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1 July 2021

The Art of Living

Behind the double-brick walls of this handsome, Federation-style villa, its owners have created a dazzling homage to New Zealand Pop Art.


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There’s something quite unique about number 21 Ponsonby Terrace. Clearly, it has oodles of street appeal – its solid, red-brick construction with contrasting black roof and fencing setting it apart from its more commonplace white, wooden neighbours – but it’s not until you step inside that it really begins to pop.

In case you missed it, owners Steven and Alex are avid collectors of art – particularly local Pop Art, which they have liberally splashed over almost every wall and surface in their home. The result stops you in your tracks, especially when you walk around their home in person.

The art is mainly Steven’s ‘obsession’, but since the couple has been together, they have started collecting pieces between the two of them.

“A lot of the original art is mine, but we’ve added to it quite significantly since we’ve been living here, and it’s been a joint thing,” says Steven. “I’d never buy anything Alex doesn’t like, so we make sure that anything that goes up on the wall brings joy to both of us."

“We don’t collect for the investment. We buy what we like, and not all of it is expensive, or from recognised artists. For example, just behind you,” he says pointing to an elaborate frame above my head, “we went to see Harry Potter at the theatre in Melbourne, and we bought a cheap little wand, so we thought we’d frame it up as a memory of that trip.”

Every piece of art in Alex and Steven’s home comes with a memory of where they were, or what they were doing at the time. And that’s something that runs true for all of us, for the art we have on the walls of our own homes – except in their case, there’s a lot more to take in.

It goes without saying that there is a lot of art in this home. The way that it is displayed has been an evolution. It’s organic, says Steven. There’s been no plan, per se, although pieces from the same artists or groups of similar styles have migrated together to form ‘collections’ on some walls over time. But not always, he says. “We move pieces around all the time. There is nothing that’s curated about our collection. It’s more like, how can we make this new piece work?”

“Over the years we have built up relationships with galleries and formed friendships with favourite artists, which means that we have access to and can source pieces that normally you couldn’t get. They now know instinctively what we like, and if they see something, they give us a call.”

Art aside, Alex and Steven have carried out a beautiful and well-considered renovation of this classic brick villa. The kitchen and bathroom are both extremely well appointed and finished, and the light fittings throughout the house are of great quality and design. The outside, too, has been completely reimagined and is now a low-maintenance entertainment and relaxation space that can be used in all four seasons.

For Steven, the house reminds him of the Federation-style homes seen in the inner-city suburbs of Melbourne and Sydney – and that was one of the features that attracted him to the house in the first place. 

“We bought it from a couple, who were downsizing. I had a really good feeling about the place when we first walked through it. The bones were really good, and it was solid,” he says. 

“We didn’t want to do the big extension with the bi-fold doors out the back that you see in every other villa. We liked the way that it looked and we wanted to retain its original character as much as possible. We like the two bedrooms at the front, the separate lounge at the centre of the house, and this area at the back where we do most of our living – and of course the connection to the outdoor space.” 

Alex says that the brief to their landscape designer was to make the outdoor area dog friendly. It’s fully fenced, and the grass is faux – though you wouldn’t know it, it’s so realistic. Everything is new, apart from the lemon tree and the two palm trees, he says. The front and back have been completely re-designed, re-planted, re-decked and fully irrigated, making it extremely low-maintenance. It’s also very private.

“Inside, we refitted the bathroom, reconfigured the kitchen layout, and added a scullery, but all the plumbing is in its original place,” says Alex. “We also added underfloor heating in the bathroom, and insulated under the floors and up in the ceiling.”

 For Alex and Steven, one of the biggest things to come out of living in this house is that they have discovered that they really love the process of the renovation, and that they worked really well together. “I’m a bit more out there and Alex is more restrained, which makes a perfect balance of working through what works and what doesn’t,” says Steven.

 Alex says that they love the house, they love living here, and that the neighbours and the neighbourhood is great, but they also love the challenge of doing something new and creating new experiences, and that’s ultimately why they have decided to move on. 

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