How one couple collected their way to a mid-century styled home

By Rachel Helyer Donaldson
Photographed by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #78
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With an ethos of sustainable living, a flair for design, and a nose for a bargain, Brooklyn couple Tandia Molina and Rory Wilson-Cartwright have filled their house almost entirely with recycled and refurbished mid-century furniture and homewares.

Tandia Molina and Rory Wilson-Cartwright owned little furniture when they moved into their 1930s Brooklyn bungalow in June 2020. The couple, who are recent graduates, had lived together for a year but in a shared house, and each notched up several years of student flats before that, says Tandia. “So we didn’t have a lot of our own possessions.” Tandia’s parents bought the four-bedroom house shortly before New Zealand went into lockdown, giving the couple the chance to finally move into their “dream home”. The only catch was, it needed furnishing. “Suddenly we found ourselves in this position where we had this whole beautiful house, yet we came here with basically nothing – a bed and a set of shelves. We’ve both only been working a year out of university and we didn’t have much money, at all.”

Since then, they’ve gradually filled the east-facing, sun-filled house with recycled mid-century furniture and homewares, finding bargains online and in second-hand shops. Almost everything in their home is second-hand: the only brand-new pieces that Tandia and Rory have purchased are their bed, kettle and toaster, and the bathmat; although their flatmates, Ryan Western and Ari Faulkner, have furnished their bedrooms themselves.

Both Rory, a graduate architect, and Tandia, a qualified lawyer retraining in urban agriculture, are fans of mid-century design but they couldn’t afford the high prices that many pieces now command. “We often buy things that are not perfect, but we can afford them. Over a period, we will try and make them our own,” says Tandia. “We’re both very fixer-upper people, both thrifty, so we’re more than happy to try and DIY everything.”

They found their oak dining table on Facebook Marketplace, says Rory. “It’s beautiful and only cost $100. But if you saw this in a design-focused store, it might be $2,000.” Meanwhile a pair of armchairs made by Scandinavian-influenced 1960s Kiwi designer Don Furniture cost $300 from a store in Levin. Rory has seen a similar pair for sale for $1,000 each in Wellington. Admittedly those were in “perfect condition.” The Levin chairs have come apart, and there are a few cracks, but Rory is in the process of refurbishing them. “If you can get something that’s a bit sorry, you can use your skillset to make it better.”

It’s not necessary to have everything straight away, says Tandia. “It’s the whole reason that this place is so special. We couldn’t afford to do that, for one thing, and we wanted to collect one-off little pieces here and there, and so we did it bit by bit.

“That’s what I love about it: we never went ‘Right, we need some couches so let’s just go and buy couches’, it was more like, ‘Well, for now we’re going to have one, and then we will wait until something else comes along’.”

Buying anything also means carrying it up 139 steps – the only way to reach the house. The views to Eastbourne are stunning, but presumably this also means that each piece must be truly wanted? “It’s been a long haul,” admits Tandia. Rory adds that the couple had helpers to move them in. “But mostly everything we bought was after,” says Tandia. “We’ve just done it ourselves, every weekend, for months and months. It would be like, one table one day, a load of chairs the next day. It was just a slow process. Whatever we could carry!”

The couple’s favourite pieces include their green dining chairs, a Don sofa in their bedroom and the chair in the study. In the kitchen, the room where the four housemates spend the most time, there’s a definite 1960s vibe thanks to the orange and tan vinyl chairs, the National Transistor clock, and the green formica table, which was Rory’s grandfather’s. “It’s been in every house in which I’ve lived in the past seven years.”

In the house itself, Tandia loves its features. “It’s the details: I love the ceilings, I love the doors, the spaciousness of the rooms, and the bay windows, and even the little eclectic things like the bright red doors, the bright yellow pantry, and the green bathroom. It’s a little bit quirky.”

Rory likes it that the house – which is constructed of totara, and retains its original hardwood heart matai floors and rimu architraves and scotia – is mostly as it was when built 90-odd years ago. “There’s lots of really bad renovations, so it’s really refreshing to see people have actually thought about this, and care about it. It’s not a rip-shit-and-bust sort of attitude.”

Rory and Tandia both grew up in Sumner, in Christchurch. It’s a small, tight-knit community; even more so after the earthquakes, says Rory. Yet they met in Wellington, in 2017, thanks to their common love of dance music. Rory DJs as Miosis, playing fortnightly gigs at Club 121 as well as big festivals like Splore, Nest Fest, and Rhythm and Vines. His day-job, and “dream job” (following a six-month stint installing HVAC systems when Covid hit), is working for the award-winning Island Bay firm Patchwork Architecture.

Tandia was inspired to leave her legal job in 2020 to study horticultural science at Massey University after the couple built their organic vegetable garden – lugging untreated planks, bags of concrete and pavers up those inescapable steps. She realised she wanted to grow things full time, and now works as a compost manager at an urban farm in Porirua. As an environmentalist, she’s found her niche. “I absolutely love it.”

The couple can imagine living in the house for the next few years; Tandia would eventually love a bigger garden. That aside, she says, “We love this house, we love our flatmates, and they love living here”. Rory agrees: “I love it. I feel so lucky to be living on the fringe of the city, with a fantastic view, and a house which is beautiful, with beautiful people. It doesn’t get much better really.”


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