This Wellington new build is full of character

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31 May 2022

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When their dream of a villa on a spacious site came to nought, a Wellington couple created a timeless character home from scratch.

Although this new-build farmhouse overlooking the Hutt Valley looks grand and smart on the outside, few could imagine what lies beyond the cheerful red front door. Step inside and an intricate design story unfolds, where every perfectly executed element builds on the narrative and each corner adds another decorative chapter to the tale.

Entry way, with a cabinet that has a mirror and painting leaning against the wall

Visha White is a natural-born storyteller and she’s crafted a home for her, her husband Jonathan and their children Sebastian, 16, Lylah, four, and baby Liam that is ever engaging. Born in Fiji, Visha grew up on a farm and emigrated to Aotearoa 21 years ago. Jonathan also grew up rurally – he was homeschooled in the middle of the South Island, surrounded by mountains – so the couple, who both work in IT in Wellington, wanted land for growing children and room to kick a ball. After a two-year search, they found it here, on an acre with a view of the river, where twinkling town lights punctuate the night.

A family of four stand in their kitchen

Visha and Jonathan with their younger children, Lylah and baby Liam, in what is the most used and loved part of their home.

Truth is, they looked long and hard for a traditional old villa in a commutable location with lots of land, but this proved elusive. Besides, the decision to build meant Visha could put her stamp on the architecture as well as the interiors. “One of my pet peeves is going into houses that all look very similar,” she says. “They may be modern and clean but to me they lack soul.”

With a clear vision, Visha worked with a group building company to craft her own “modern European farmhouse”, straying from the copybook to pick out items such as decorative wall panels, wide skirting boards and moulded architraves. But she wasn’t just across the details – in a commendable leap of faith, she also took on the design of the kitchen herself. She drew it up using online software (measuring carefully!), and chose the materials and colours for the cabinets, hardware and benchtop. Then she put it out for quotes. “They were coming in around the $100,000 mark, so I decided to go directly to the source, and ordered it myself from a manufacturer overseas.”

white kitchen cabinets with brass hardware. White subway tiles, a sink is in the corner

Visha, a keen cook, added character and charm to the kitchen with brass hardware, large pendant lights (found on Trade Me) and subway tiles. Mirrored cupboard doors create a sophisticated look while screening the contents.

It was a risk, and the process was by no means plain sailing. “I wasn’t aware of importation fees or how long things would take to arrive,” she says. When the kitchen finally made it to our shores, the marble for the island top was smashed to bits, and it became a gigantic flat-pack project. “We struggled to find a builder who would take it on, but finally, a retired cabinetmaker said he would do it for the challenge.” He turned out to be a godsend. The kitchen, with its Shaker-white cabinetry, shiny brass hardware, and a French blue island topped with a slab of oak, is a showstopper – for half the price.

Baby blue kitchen island with the rest of the cabinets a white shade with brass hardware, white subway tiles

The kitchen wasn’t her only triumph. Heavily pregnant and working, Visha’s dedication to the cause was thorough. For the bathrooms, she hunted high and low for fittings with a touch of European grace. In the black-and-white guest bathroom, a claw-foot French tub teams elegantly with a French armoire-style vanity. Though they are the perfect match, they’re both from different stores.

French-inspired bathroom with handpainted tiles, claw-foot roll top bath and french basin.

Hand-painted floor tiles were chosen to add pattern and interest. It took Visha a while to hunt down the perfect vanity and taps to suit the look without compromising on function.

Visha enjoys the hunt, so once the 13-month build was complete, she was literally and figuratively in her happy place. Seeking furnishings and other finds to decorate the four-bedroom home has been her joyful mission ever since. The open-plan family room, dining and kitchen area, connected by several sets of French doors to the deck and the backdrop of the valley, showcases her mantra of using white for lightness, wood to add warmth and touches of metal, mostly brass. “It’s a formula I keep going back to,” she says.

Visha credits Instagram, Pinterest and American designers Amber Interiors and Joanna Gaines for her inspiration (and she now returns the favour by sharing photos of her journey to her own Instagram account, @home_with_the_whites.) “I also like Parisian style – the way they use chandeliers and elegant, large mirrors,” she says.

The sophisticated ambience belies the fact she has Trade Me and Facebook Marketplace bookmarked. She has discovered several vintage and antique pieces on the sites for a steal, including old timber stools and a hallway table for storing shoes. “I am addicted,” she admits.

If that’s true, it’s a healthy addiction that wraps the family in a layered, lovely aesthetic. In Lylah’s room, which is painted French grey, a bed with a tented frame is the centrepiece while a handmade hand-me- down doll’s house also gets a starring role. In the main bedroom, the mood is slightly darker, with a forest of trees on a grey-blue background bringing pattern to the wall behind the bed. Curated vignettes abound, from a collection of glass jars used for storage in the pantry to a distressed pottery vase with an ikebana tree branch on the entry hall table.

Little girls room with a circular rattan rug in the centre, house bed frame, doll house in the corner next to a dresser

Lylah and Liam’s rooms are cosy and sweet, and reflect Visha’s love for rattan and vintage wooden toys.

Although the Whites took up residence in 2018, the decor continues to evolve. Now that she’s home for a few months of maternity leave, Visha likes to spend Liam’s afternoon nap time tucked into the royal blue couch in the formal living room, where the sun streams in and a rubber plant stretches to the ceiling. “I close the French doors and hide away. No one looks for me here,” she says.

Sitting room with blue velvet couch, with a guitar leaning against it. There is a wooden coffee table and blue turkish rug on the floor

A more formal space, this calm, sunny room is used for reading, music and retreating. Visha and Jonathan plan to install floor-to-ceiling shelves for displaying their much-loved books and vessels.

If they did, they’d likely find her dreaming of her next move – she wants to add shelving to the room for books and vessels. Or they might find her online, chasing her next discovery. “I just love it,” she says. “I keep trying different things. At one point – who knows? – I might even have the confidence to jump out of IT and do what I am truly passionate about.” Not just a new chapter but a whole different novel.


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