Black Walls Bring The Wow Factor

Marama Durie shares her Palmerston North home with husband Colin McGrath. She bought the silver buffet from Republic, her favourite interiors store in Auckland: “I always stop there when I’m up!”; old couches were recovered with black velvet and match the Christian Lacroix wallpaper; the bright pink lampshade is covered in Designers Guild fabric; Bloomingville skull votives on a pedestal stand make an unusual centrepiece on the dining table.

Marama Durie has always loved colour but when she and her husband Colin McGrath finished renovating their art deco home in Palmerston North, their funds didn’t quite stretch to bright paint finishes and elaborate wallpapers.

“We had run out of money completely so we just painted it all white,” says Marama.

It’s not that she doesn’t like white homes, “but if I turn the page and there’s colour… that’s it”, says Marama. “I have to have that.”

And so, eight years later, there’s only one white wall left in the main living area and even that wasn’t intentional. “I hadn’t actually ordered enough wallpaper for that room,” she admits. “It was so expensive that I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll only do one wall!'”

Almost every other room, however, has been given the black wallpaper treatment, even the bedroom of rugby-mad 11-year-old son Tamati, the youngest of the blended family of four kids (the other three, now adults, have long since flown the coop).

“In every house I’ve lived in, I’ve had purple and pink and lime green but at the moment I love the black. Every wallpaper that I liked ended up being black. It looks a bit like a haunted house!”

Not quite. Marama and her mother Mavis Durie co-own Trumps, a one-stop women’s fashion store in Palmerston North, and like many fashionistas, Marama has an eye for design. Bursts of colour, including a bright pink cuckoo clock Marama’s mother bought for her years ago (“It’s lucky we have similar taste,” says Marama), as well as a multitude of windows, ensure that despite the dark walls, the house feels anything but dreary.

“I’m very lucky that Colin lets me do anything as far as the decor, even putting up pink wallpaper in our bedroom,” says Marama.

“He always says he likes whatever I’ve chosen. Although I have to admit that when on the spur of the moment I decided to paint the front door bright pink, he never commented. I might have taken it a bit too far with that.” Tamati, too, often gets asked for his design advice.

“He’s quite funny,” says Marama. “He’ll always give his opinion on what we’re doing.”

Marama and Colin bought their Palmerston North home a decade ago and set about planning a renovation almost immediately.

“We sketched hundreds of plans ourselves,” says Marama. They engaged Colin Duckett to fine-tune their sketches, adding a bedroom and bathroom as well as extending and opening up the living area.

“Our main priority – and challenge – was to maintain the art deco character to look like it hadn’t been altered,” says Marama. “This meant replicating the scrollwork and plastering outside and the scotias and ceilings inside.”

Once the renovations were complete, Marama gradually transformed the all-white interior – covering the walls in paper by Christian Lacroix, swapping out old light shades for Kartell’s acrylic designs and adding colour with cushions from Designers Guild and Republic.

The bulk of those ended up on the living room’s black sofa, which may be stylish but is not the cosiest of perches, says Marama, as she discovered soon after it arrived.

“You know how women buy shoes that are really uncomfortable but they look good? It was exactly like that. I absolutely loved the look of it – I still do – but it’s actually not the most comfortable couch. When I first bought it and sat on it I was like, ‘Oh god!'”

Her most recent project involved transforming the terracotta tiles on the kitchen floor to a black and white checker-board design. “I’d always wanted black and white tiles but because we still haven’t decided how to do the kitchen, I couldn’t go ahead and get the floor done. And then I thought, ‘I know what to do! I’m going to paint them’,” says Marama, who reckons the whole project took her about a week (“I really went for it though”).

First she applied two coats of a “really tough” primer. Then she went over the whole lot with white paint before painting every alternate tile black. “I thought I was going to be there forever. But once I start on something like that I just can’t wait to do it.”

Occasionally, Marama entertains notions of painting the wooden entrance floor black, but has so far left it natural. Instead, she’s contented herself with painting the black outdoor chairs bright pink… and back to black again. “I’m forever changing things around. It’s just like fashion; it’s always changing. There’s always something else to plan and dream about.”

Q&A

When I was growing up: My mum showed us love, values and the importance of family. She followed, supported and encouraged us in all we did and worked hard to give us opportunities. She created lots of amazing family memories. (Marama)

As a mum: You love your kids to the moon and back; they make you proud, make you laugh (and cry) and I love to follow them to everything I possibly can, be their biggest supporter and hope they grow up to be good people.

When they’re older, I hope we’ll have a relationship like the one I have with my mother; she’s my best friend. (Marama)

My passion for design: Comes from my dad, Ra. He loves building and totally rebuilt our family marae, Aorangi, as well as sheds and tables and things around his own home. (Marama)

Best budget tip: Never have a budget. It will only tell you how much you have gone over it. (Both)

Proudest DIY achievement: Painting the kitchen floor tiles black and white. (Marama)

Best money we ever spent: Employing a fibrous plasterer with the right knowledge and experience. (Colin)

Favourite family treasure: My grandmother Dorothy Durie’s old pedal sewing table, which my koro gave to me when she died. All our family photos, especially those of Colin’s dad Johnny McGrath’s band and my koro Pompey Durie’s band and the McGrath kids – all eight of them. (Marama)

I can always count on: Colin having dinner cooked when I get home – very spoilt! (Marama)