Top sailors Reno of his childhood home in Auckland

In Valencia you could call it una casa hermosa (a beautiful house); in San Francisco street slang they’d probably rave that the decor is neat as hell, but for Melanie and Joe Spooner, who have immersed themselves in both of these Northern Hemisphere cities for several years, this residence on the slopes of Remuera, Auckland, is the it’s practically rebuilt, it’s a place that belongs.

From the balcony of the master bedroom of her home in Remuera, Melanie Spooner can keep an eye on the tweens and teens in the pool, but there are also great views over the neighborhood and even the Sky Tower in the distance.

Jackie Meiring/NZ Home & Garden

From the balcony of the master bedroom of her home in Remuera, Melanie Spooner can keep an eye on the tweens and teens in the pool, but there are also great views over the neighborhood and even the Sky Tower in the distance.

For Joe, who lived here as a teenager, there is a personal history in the house and in the neighborhood. For Melanie, who is originally from the North Shore, it was a place where she could see her children – Lucia, now 14, and Ruben, 12 – living like Kiwis. “Both of our children were born in Spain and have American accents,” she explains. In 2016, a decade into Joe’s America’s Cup sailing career, it was time to bring her home.

CONTINUE READING:
* Designer house answers some tricky health needs
* Steep terrain? No problem, say these creative gardeners from Christchurch
* Extreme DIY home reno helps taranaki homeowners heal

Joe’s parents moved into the California bungalow in the mid-1980s. They were avid gardeners and created a lush patchwork of plants surrounding the three bedroom apartment. About 35 years later, maintaining the property was getting a bit too much for Joe’s father, so the second generation of Spooners bought the house and began remodeling it for their own young family.

Melanie displays Murano glass vases bought from her mother's Auckland store, La Dolce Vita Vintage, on a sideboard in the open-plan living area: "I love their faceted shape as opposed to the traditional Murano style," She says;  Furniture includes two 1930's Italian chairs and a molded plywood Eames chair.  The painting was commissioned by Nicky Foreman, an artist from Auckland.

Jackie Meiring/NZ Home & Garden

Melanie displays Murano glass vases bought from her mother’s Auckland shop, La Dolce Vita Vintage, on a sideboard in the open-plan living area: “I love their faceted shape as opposed to the traditional Murano style,” she says; Furniture includes two 1930’s Italian chairs and a molded plywood Eames chair. The painting was commissioned by Nicky Foreman, an artist from Auckland.

The couple previously lived in a Victorian home in San Francisco, so they had an affinity for the character. Although they loved the original features of this home, it lacked a powder room and laundry facilities, the hallway was dark and narrow, and the plum color scheme was a little depressing. While they would have liked to keep the garden active, the plant carpet was high maintenance and the lack of outdoor space unsuited to the boisterous needs of tweens and teens. A complete repetition was planned.

Say it fast and it seems easy; essentially it was a lengthy process. “First we had to get a permit and a design, then we moved out for two years while they were demolished and rebuilt,” says Melanie. Makes sense when you see the scope. From the basement, where they excavated another 40cm to reach full head height, to the central core, where they widened and raised the hallway, to the annexes – a loft guest room above a new double garage, additional living area material and a new master suite upstairs – the bungalow has been pushed and pulled back and forth.

Architect Warwick Lee, a family friend, blended the emerging aesthetic with the old while maintaining a sense of nostalgia. Elements such as lead-light windows, a brick fireplace, paneling and beamed ceilings have been retained or replicated where possible, but a new double-height entry foyer and hallway rising to 5m are very contemporary. Original dark-stained Jarrah floors give way to concrete in the large open-plan living area, and the connection to the outdoors with basketball courts, a swimming pool and spa completes the structural revolution.

As a convoy of handymen rolled by to effect the transformation, Joe and Melanie tried to keep their finger on the pulse while holding the reins of Kiwi Flush, a business they started as a side hustle and just found themselves developed. “Portable toilets,” says Melanie. “It’s random and not very glamorous, but we’re fortunate that we’ve been successful during the pandemic. What we missed by canceling events, we more than made up for with construction sites.”

Arabescato marble by SCE Stone & Design is like a work of art on the kitchen island and splashback;  Walnut veneer cabinets add more pattern to the mix and Joe, who was responsible for selecting the appliances, went for the industrial style with a Sub Zero refrigerator.

Jackie Meiring/NZ Home & Garden

Arabescato marble by SCE Stone & Design is like a work of art on the kitchen island and splashback; Walnut veneer cabinets add more pattern to the mix and Joe, who was responsible for selecting the appliances, went for the industrial style with a Sub Zero refrigerator.

It’s difficult to equate this stylish mum-of-two with the mobile washroom industry, but luckily the remodel provided ample opportunity to explore her creative side. In consultation with Clare Kitching from Peachhaus Design, she chose surfaces such as the lively veined Arabascato marble for the kitchen island and splashback. “It overhangs on three sides, so a special steel frame had to be built to support it,” she explains.

Her choice of walnut veneer for the cabinets evokes her love of mid-century design and international influences, which can be found in the dining room: a glittering circular chandelier above a glass and brass dining table with a gilt tray and crystal and vintage display case -Glassware. “I’m a fan of the Hollywood Regency style,” says Melanie, who is just as likely to buy these at a Webb’s auction, vintage furniture boutique, or online. “Some call me the Trade Me Queen,” she laughs. “I’ve set up a lot of favorite searches so I don’t miss anything.”

French designer Pierre Vandel is a current fix and in the formal lounge, a mid-century-style sofa and glamor-chic Vandel end-table are paired perfectly on a Persian rug in front of the white brick fireplace.

Melanie may inherit her eclectic eye from her mother, Wendy Paul, who is a curator of vintage clothing and other found objects: “Sometimes we swap pieces.” This long-held passion meant that by the time the couple was ready to move in, they already had a lot stored furniture. Two 1930s Italian chairs bought on a road trip from San Diego now flank a mid-century drinks cart found at the Alameda Pt Antiques Faire, east of San Francisco. “It was only right that I got the chairs because Joe bought a Mustang on the same trip,” says Melanie.

When the Spooners moved in in October 2020, the car designed as a “worker Thunderbird” fitted neatly into the new double garage. Melanie and Joe woke up that first morning to a distant view of the Sky Tower through the shutters of their bedroom roost, and the kids, who are losing their American twang, invited friends to swim in a celebration of post-lockdown freedom.

With rich personal history, global finds, and ample space for “we” and “me” times, the Mark Two version of the Spooner home has become the linchpin of a balanced, well-rounded lifestyle. “When we left San Fran I was concerned that I would miss the energy of this city,” says Melanie, “but this project was a labor of love. We have really settled in.”

Questions and Answers with Joe and Melanie Spooner

Best renovation tip: If you’re short on time, put together a great team. We brought in contractors, an architect and builder, but also an electrical consultant for lighting placement and an engineering consultant for recommendations on how to heat the home and pool/spa effectively. (Joe).

Best design decision we’ve made: Lots of living space – a stroke of luck with the work-from-home scenario because of Covid. We also didn’t want to make any compromises when it came to flexibility in the budget for special equipment and surfaces. At the time it feels like a bottomless pit, but when it all comes together… (Melanie)

Everything you would have done differently: Ultimately no. There were a few decisions that felt like budget blowouts at the time, but we don’t regret any of them. The built in spa was a last minute addition and is used every day. (Joe)

Next on the to-buy list: More Pierre Vandel. I’m obsessed with his vintage brass, glass and plexiglass pieces. They are very difficult to find but I am fortunate that Charlotte Rust from the Babelogue store will keep pieces for me as soon as they become available. (Melanie)

Favorite Garden Plants: The sago palms we kept from my parents’ garden and the sculptural form of the giant bromeliads (Alcantarea imperialis ‘Rubra’). (Joe)

Leave a Comment