Wandering through Tricia and Jonothan Briscoe’s Wellington home is akin to being in an art gallery. From the moment you step through the art deco front door, there is something to gaze at: an Ann Robinson glass vase sits on an antique credenza in the entranceway, the hallway is lined with artworks by Fiona Pardington, Milan Mrkusich, Dick Frizzell and Ralph Hotere, and the open-plan living, kitchen and dining room overflows with artworks, mid-century furniture and objects the couple have collected over the years.
With a Colin McCahon on a wall in the snug and a Don Binney in the main living area, Tricia and Jonothan’s two-bedroom heritage villa is an art lovers’ haven – so much so that the couple have welcomed art groups to visit.
Two years ago, Tricia, a GP, and Jonothan, a retired family lawyer, shifted from their large Rotorua home and section to Wellington, to be near their two adult sons and six grandchildren. They had bought the Mt Victoria house in 2017 and commissioned architect Richard Baigent to modernise it. However, one of their dilemmas was how to keep enough wall space to avoid having to put part of their much-loved art collection into storage. “We worried about that, as our last house was so much bigger,” says Tricia.
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They’ve managed to fit in all of the art, and now even the garage and laundry feature masterpieces: a Shane Cotton hangs in the laundry and a Gretchen Albrecht in the carpeted garage.
In the master bedroom, a Séraphine Pick work, Which One, hangs above the bed. A Ken Kendall bronze figurine beside the bed is a nod to the past, as Jonothan went to school with the sculptor.
Many of the artworks they have collected over three decades have a story behind them. Jonothan recalls buying the Don Binney – they visited the artist in his studio, saw him working on a piece on an easel and later bought it. A Gretchen Albrecht curves above the dresser in the dining room. After buying it, they received a letter from the artist, who told them she made the work, Penumbra (In Memory Of My Father), to honor her late father.
They also know something of their villa’s story. It was built in the 1890s for two unmarried sisters and underwent several reincarnations over the years. When Tricia and Jonothan bought it, the 1960s kitchen was rough and tired – it’s now revived with fresh white tiles, a black iron stove and a scullery.
The house sat on old tōtara piles. “When the washing machine was spinning, the floor moved,” Jonothan says with a laugh. Rugs bought during overseas travels line the mataī floorboards throughout the house.
Tricia wanted to create the feel of an English country home. “Houses have a good feel about them and this one did. It needed some modernising and some love.”
Due to heritage building rules, they couldn’t expand upstairs, although the architect did manage to squeeze in an attic with a pull-down ladder, which became Tricia’s GP office during the lockdown.
He also transformed the small former kitchen and living area, opening up the rooms into one space and adding floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding doors. A third bedroom was turned into a snug off the new living area and a cellar was dug out for storage.
Along with their art, the couple brought other collections from Rotorua. Tricia’s 19th century Masons jugs sit in a glass cabinet above the stove. Pewter jugs, which Tricia has given to Jonothan for birthdays and Christmases over the years, are lined up on a shelf like soldiers.
“We couldn’t have silver jugs in Rotorua because they’d go black due to the sulfur,” she says.
Their home is full of a mix of objects, antiques and mid-century furniture, many of which they’ve inherited. “I just like the shapes and the designs of mid-century furniture,” says Tricia, sitting in a red egg chair. A Tulip table dominates the dining room, while an Arco floor lamp hangs above.
They found the antique credenza in the entranceway in a secondhand shop in Foxton, and it’s now perfectly nestled near the front entrance. “We knew we had to find somewhere in the house for it and it feels so right here.” A silver shooting cup on top is one of Jonothan’s prized possessions, awarded to his great-grandfather in 1891.
The striking art deco front door was probably added during one of the home’s renovations. “We had to move it when we renovated, so we all had our fingers crossed that none of the panels would break,” says Jonothan.
One of Tricia’s favorite rooms is the main bathroom, which is lined with Cole & Son wallpaper. When she lies in the bath, she looks from the trees on the wall to glimpses of the Mt Victoria town belt she can see through the small window. Outside the bathroom, a tiny enclosed area once filled with builders’ junk and old pipes has been turned into a small fernery.
After tending a large property for 20 years, Tricia and Jonothan were ready for a smaller garden. It’s planted with feijoa, lime and olive trees, and Tricia has repotted orchids which originally came from her father’s garden in Eastbourne.
Living so close to town, the couple love walking everywhere. Says Jonothan: “It’s like living in a good-sized apartment without the worries of body corporate administration or wrangling with neighbors. We’ve still got an outside area and our own space but we no longer have a large property we have to worry about.”
Q&A with Tricia & Jonothan Briscoe
A tip for others: Have a “wish book” with cuttings of ideas and images – it was a big help in explaining what we wanted to our architect and designer. (Tricia)
Best advice: Have a relationship with a trusted interior designer to crystalise your vision. (Jonothan)
I had pictures of the green for the bedroom walls but failed to find it despite numerous testpots. Interior designer Mike Steiner looked at my pictures and said Resene Beryl Green. (Tricia)
Best budget tip: Being able to sound out ideas with our architect Richard Baigent – he was such a good reality check, creating practical solutions from our flights of fancy. (Tricia)
Bravest thing we did around the house: Full height glazing at the end of the living area – so modern yet it looks so right. (Tricia)
One thing we would do differently: We didn’t realise how warm the house would be once it was fully insulated and so left the existing sealed kitchen skylight. We recently replaced it with one that opens. (Jonothan)
Low point: Realising within two weeks as floors, walls and ceilings disappeared in mid winter, that we couldn’t live through the renovations and had to move out. (Jonothan)
high point: We lived in a different place every month through the renovations and got to know Wellington and its surroundings really well. (Tricia)