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  • The grand white house and sprawl­ing bush

Round­ing the corner of Mah­ina Bay, just past the multi-col­oured bus stop and right on the seafront, sits a little slice of para­dise. Walk­ing into Josephine Culhane’s 1940s two-storey con­crete house, you imme­di­ately feel calm and col­lec­ted. From the ocean views that stretch out across the bay to Wel­ling­ton city, to the abund­ance of bush and wild­life sprawl­ing up behind the house, there really is an amaz­ing energy about this home.

Cul­hane bought the European-style house a little over a year ago, and has main­tained its pres­ence and beauty since then. The house was ori­gin­ally built by hand in the 1940s, primar­ily from con­crete as well as frame and plaster. Dur­ing the build­ing stage, sand from the beach was used in the plaster mix, cre­at­ing a lit­er­al beach house. As well as inspir­ing the design pro­cess, the beach and ocean across the road cre­ate an inter­est­ing and col­our­ful sea­side com­munity, with dol­phins, seals, seagulls and even orca call­ing the bay their home.

The house has had a vari­ety of res­id­ents over the years and each has added their own unique touch. Nic­ola Olsen bought the house from the builder’s chil­dren in 1992 and car­ried out con­sid­er­able renov­a­tions to the top and bot­tom storeys, although she says main­tain­ing the bones of the ori­gin­al house was a pri­or­ity. The down­stairs area was pre­vi­ously used as a gar­age and work­shop until Olsen trans­formed it into a self-con­tained apartment.

As you walk through the house you notice a har­mony between con­tem­por­ary and clas­sic design. Newly ren­ov­ated bath­rooms fea­ture antique taps, and a vin­tage painter’s trestle holds a flat-screen tele­vi­sion. Both the house and apart­ment have a strong European influ­ence, with crisp white con­crete interi­or walls, impor­ted Itali­an stone floors and wide open spaces. Olsen acquired much of the fur­niture and art that adorns the house, opt­ing to leave it there for Cul­hane to enjoy rather than put it into storage.

An enorm­ous white-framed mir­ror is an imme­di­ate eye-catch­er as you enter the lounge area, which Culhane’s cats swear is haunted. The mir­ror – and a white wooden side table beside it – are both Louis XIV and bought by Olsen from a Thorndon Quay antique store that spe­cial­ised in French and Eng­lish fur­niture. With her love for French-style decor, it was fate that Olsen was to move to the south of France.

The house is nestled in the crook of the bay, per­fectly sheltered from both the north­erly and south­erly winds: dur­ing the big storm of June 2013, it was com­pletely pro­tec­ted. Cul­hane recalls the sea spill­ing over into her gar­age, with sea­weed and sea creatures find­ing their way into her yard. Des­pite the destruc­tion, the house itself remained com­pletely intact. Mah­ina Bay is with­in walk­ing dis­tance of the Days Bay ferry, which is a fant­ast­ic way to travel across the har­bour to the city. The bay is also close to Lower Hutt, where Cul­hane works as a kinder­garten teach­er and teach­er trainer.

Cul­hane fell in love with the Mah­ina Bay home due to its stun­ning sea views and great loc­a­tion. Her friend Samara McDow­ell (see our IIML fea­ture on page 28) wrote to her one even­ing while sit­ting in the house, “The bay, as beau­ti­ful as ever, wash­ing in smoothly under a black sky, and the lights all twink­ling”. Cul­hane has this quote dis­played on her wall, a con­stant remind­er of her little slice of heaven.

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