One Something Studio’s Rachel Barthow’s wellness-focused Isthmus House
If Rachel Barthow was a foodstuff, she might be granola — in the best possible way. For a start, eating a bowl of this wholesome fare at her dining table while watching her two young children play nearby is one of her all-time favourite things to do. Add to this that she does so in the home she designed to be visually and mentally nourishing using the principles that guide her wellness-focused interior design practice and you get the picture.
Having begun her career as a mental health social worker, Rachel came to interior design through additional study that saw what was a therapeutic and creative outlet for her own self-care become a new yet surprisingly complementary profession. “Initially, I thought pursuing it would be a departure from my previous life, but instead I’ve realised how much social work shapes my world view and approach to design,” she says.
Today, at the helm of One Something Studio, she uses interior design as a tool to make spaces that better her clients emotionally, psychologically and physically. “I believe design has huge potential to enrich our daily lives and enhance our mental health,” she says. “I ask myself how each room I create helps to meetits occupants’ needs and achieve a sense of fulfilment — mind, body and soul, essentially.”
The house in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland’s Mt Wellington that Rachel and her husband Matt designed for themselves (a long-term project funded in part by renovating the existing 1960s dwelling on the 1200m2 section, then subdividing to add two new homes) is a lesson in how a budget can be configured to allow for expenditure on the things that will enhance your life the most. Although building an architecturally designed home is the couple’s ultimate dream, they developed this abode pragmatically to provide for their growing family. That meant a relatively simple shell was the order of the day, made less generic through inspiration taken from the iconic Kiwi villa, in terms of colours, materials and details like the sweet bay window at the front of the house. They got it all right by enlisting the expertise of architectural technician Bruce Parker and Rachel’s brother-in-law Daniel Harris’s company Optic Build to execute their design, which placed the focus on the efficient use of space and creating a neutral backdrop on which Rachel was then able to work her magic.
The build was a long one — not the 18 months they “naïvely” envisaged but, all up, four years. Towards the end, Rachel became enamoured with early post-Modernism, “so at the last minute I added some features with more texture and movement into the plan, including the rendering on the rangehood in the kitchen and the fireplace in the living room, the rangehood arch, and the breeze-block fence outside.”
Along with the careful consideration of space and light, the central thesis of Rachel’s practice is her use of organic forms and earthy hues for their calming, down-to-earth effect. “If I can bring in these tones through the natural colours of the materials I use, I find it even more aesthetically fulfilling, so I have elements that do this in every room of our house,” she says. “I also like to practice mindfulness, so I use natural materials to create a sensory experience involving how objects look, feel, smell and sound. It all helps to ground you and connect you with the world around you, and also connect a space to its wider environment.”
Successful styling is often as much about what you leave out as what you put in, and Rachel has walked that line expertly here. A minimalist at heart, she says a pared-back layout and palette allow her to breathe. “The introvert in me loves an uncluttered home where I can recharge, so every item is chosen for a reason. A lot of my styling is about letting each piece have its moment, so it’s not competing for attention, and I find editing very therapeutic.”
All this earnest intentionality might have you craving a heaping bowl of artificial colours and flavours, but actually, this brand of goodness is anything but boring. Case in point are the moves Rachel made with details like the statement tiles in the upstairs bathrooms.
“I think considered risks work when the materials are natural, the design is more than just a trend and there’s an emotional pull or a story behind it,” she says. “We had the luxury of time to let design decisions marinate over the course of our project. In the end, I realised I still loved those tiles after mulling them over for about two years, and another two years later I still love them — win!”
Rachel says serenity washes over her whenever she opens the door to this beautiful blend of family-first practicalities and super-stylishness. “Matt and I put our whole hearts into this and I feel a real sense of peace when I’m here.” The patience — and utmost care — required to arrive at this point has undeniably proved a virtue that’s resulted in some true food for the soul, for which this happy family can thank goodness.