired by the mood of Hawthorne Lounge in Tory St. The copper pendant lights reflect the rich copper tones of the benchtop.

The house was built around 1914 on a one way street in Mt. Victoria, and before the renovations two years ago was a simple cottage. It’s now a clever and sensitive nod to the past, incorporating modern influences. A small adjacent cabin has been transformed into a guesthouse, and enjoys a special privacy.

Glen explains that he had lived in the house for some years as a renter. “I instantly felt like this was home.” He moved away, then a former neighbour told him it was up for sale. “We moved in here around eight years ago. I love the neighbourhood. It’s a really special street,” says Glen. Nestled between two houses, and shielded by a bank at the back, the south-facing home is mostly protected from the prevailing nor’westerly wind. Between the house and the guesthouse there is now a sheltered courtyard, where a serene Buddha welcomes guests as they come up the path. “One of the first things we did was put the deck in.” Getting rid of the the grass extended the living space, and the sheltered deck created a sun-trap. “It can be blowing a gale down on Kent Terrace, and here it’s so sheltered.”

During the renovations, they moved into the guesthouse with Lumi, their Malteseshitzu.
“It was just one room with an outdoor shower, and the builders put in an outdoor sink for us. We had a portaloo on the street for about six months, which I don’t think was quite legal. It was like camping. It was an ‘achievement’.”

But it was tight and stressful: “There’s dust in the toaster, the budget blows out. It puts a bit of pressure on a relationship. We’d only been married a couple of years, but thought if we could get through that, we could get through anything. And we have!” Glen reflects that they were lucky to have finished the job before covid struck.

The ideas for renovation began simply, as in “We might just put another room on”, but it became a complete rebuild. “We were going to do it in stages, but our builder encouraged us to do it all at once. An architect friend drew up some concept plans, we had it priced, and we thought let’s just do the whole thing.” That included adding an ensuite to the guest house for flexibility. Extensive rot meant they had to replace 80% of the walls of the main house – “It was a shell really, but we could see everything that was wrong with it, and also see its potential. The concept went through a few iterations, and we ended up making changes the day before it went to council.” And not small changes: walls were extended to make more room, and the aspect reoriented to the south, to create an outlook. And the bedrooms are now separated by the living spaces. They toyed with but rejected the idea of joining the studio up to the house. The result, says Glen, was not so much a renovation as a rebuild: “It’s about 80sqm, originally 60, and now the guesthouse brings it up to around 95sqm. For a small house, it feels quite big, and very light.”

This is art teacher Glen and Andy’s first renovation. “We realised early on we just had to trust each other. Going through renovations you can almost kill each other. We split up the jobs. Creative design and research was my job, and Andy, an inflight services manager for Air New Zealand, was to guide the ship in terms of finances and logistics.”

As their vision shifted, they became more deeply engaged in the design detail. “Our builder, Dan Alkema from Megastructures, asked what we were going to do with the kitchen and bathroom. And I said ‘Aren’t you just going to put one in for us?’”

He put them on to Joneen Rodgers. They had been thinking all black and white, but she pushed everything in a different direction with a copper, blue, and black penny-tile sample. In the bathroom, tiles, cabinetry, and paint colours feature. Using multiple elements in such a small space was a bit of a gamble, says Glen, but it works. “There is one drawer each, and shelving for our fragrance display. What with Andy’s job we have quite a selection.” The skylight follows the light and dark theme, illuminating the tiles. The concrete-effect floor and wall tiles are an engineered stone, and the floor heated. “We love the coppery accents in the concrete, and we have used Resene Dark Knight on the tongue and groove on the walls which is also featured in the living room, so it all ties in.”

In the kitchen they sought to avoid dominating dark cabinetry, using open shelving in the same engineered oak timber as the floor. The kitchen island uses the same concrete finish as the bathroom tiles.

The kitchen tiles were rather contentious. Andy wanted to bring some blue into the originally black scheme, evoking peace and tranquility, and softening possible harshness. The larger hexagonal tiles looked unremarkable in a sample, “but as an artist, I could visualise what it would look like. Andy struggles with that, so that’s where the trust thing comes in. It all looks quite bejwelled, and we’re really happy with the end product.” Glen reports that the finished product moved Joneen to tears. The tiler used a grout that reflected the browny coppery tones of the bench top and also picked up the distinctive edges of the tiles. The tones also reflect their earthenware displayed on the shelves, and link to the tiles in the bathroom. “They talk to each other”.

Anything they would change in the whole renovation? “Putting in one of those longer extendable taps in the kitchen.” Everyone told them the dark colour scheme in the small kitchen was a huge risk – even the fridge is black – but Glen was adamant. “Those sort of things don’t scare me. And now everyone that sees it goes ‘wow!’” Even the painter said they were crazy, since it was the darkest corner of the house. “I wanted to embrace the moodiness. The light area of the house is light, and the dark area creates that duality.”

The laundry sits discreetly in the walk-through between the bathroom and the kitchen, instead of the intended spot in the bathroom. “We had to think really cleverly about this.” They also gave up the bath for a walk-in shower and a more open feel.

The lounge and dining area is bathed in sunlight by the large double-glazed windows and French doors opening onto the deck. Making this area larger and reconfiguring the formerly weird space has “revolutionised” the way they live in the house, says Glen. The original uneven matai flooring has been replaced with light oak. “We’ve ended up with a bit of a Skandi look, which again has that duality of light and dark. We still have the dark flooring in the spare bedroom, and it’s a nice contrast.” They had to lose the original sash windows, but the double glazing makes a huge difference to comfort. The three triangular units used as display shelves in the living area are from Warehouse Stationery. The Resene paint colour Heritage in the lounge again sets up a clever play of light and dark with the Robin Egg Blue, by Karen Walker, in the adjacent master bedroom, which can also be closed off with cavity slider doors. A low futon-style bed helps to give the illusion of space. The second bedroom is still a work in progress, though it’s ready for guests.

Glen and Andy are collecting works by New Zealand artists, much of it picked up at art shows. In the snug or TV room, with its blue velvet couch from Freedom, the interplay of dark and light seems palpable. This is Glen’s favourite room, it feels “really nurturing”. A lightbox artwork, Orange Road Cone by Jason Courtis, adorns the snug. In the lounge/dining area a dark leather couch sits on the light oak floor along with mid-century chairs picked up from friends. The round white dining table, also from Freedom, sits in a light- filled corner. The glass-topped gilded side table was a $35 Salvation Army shop find, and a favourite piece. Again it picks up the metallic accents.

“It’s hard to describe the styling of this house,” says Glen. Bargains from charity shops, Kmart, and so on are mixed with more expensive pieces, new items with second-hand. “There are certain things you don’t skimp on.” So the kitchen bench was expensive, but it’s combined with stools from The Warehouse. There is also a “merging” of the owners’ somewhat divergent tastes. “I love Industrial, and Andy likes more of a Skandi feel.” The muted colours, rich textures, and tonal variations of blues, browns, and coppers recall aspects of Glen’s canvases. In his work as in the interior design theme, he tends to stick to a restricted palette but pick up different notes in each work.

“Beauty and decay, light and dark, taking the old and giving it some new life.” He uses old posters, turning them into pieces of art, adding texture using collage. His creative bent is always at work, thinking, seeking out things to recombine. “Andy was very supportive of my suggestions. He took control of the budget, the organisational-type things” at which Glen declares he is “useless”. He credits Andy not only with trusting him with design choices, but also practical input – “He also did a lot of the physical labour on his days off.”

The building took around six months, and the finishing off another three, so nine months in total. “The budget blew way off which was a bit stressful. But it was totally worth it. Now we don’t care. If we were to give any advice, we’d say ‘Go for it! Don’t even think twice about skimping on anything. You won’t regret it!’” And worth it, it has been. The bathroom won the National Kitchen and Bathrooms Association’s people’s choice award in March of this year. With a dramatic hint of mystery, this is a home that brings peace and rest. Light and dark.


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