Sharon Robinson likes to downplay her ability to spot and secure a good buy on Trade Me, but she doesn’t fool her other half. “I would call her an expert,” says husband Paul, who has watched her design the interiors of their Northland vacation home with an unwavering commitment to well-considered purchases.
The two met in the mid-1970s when 17-year-old Sharon was working at Whitcoulls during the school holidays and Paul, a client, asked her for advice on slide rules. “I had to come up with an excuse to talk to her,” he explains. They are a seasoned renovation team having renovated several homes in Adelaide, where they lived for 10 years during their early marriage, and in Auckland and Whangārei for the next 25 years.
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It was 1992 when a magical moment, sitting under a Pōhutukawa in Whangaumu Bay on the Tutukaka Coast, cemented their resolve to return to New Zealand with their two young daughters. A few decades later, these two girls – Natalie and Sophie – have children of their own, so with the goal of eventually retiring to the region, the Robinsons searched for a place that would lure them all to visit – often. They found it somewhere in a subdivision in Headland Farm Park, a 125-acre stretch of scenic peninsula between Tamaterau and Pārua Bay on the way to the Whangārei Heads.
When Sharon first saw this house, built in the late 1980s, it was in a state of disrepair. “It was rented and unloved,” she says. “It was a wreck.” Paul took a practical look at it. “He wasn’t thrilled at first seeing how much time and effort it would take.”
But beyond the knotty pine ceilings, the worn carpet, and the scuff marks on the doors, there was hope. Living rooms faced north, high ceilings gave a sense of spaciousness, and the section was secluded. A view across a golf course and a bush reserve to a peaceful bay was the deciding factor.
Thus began the renovations that included a lifestyle to look forward to. Though the footprint and floorplan haven’t changed, the Robinsons’ updates touched every surface. Out came the kitchen and bathrooms, the flooring, and away came the rotten pine deck and wobbly railings at the front of the house. Slowly, the long, ranch-style building emerged from its yellowish age doll to be reborn in fresh, contemporary tones.
The board-and-batten paneling, once crimson, has been painted black and white, a classic combination that continues throughout the interiors. Dulux Okarito white ceilings sit elegantly next to an inky Dulux Piha fireplace wall, and new American oak floors run through the living rooms.
Paul, glad for once not having to do all the work himself, took the advice of fellow architect Hamish Boyd to reinvent outdoor living. The addition of a structural steel beam allowed the newly extended deck to be covered with a wing roof. Another deck now wraps around the pool and ties it to the house. “I spent a few days bending over to tile the waterline with mosaics. It killed my knees,” he recalls.
While Paul put his patellas on the line to prettify the pool, Sharon turned her focus inward. The two-tone kitchen is a modern take on the Shaker style. “We have now designed five kitchens,” explains Sharon. “Two for ourselves, one each for our daughters and one for my mother.” Even with a lot of experience, the decision to fit tall cabinets was a difficult one. “I prefer lots of drawers because you can see everything at a glance, but we felt that this aesthetic needed tall cabinets.”
Guests can pull up a stool on the central island and admire one of Sharon’s curations. “I like to make vignettes of mini-collections,” she explains. Like assembling vintage bottles on the windowsill. They are decorated in the lightest blue, which refracts the light in a similar way to the porcelain splashback tiles.
“The tiles are Spanish and handmade; I love her imperfect finish,” says Sharon.
She’s a self-taught, instinctive designer who loves texture – linen-colored floor tiles and mix-and-match textured bathroom wall tiles are particular accents. A window here frames a Japanese-style garden, all lush, structured intimacy in complete contrast to the wide, open vistas.
When Sharon’s mother emigrated to Gore from Tokyo in the mid-1950s, she was welcomed by the tiny community, who took her in and offered to teach her how to make pike-perch. There are hints of that East Asian heritage: that Zen garden, that freestanding tub with accessories made from raw wood, and her love of herons and cranes. “Cranes are considered lucky in Japanese culture,” says Sharon.
Bunnies and bunnies, however, rule in a bedroom Sharon set up for her two youngest grandchildren, aged 6 and 7. The pair of French antique beds and blue checked curtains were finds by Trade Me. Sharon loves the way the online site opens up a world of decorative options and allows her to achieve something handmade rather than mass-produced: “I’m a ‘now buy’ fan, not a bidder.”
It’s a method that seems to work and brings a rich eclecticism to the home. Every two weeks, the couple head here from the big city, with Bella, the ragdoll cat, in tow.
After 18 months of renovations, they have earned a comfortable retirement. Will you? It’s doubtful – there are far too many ideas to explore. With results like these, it’s easy to understand her passion for a project. Why change the habit of life?
Questions and Answers with Sharon Robinson
Garden plans: Having a professionally designed landscaping concept that includes zones such as raised beds for cut flowers near the home. In addition, natives such as flax, hebe, and other shrubs will grow to attract nectar-eating birds, bees, and butterflies.
This is how you can tell whether a renovation is worthwhile: For us, the renovation must add value and pleasure to our way of life – and make financial sense. Our goal is for the total cost of the home and its renovation to be less than the market value of the property once the renovation is complete.
This project taught me one thing: Choosing the highest quality products and materials you can afford, with long term reliability, low maintenance and low cost of ownership in mind.
Favorite Local Design Store: We love visiting the Burning Issues Gallery in Whangarei City Basin. We especially love the beautiful blown glass art there.
We love this area because: From the friendliness, slower pace of life and unpretentious people, along with the beauty and connection to nature that the Whangārei Heads and surrounding areas offer.