During the most difficult time of Arielle Mermin’s life, she found that transforming a run-down former rental into a fresh, California-style home changed her, too.
The fashion designer and avid surfer began the lengthy renovation of her home in Ōakura, Taranaki at a time when her father died, her husband was filing for divorce, and she was forced to close her beloved bohemian clothing store at its peak.
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“I throw myself into a ramshackle 91-year-old shack [and] Acquiring new skills has not only created a home over me, but rebuilt my life by rediscovering my creative heartbeat during an incredibly mentally challenging time,” said Arielle, who was raised in San Quentin, Northern California.
The result is an airy home with walls painted Resene Half Alabaster, exposed Rimu floors, and redwood shelving and benches in the kitchen. It abounds with earthy textiles and ornate mirrors and cabinets.
The house is surrounded by a garden dotted with cacti and plants native to New Zealand — not a lawn. Behind a hedge of pink, white, and red camellias, a shack-like sleeping quarters serves as Ariel’s sewing workshop. “It was an old garage that I had to completely gut.”
The house and garden were a disaster of clutter when Arielle bought the property in 2016. “The ceiling was 20cm deep as there was no supporting beam, the windows were all rotted and there was an insane amount of junk left on the property.”
Arielle filled 30 garbage bags with garbage from the yard and under the house. “It was a dump — we even found a buried sofa.”
People told her she was crazy to take over the dilapidated home, but she saw a “California gem” in its raw state.
The house was built in Fitzroy, New Plymouth in 1931 and moved to the seaside village of Ōakura in 1989. “Every time I talk to anyone about this house, they’ve been partying here.” She was told illegal alcohol was being sold on the property.
As Arielle began revitalizing the home, she sought help from seasoned friends she calls “the good uncles,” in her surfing circle, and with her health and safety job. “The only commodity that really matters is time. And the best time I’ve had is working side by side with my good uncles who patiently taught me skills.” Arielle felt like an apprentice – learning how to insulate, line walls, build decks, den Garden landscaped, crafted redwood countertops and clapboard the outdoor shower walls to create a work of art. She even re-enamelled a cast-iron bathtub herself.
She started in the hallway and ripped out the scrim covering the walls. As she worked, Arielle found that she was not alone. “I really love the wood, but it was boring. The house was like Swiss cheese.” Every hole was treated and filled, thanks to information from the internet: “Google is a beautiful thing.”
The renovation took seven years, on which she sometimes worked up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week. “Every inch of this place had my hands in it,” she says. “I’m very proud of this whole endeavor.”
The hard work was interrupted by trips to California to visit her French-born mother, Marie. Ariel’s background is steeped in creativity. Marie is a weaver and glass painter, and her American father, Richard, ran a mechanic’s business and played the clarinet in a Jewish klezmer band.
“My late father always believed in the importance of pushing yourself to learn as much as you can while leaning on yourself to achieve seemingly impossible goals. There is a great opportunity to fail, but an even greater opportunity to learn.”
Arielle studied performing arts and evolutionary biology, eventually working in art and wardrobe departments for the film and television industry in Los Angeles. She once made piñatas in the shape of musician Beck for his Summer Girl video. “He loved her so much that he kept her,” she says. “He was my first crush when I was 12.” She also learned to sew around this age and began collecting vintage clothing and fabrics.
In 2012, after crafting a wedding dress from 15 Battenberg lace table runners, she was invited to show her Californian-inspired hippie-chic collection under the Arielle Mermin label at New Zealand Fashion Week.
The shop may have closed in 2017, but now she’s back to imagining, designing and sewing again. “The renovation of this house has allowed me to pursue my creative roots and my life’s work after many years of intellectual and creative hibernation.”
Her newest venture, Mr. and Ms. Weekend, reuses reclaimed vintage fabrics, this time to make hats, jackets and coats.
Her brand not only celebrates the beauty of the past, but also her home, which is full of found, recycled and reused treasures. “I always extend the life of old things and honor their history as much as possible,” Arielle says.
“Apparel should have the same meaning. I really want my brand to encourage consumers to evaluate their relationship with what they buy, where it came from, how it’s disposed of and to value unique items. No mass-produced clothes or furniture with insane price premiums that are made completely unsustainably.”
She chooses the bathroom as the best room in the house. Formerly two rooms, it features the original claw foot bath, as well as carved Indian pieces including a huge mirror, the architrave over the door and a table with a waka-shaped sink. At the shower end of the bathroom, a wooden partition with a Thai mandala pattern ensures privacy.
“So many people come to my house and they love it because it’s like nothing else they’ve seen. It’s not perfect, but I love it,” says Arielle.
“This home helped me heal the loss of my parents, my marriage and my business and gave me the confidence to move forward with a new business.”
Questions and Answers with Arielle Mermin
My furnishing style is: Eclectic California surfer on a budget.
Best decoration tip: Decorating is an absolute joy, so have fun and be yourself. At the end of the day, you create a space for yourself. Even if you plan to sell down the line, give your home an atmosphere you like. So if you see something that catches your eye, go for it – the space and home will evolve around these pieces.
Favorite power tool: My Multitool – It’s the tool for every decorating need.
If there was one thing I would do differently: First, I had removed two trees at the back of the house that took all the light out of the bedrooms. I just have a feeling if you can keep trees – even though I’m growing a crazy amount with the natives right now – then keep trees.
The first thing I do when I get home: As I work from home it would be washing my wet suit as that is the only reason I usually leave the property.