Daphne created a colourful home, it’s more than just paint

By Daphne Carvalho
Photographed by George Staniland

Featured in Capital #82
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Among the Aro Valley hills there’s one house that you just can’t miss. Daphne Carvalho gives us a tour of her distinctive home and garden, in her own words.

I came to Wellington from Malaysia to study. I arrived in 1982 on a one-way ticket with a bank draft of $3,000. That included my university fees! Luckily university fees were only $1,500 then, as it was an aid programme for nearby developing countries. I drew the curtains the next morning and saw horizontal rain. In summer! I blamed myself for making stupid, life-changing decisions at 18.

I quickly fell in love with the city, though. Houses scattered over the hillside. The crisp blue sky I’d previously only seen in jigsaw puzzle images of quaint houses. I could explore the compact city on foot, with all the little streets and walkways. I even got used to the windy and rainy days.

I met Graeme at university at the mainframe terminals. No one had personal computers then. One day he told me about a camera he’d bought. Being a poor student, I asked him to take photos of my graduation so I could send them to my parents. We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary in January this year.

The half-moon table and mirror, along with all the things on it, are from my parents’ house. We’re Catholic and all the Portuguese Eurasians in Malaysia have altars in their homes. I didn’t bring their altar back here, having a houseful of stuff already. The tabletop became a replacement altar for the religious statues.

This is our first home. We started looking because Graeme’s parents would come down once a fortnight and drag us to these renovation “opportunities”. It would have been easy for a builder like his dad, but not us. I was afraid we’d take forever to do a place up. That was 1994, and we’ve never moved.

The fairy lights around the front door are a Christmas staple. I put about 4,000 white lights on the bushes outside the front of the house and 1,000 coloured ones inside the front door. I take them down a couple of months later. The neighbours start asking in December where the lights are if I don’t put them out early enough.

The border in front is filled with flowery plants to attract bees. In warm weather the air hums with them. I make the most of the sunny paved area and have lots of pots of veggies in summer. I adore colour and paint many of the pots to brighten them up, where I experiment with colour schemes and painting techniques.

I’ve been a Snoopy fan since my earliest memories. I loved the Peanuts cartoon strip in the newspaper and read each one every day. I had a vision of Snoopy lying on his house for our letter box for ages, but I couldn’t quite find a suitable box to match my vision. Graeme decided it was a rural mailbox I needed.

We decided to stop at Dannevirke Mitre 10 one day on a holiday drive home and I picked this one. It was made of metal and green, which I thought I could work with. I etched and painted it to look like Snoopy’s house, then drew a template for Snoopy which Graeme cut out of plywood. I painted him up and made his ears from leather which Graeme attached.

This is our bird house villa. I found it on Mighty Ape and asked Graeme to get it for my birthday. It sat in a box for a year or so. After we painted the house, I still had some of the tester pots and decided it would look great in the same colour scheme. I don’t think the birds like it, but passersby are always taking photos of it next to the house.

This is an Indigo Gold tomato plant. People passing by keep on asking what it is. The tomatoes are jet black until they ripen and their bottoms turn gold. I received a range of seedlings from a family in Tawa who grow interesting varieties. They weren’t cheap, but are the best tomato plants I’ve ever grown. I used to be a botanist and plant pathologist, so plants are my first love.

The bright colours of the house stand out, even in dying light. I love seeing it glow on a winter’s day. It’s four storeys tall at the back so it looms over other houses in the area. Someone told me that the back of the house was originally the front. When I look at it from the dog park I think they’re probably right, it has far more features on that side.

We repainted the house in 2017. It’s quite pricey to paint the house as it’s four storeys, with a basement at the back. You must have the house completely scaffolded, which costs as much as the painting! I went to a Resene ColorShop with many schemes to get some help. I ended up with four. Passersby watched with amusement and gave feedback when patient Graeme painted various colours on the window frames and walls.

People in the street often tell me they love it, that the colours make them happy, and that they’re grateful to see it on their walks. One lady said it helped keep her spirits up, especially in winter. I guess my objective to make the house look (and make people) happy has succeeded.

Hello Rusty! He’s a tiny, athletic, happy cat with a big purr. We went to Kitten Inn to “look at” kittens. It was summer and there was a pen of playful, dozy kittens. They were all cute and we couldn’t decide. I heard a loud purr and wondered who it was. Graeme tracked the purr down and pulled out a small bright orange kitten who glowed in the sun.

We entertain in the dining room. The area is light and bright. Besides the windows, there’s also a rooflight extending from one end to the other. The tiny deck opens out to the left and overlooks the doggie park beside Central Park. I’m getting a dog when I retire. This area is perfect for one.


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