Strolling through Tricia and Jonothan Briscoe’s home in Wellington is like stepping into an art gallery. From the moment you step through the Art Deco front door, there is something to marvel at: an antique dresser in the entryway sits with a glass vase by Ann Robinson, the hallway is lined with artwork by Fiona Pardington, Milan Mrkusich, Dick Frizzell and Ralph Hotere, and the open-plan living, kitchen, and dining room are overflowing with mid-century artwork, furniture, and items that the couple have collected over the years.
With a Colin McCahon on the wall in the parlor and a Don Binney in the main living area, Tricia and Jonothan’s Grade II listed two-bedroom villa is an art lover’s paradise – so much so that the couple have welcomed visiting art groups.
Two years ago, Tricia, a family doctor, and Jonothan, a retired family lawyer, moved to Wellington from their large home and section in Rotorua to be close to their two adult sons and six grandchildren. They bought the Mt. Victoria house in 2017 and hired architect Richard Baigent to modernize it. One of her dilemmas, however, was keeping enough wall space to avoid having to store part of her beloved art collection. “We worried about that because our last house was so much bigger,” says Tricia.
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They’ve managed to fit all the art, and now even the garage and laundry are filled with masterpieces: a Shane Cotton hanging in the laundry and a Gretchen Albrecht in the carpeted garage.
In the master bedroom, a work by Séraphine Pick, which one, hangs above the bed. A bronze figure of Ken Kendall by the bed pays homage to the past, when Jonothan went to school with the sculptor.
Many of the artworks they have collected over three decades have a story behind them. Jonothan remembers buying the Don Binney – they visited the artist in his studio, saw him at work on a piece on an easel and later bought it. A Gretchen Albrecht arches over the chest of drawers in the dining room. Upon purchase, they received a letter from the artist telling them that she had created Penumbra (In Memory Of My Father) in honor of her late father.
They also know something about the history of their mansion. Built for two unmarried sisters in the 1890s, it has seen several reincarnations over the years. When Tricia and Jonothan bought it, the 1960s kitchen was rough and tired – now it’s being revived with crisp white tiling, a black iron stove and scullery.
The house stood on old Tōtara stilts. “When the washing machine spun, the floor moved,” says Jonothan, laughing. Rugs bought on trips abroad line mataī floorboards throughout the home.
Tricia wanted to create the feel of an English country house. “Houses feel good, and this one did. It needed some modernization and some love.”
Listed building codes prevented them from expanding upwards, although the architect managed to fit an attic with a pull-down ladder, which became Tricia’s GP practice during lockdown.
He also transformed the small former kitchen and living area by opening the rooms into one and adding floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors. A third bedroom has been converted into a cozy outbuilding and a basement excavated for storage.
Along with their art, the couple brought other collections from Rotorua. Tricia’s 19th-century Masonic jars are in a display case above the stove. Pewter mugs that Tricia has given Jonothan for birthdays and Christmas over the years are lined up on a shelf like soldiers.
“We couldn’t have silver jars in Rotorua because they would turn black because of the sulphur,” she says.
Their home is full of mid-century objects, antiques and furniture, many of which they have inherited. “I just love the shapes and design of mid-century furniture,” says Tricia, seated in a red Egg chair. A Tulip table dominates the dining room, while an Arco floor lamp hangs above it.
They found the antique credenza in the entryway of a Foxton thrift store, and now it sits perfectly next to the front entrance. “We knew we had to find a place for it in the house, and it feels so right here.” A silver pointed shooting cup is one of Jonothan’s most prized possessions, bestowed on his great-grandfather in 1891.
The striking Art Deco front door was likely added during one of the home’s renovations. “We had to move it when we were renovating it, so we all had our fingers crossed that none of the panels would break,” says Jonothan.
One of Tricia’s favorite rooms is the master bathroom, lined with Cole & Son wallpaper. Lying in the bath, she looks out from the trees on the wall towards the city belt of Mt. Victoria, which she can see through the small window. Outside the bathroom, a tiny enclosed area that was once filled with construction debris and old pipes has been transformed into a small fern.
After tending a large property for 20 years, Tricia and Jonothan were ready for a smaller garden. It is planted with feijoa, lime and olive trees and Tricia has repotted orchids originally from her father’s garden in Eastbourne.
The couple live so close to the city and love to walk everywhere. Jonothan says: “It’s like living in a spacious apartment without the worries of corporate administration or quarrels with neighbours. We still have an outdoor area and our own space, but we no longer have a large property to take care of.”
Questions and Answers with Tricia & Jonothan Briscoe
A tip for others: Have a ‘wish book’ with idea snippets and pictures – it was a great help in explaining to our architect and designer what we wanted. (Tricia)
Best Advice: Build a relationship with a trusted interior designer to flesh out your vision. (Jonothan)
I had pictures of the greenery for the bedroom walls but couldn’t find it despite numerous test pots. Interior designer Mike Steiner looked at my pictures and said Resene Beryl Green. (Tricia)
Best Budget Tip: Being able to explore ideas with our architect Richard Baigent – he was such a good reality check, turning our flights of fancy into practical solutions. (Tricia)
The bravest thing we did in the house: Floor-to-ceiling glazing at the end of the living area – so modern and yet so beautiful. (Tricia)
One thing we would do differently: Not realizing how warm the house would be once fully insulated, we kept the existing sealed kitchen skylight. We recently replaced it with one that opens. (Jonothan)
low point: Within two weeks, with floors, walls and ceilings disappearing in the middle of winter, we realized we couldn’t survive the renovations and had to move out. (Jonothan)
peak: We have lived in a different place each month due to the renovations and got to know Wellington and the surrounding area really well. (Tricia)