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Head-turning interiors

14 February 2019
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Words Gaynor Stanley
Photography Charlie Rose Creative

This quietly elegant family haven has turned the heads of some of the world’s most discerning interiors critics. Lounging gracefully on an Avon stream flowing by to Mona Vale, the home’s blend of equal parts refinement, equal parts vibrancy has earned it international plaudits.
Melissa and Mark Prosser moved into the warm and welcoming home they built two years ago, after working for about 18 months with interior designer Ben Lewis of Trenzseater to achieve interiors that were new, exciting and unexpected. Correspondingly, Ben’s brief was to create a space that was useable, not precious, and could easily be lived in by a family. The result was a triumph that saw the interiors shortlisted for London’s International Design & Architectural Awards 2018 and the SBID International Design Awards 2018.

The couple, particularly Melissa, had firm ideas on style having built two prior homes for themselves and many more for clients of Mark Prosser Builders. The home demonstrates an appreciable balance of both designer wants and client needs. Well, the yin and yang of Melissa and Ben, that is. “Mark doesn’t factor in at all,” laughs Melissa. His favourite spot is the garage, home to his prized Toyota Landcruiser BJ40, back-up beer fridge and beloved 40th birthday gift, chocolate labrador Mac, so named for Mark’s initials Mark Alexander Cook. Their 20-year-old son, Alex, also lives here, as did his 22-year-old sister Jessica until recently (she’s now moved
out to her first home). Alex then took the opportunity to nab the guest bedroom downstairs. “Not sure why as both his rooms enjoyed the same view over the Wairarapa Stream. Maybe to do with coming and going easier,” muses Melissa.

Working in the family business, Melissa had boundless inspiration to draw on, from fabulous homes she’d encountered and admired. “But it was information overload, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. I moved past the point of wanting to do it myself, so that’s why I got Ben in.

“One of the reasons I chose Ben is he likes to push the boundaries. However, we don’t like modern. We wanted enduring and classic.”
Ben then had the challenge of delivering a classic style that was sophisticated yet inventive. The task was perhaps made easier by virtually every item of furniture – bar a chaise lounge in the hallway that was Mark’s grandfather’s and some pieces from Furnishscene (now Design Supply Co) – being sourced new or especially made locally by Trenzseater. Their previous home’s furniture either went to Jessica’s new house or to the family holiday house in the Marlborough Sounds being renovated at the time. “The design was intentionally designed to be timeless,” says Ben. “We used a neutral colour palette accented with strong natural browns and blacks as well as classic camel accents. We also popped various areas with fresh emerald green to add visual vibrancy.”

Ben’s brief was for a full interior design package that also included some architectural elements, kitchen and bathroom design consultation, door hardware, lighting, flooring, window furnishings, and wallcoverings.
An inspired architectural contribution was his suggestion of ‘bookmatched’ Neolith Calacatta Gold marble, from CDK Stone, to meet the Prossers’ wish to upgrade the gibboard wall in the stairwell specified in the original Sheppard & Rout plans they’d bought with the section. This magnificent feature wall – a feat of engineering – forms the spine of the house and extends outside to the entrance porch. The softly veined, greytoned marble recurs in the kitchen and two of the four bathrooms.

The marble’s lustre is about the extent of the sheen though. While Ben loves gloss, Melissa restrained its presence to the occasional black Miyaki sideboard and side table. “We’re not glossy people,” she says. Similarly, she curbed his trademark green, which initially she declared “she was over seeing everywhere”, to a resplendent dollop of vivid emerald here and there. “Ben needs to be seen to be evolving and he has great ideas,” Melissa says. Happy to consider them all, Ben, in turn, gladly accepted her just saying “yes” or “no” to his suggestions. Melissa’s affectionate touch is evident in every room, but her favourite feature of the 424m² home on its 1954m² rear section, is its privacy from the road and the huge amount of space.

The Prossers also negotiated to buy the section in front to build and sell a single-storey home that protects their secluded aspect. “We love it. It’s just perfect. We come from the country and like our space.” Not that the home feels cavernous. Despite being spacious and contemporary, that palpable starkness of many modern dwellings is absent thanks to the classic furnishings and natural textures in relatable interiors. “I like snug,” says Melissa, who also channelled that architecturally by changing the original plans for a walk-in pantry and media room into the downstairs bedroom and plans for an indoor pool into an outdoor room with a fireplace.

Some have queried the lack of a walk-in pantry in such a prestigious home, but Melissa says this was planned from the outset of the kitchen she designed with long-time collaborator Richard Hill of Joinery Scene. She had a massive pantry in her Ohoka home off the kitchen and “found I was constantly tidying away and cleaning up after the family”. Here the pantry runs the full width of the kitchen splashback, hidden behind marble cupboard doors. Similarly hidden in plain sight are the ovens that blend invisibly into the end wall of black glass. The kitchen has the largest island
bench Christchurch Corian has ever made at a whopping 4.2m long by 1.5m wide. Another Melissa specification to get her dream functional kitchen, was that it be wide enough for two wine fridges that open to the entertaining area.

Ben says his favourite aspect of this project was collaborating with the Prossers to ensure all elements of the design and architecture melded cohesively. “Also pushing the boundaries to offer something unique and unexpected, such as the combination of parquetry timber work mixed with banana leaf and seagrass wallpapers accented with crystal lighting and brushed brass door hardware.” Oak parquet flooring, dark chocolate American oak timber joinery, doors and furniture, European rugs and mirrors, flock and glass wallpapers, fine wools and antiqued leather layer further natural texture. “We believe it’s the details that offer refinement,
personality, balance, character and luxury,” says Ben. He certainly nailed the brief for this building duo who may have laid their final foundation, loving their move to town after decades living in traditional country homesteads. The Prossers are totally at home in their contemporary city abode. “For the first time we actually feel really settled,” says Melissa.

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