Rosie Blockley had to do some persuasive talking when she showed her husband John the central Tauranga bungalow that would eventually become their home.
She certainly didn’t mention living inside the century-old wooden dwelling, with its dilapidated weatherboards and decades-old kitchen and bathroom. Words like “good investment” and “perfect place to operate my business from” were thrown around on the day the interior designer saw the place for the first time.
“As soon as I drove up to the entrance, I knew this was the house. I didn’t even need to get out of my car to know it just felt so right. It was in need of repair but I could see it had good bones and I could envisage exactly what it was going to look like.”
Five minutes after stepping through the front door in May 2015 Rosie asked the real estate agent to prepare a sale and purchase agreement while she fetched John from their much larger, more modern home alongside Mt Maunganui beach.
“I said, ‘I’ve found the most beautiful house for us to restore’ but on arrival Johnny was absolutely horrified. He said ‘Rosie, surely this is not it, I’m literally going to be working here for the rest of my life’.”
While his words proved sadly prophetic – John died in January this year after a brief illness – he came to cherish the property as much as his wife. Not only did he opt to live in it, he chose to spend his last days in the house, surrounded by family and friends.
Initially, the couple worked together to strip wallpaper, paint and transform their newly purchased property into Rosie’s La Belle Maison Interiors showroom. John, who worked full-time as a business development manager, spent countless evenings and many weekends toiling alongside Rosie on the project.
Contrary to many renovations of character homes and despite having to incorporate a showroom, they didn’t change the room layout. “Our previous houses were very open plan and I love the way this has individual rooms and each of them has its own theme,” says Rosie.
Once it was completed, the pair found themselves increasingly commuting 10 minutes from their beach home to enjoy weekend city breaks. They would stay amidst the showroom furniture and walk a couple of blocks into the city to dine in cafes and restaurants. In the process, John discovered latent green fingers. As a novice gardener, he took on the challenges of designing and laying out the grounds, breaking up old concrete paths, planting and clipping trees.
The flourishing potager – he’d never planted a vegetable plot – became his particular pride, along with luscious bunches of grapes growing on a vine he espaliered himself. Once the overgrown boundary hedge was removed, the harbour view appeared.
“Johnny used to stand out there of an evening and admire the beauty as the sun was setting over the water. He became more and more in love with the gardens he had created and wanted to spend more time there. He put so much love and effort into the restoration of the house, never believing that he would one day live there full-time.”
In the end, though, it was John’s idea to sell their Mt Maunganui home, to shift Rosie’s business into a separate building on site, then move permanently across Tauranga Harbour into the fully renovated abode two years ago.
Dealing with the renovation of their new two-bedroom home was a cinch for Rosie who filled it with an eclectic mix of furniture, modern art, lavish fabric and textiles, and various other collectables. Thanks to an interior design career spanning several decades and a stint in the fashion industry, she knows what she likes. She has also helped clients who longed for a traditional look or contemporary styling, and those who chased particular colours or sought anything from French industrial to Italianate interiors.
In her own homes she has experimented with plenty of styles from a pillared colonial look to pared-back minimalism.
“But you always end up coming back to what’s in your heart and I always wanted to live in a character home. I love colour and objects of desire and there is always room in my house for a new, desirable object.
“I’m a collector of drinking glasses,” she says, pointing to her Christmas table set with the Bohemian coloured wine glasses that belonged to her grandmother. “She was creative, so was my mother. Mum did incredible, beautiful hand embroidery so I was always dressed in smocked dresses. I used to do that for my girls, sew and hand-smock their dresses.”
John and Rosie’s three children Christopher, Nicole (deceased) and Lisa grew up at Mt Maunganui. Both Christopher and Lisa currently live in Australia.
“I have my own style and its very individual,” Rosie says, explaining she designed the skirt she is wearing to use a particular piece of drapery fabric.
“I am very passionate about fabrics. Every time I see a gorgeous, lovely new textile pass my way I’m always wanting to upholster and create beautiful chairs.” John had a favourite leather chair, at the southern end of the house that he would gravitate to with a book in the evenings.
“This beautiful house doesn’t hold sad memories for myself and our family. It’s one of the happiest and most joyful homes we have ever lived in and Johnny would quite often say ‘this is our haven’.”
This December Rosie has fully embraced her favourite festive season as always. Christmas wreaths and treasured decorations hang throughout the house and there are home-baked sweet treats to share with friends and family.
She will also contemplate joyful memories but also look to the future, in accordance with the strict instructions left by her husband of 42 years. His reminder is inscribed on the kitchen blackboard: “Don’t look back, you’re not going that way.”
I collect: Decorations everywhere I go. My favourite, on the front door wreath, is a little ball that was hand-painted by our grandson Cooper who lives in Australia.
The decorations: Always go up on 1 November.
I remember: My mum making Christmas one of the most special times of the year. The house was always fully decorated – we didn’t have much money and most things were handmade.
We always: Have a hot cooked dinner on Christmas night and the traditional Christmas pudding from the recipe my mother used all her life. Desserts are really my forte.
To me, Christmas: Has always meant family and friends and to understand the meaning of Christmas.
One of the best things I did at Christmas: Was to run a house tour fundraiser to buy groceries and treats for people who needed help. We raised $11,000.