The white, double-storey villa in a quiet street in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland’s Cox’s Bay looks like something out of a storybook. With its gracious gabled end, ornate trims and balcony with a turned-wood balustrade, it could be a dollhouse. To Lou and Sam Halse, it was the picture-perfect home, where they could fling open the French doors to the capacious back garden and host the very occasions they came back to Aotearoa for.

TOP The home is a villa replica, so it comes with all the character and none of the upkeep. Lou and Sam completed the soft landscaping at the front, adding roses outside the bay window, along with hydrangeas and lavender. ABOVE An American oak desk by Douglas & Bec and a Moonstone-hued Agra rug by Armadillo help to keep the mood light in Lou’s home office on the street side of the house, from which she runs her boutique sleepwear business, General Sleep.

Lou and Sam are both Aucklanders but had been living overseas for 10 years when, by pure chance, they booked flights home, with no sense of impending pandemic panic. “It was December 2019, just before Covid was a thing,” says Lou. Their young children, Toby (now 4) and Juliette (3), were growing up fast and it was hard having family so far away.
The couple was accustomed to living in small spaces. In Amsterdam, they’d occupied a “wonky but adorable” canal house. “There wasn’t a backyard, so we’d all congregate at the park or meet at cafés where the table and chairs were set outside on the cobblestones,” recalls Lou.
Later, when they moved to San Francisco, they got used to Victorian-era apartment living. “Ours was one super-small house split into levels,” says Lou. “But it did encourage us to get out, so we had lots of connection to our neighbours and community.”

TOP The couple replaced the clunky and oppressive lights in the main living area with floaty Z1 lamps by Ay Illuminate from Tessuti. Both from Simon James, the dining table — Soul by Nonn — is matched with Osso chairs by Mattiazzi. The set works well with Nerd bar stools by Muuto from Slow. ABOVE A lofty stud height and wraparound windows and doors make the main living space feel a bit like a contemporary cathedral. The décor is clean with the addition of earthy colours only, and the furniture includes a Spanish chair from Design Denmark, an Arcade sofa from Simon James and window-seat squabs Lou covered with Bolshoi Lion fabric by Zepel from James Dunlop Textiles. The floor-to-ceiling curtains are made from Gris Clair fabric by Atelier Nuage, above the fireplace is a work by Andrea Bolima and there’s a Pony Braid rug from Nodi on the floor. Folding doors lead to the TV room that allows this space to be used for less intrusive activities.

On their return to Tāmaki Makaurau, Lou and Sam initially bought a workingman’s cottage in Kingsland. Although its character and diminutive footprint felt familiar, one thing after another needed fixing, so when they spotted this place put out to tender bids, their interest was piqued. “I’ve always had a soft spot for villas,” says Lou. “I was instantly emotionally attached.”
She was drawn to the leadlight front door, the parquet floor in the hallway and the classic mouldings — plus the fact that it was all in perfect condition. “It’s a replica villa completed in 2018,” she explains.

TOP & ABOVE Sam, who’s chief cook and can whip up a feast without following a recipe, has acres of engineered stone bench to get creative on in the kitchen, plus a hidden scullery that disguises any mess and is also home to Lou’s collection of teapots and her grandma’s tea set. The kitchen cabinetry and scullery splashback are painted with charcoal Resene Double Foundry to contrast with the rest of the room in pale Resene Half Alabaster. Over the bench and sink by Shaws of Darwen, the strip light has a visual link with the tapware and the cabinetry handles from Hardware Hut.

Of course, moving from a cottage to a four-bedroom house with 280m2 of living was extreme. The furniture they did bring with them made scant impression on the generous spaces and they had nowhere near enough art for the blank canvas. In the main living room, the children practised roly-polys on the floor while Lou and Sam marvelled at the incredible amount of light and height they now possessed — and wondered how they’d ever fill it.

TOP Furniture from Freedom forms an alfresco living room that’s centred around the fireplace beneath a louvre roof. Lou and Sam moved the fireplace to the perimeter as it was previously more central; next, Lou plans to plant some colourful flowers beside the pool. ABOVE Dotted around the house are finds that hail from the fleamarkets of Europe, among them vintage Delft pottery and a set of pottery canal houses (not shown) that were once marketing gifts on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. These tiny treasures are swallowed by the scale of this shelving unit in the TV room, but the Halses are slowly filling it with keepsakes. Next to it, a modular Outline sofa from Simon James sits below Formakami JH5 and JH3 (not shown) pendant lights by &Tradition that bring a serene feel.

Since Lou had spent the past decade abroad, she no longer had her finger on the pulse of the local design and furniture stores, but sisters Amy and Jess de Court of de Court Design, who the couple met through mutual friends, were happy to help. Together, they gathered the goods that would stand up to the sheer scale of the home, aiming for a casual, contemporary vibe that would sit within the tranquility of the Resene Alabaster palette. “The emphasis was on a soft, minimalist look, with plenty of texture and timeless pieces,” says Amy.

TOP Lou and Sam were taken by the character features of the home, including the leadlight front door and windows,and decorative ceiling roses. In the parquet-floored hallway, Humankind by Rachel Castle hangs above a bench seat the couple bought in San Francisco. ABOVE In the children’s bathroom, the floors are patterned with Secoin cement tiles handmade in Vietnam for a fun touch. The bath by Victoria & Albert gets a lot of use and towels from Rachel Castle and a bath mat by Sage & Clare inject some playful colour.

The aesthetic certainly has a lightness — think linen curtains, pale louvres, and bamboo and cotton lightshades — but it’s grounded by elements of earthiness in the form of leather chairs, chunky timber tables and a jute rug. It was the de Courts who suggested the oak dining table that has become the centre of family life. “From breakfast to morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, I feel like it’s the most important item in the house,” says Lou.

TOP Toby’s room has a green scheme that surrounds a set of bunk beds by Oeuf that are perfect for sleepovers. He loves the top bunk the best, perhaps because it gets the ultimate view of his Jungle wallpaper from These Walls. Lou chose Bolshoi Khaki fabric by Zepel from James Dunlop Textiles for the window-seat squabs in here and a suitably natural beehive-shaped lightshade from Bohème Home. ABOVE Lou livened up the walls in Juliette’s bedroom with Arch wallpaper in Chilled Coral from These Walls and a print by Rachel Castle. The Miffy rabbit is a fictional Dutch character (Nijntje in Dutch) that the couple used to spot everywhere when they were living in Amsterdam.

Although it may be hard to discern, she’s a fan of colour — a trait that reveals itself in the boutique sleepwear brand she took the helm of last year. General Sleep’s range includes gingham pyjamas in shades that make it clear having a bit of fun with this and the first home she’s decorated is key, if low-key, for her. She’s used tree-green wallpaper in Toby’s room — a forest he likes to explore from the top bunk — and a stylised print featuring coral-coloured arches for Juliette’s. In the living room, bench seats upholstered in a textural gold fabric are punchy yet chic, and (although she says it’s pure good fortune) in a tone that perfectly matches the brushed brass hardware here and in the kitchen.

TOP Lou appreciates the ensuite for its patterned tiles (matching those in the kids’ bathroom) and the fact that, from here, there’s a view of the water at Cox’s Bay. “It’s nice to peep through the shutters each morning to see what sort of day it is,” she says. Side-by-side mirrors by Joska & Sons above the double vanities alleviate the morning mayhem, while Clay-coloured towels by Baina and an Everyone robe by General Sleep are soft touches. ABOVE Against the wall that conceals the walk-in wardrobe, a custom-made headboard in a demilune design, upholstered in Eternal Salt fabric by Mokum, is a feature of the couple’s upstairs suite. They kept the bed linen neutral using pieces from Parachute and Fawn pillowcases by Cultiver. A Nama 3 pendant light by Ay Illuminate from ECC, Carvaggio Read wall lights and side tables by Douglas & Bec complete the look, along with another Everyone robe by General Sleep slung over a Pier chair by Resident.

Outside, the couple, who consider this their forever home, threw some funds into landscaping. They raised the pool off the ground, added a deck with built-in benches, and relocated the alfresco fireplace over towards the fence. Lou’s planning to add a sprinkle of colour to the ‘moat’ in the form of wildflowers.
This summer, the outdoor room with its louvred roof was everything they’d hoped for. The pool was a hit, the barbecue was busy and on New Year’s Eve, they wheeled out the cocktail trolley, shook up pisco sours for the crowd and toasted to their homecoming. Although there’s still much to do to augment the design story, winter’s almost here, and with it plenty of time to compose a
happy ending.  

Words Claire McCall
Photography Michelle Weir

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