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branching out

From Habitat magazine - issue 20

A blank canvas was the perfect invitation for one creative homeowner to experiment with colour.

If there's one thing Debra Yearsley is not afraid of, it's colour. The interior designer wears bright hues with ease, and breathes new life into retro-style furniture for her company Chair Squad, by reupholstering pieces in bold, vibrant shades. And while her 1980s plaster home might look fairly unremarkable from the outside, inside it's anything but bland.

Colourful tree sculpture
Debra Yearsley
Sculpture: A tree sculpture in the cental atrium is painted with an array of Resene testpots. Beneath it, a new deck built in a wavy design is painted with Resene Awash and is scattered with bean bags.  Debra: Debra Yearsley in one of her favourite mid-century pieces, a French red velvet 1950s chair. The wall behind is Resene Awash.

Debra moved into the house 18 months ago with her husband Adam and their two sons. Set on a sloping north-facing site and designed over four split levels, the home's layout suited the family's needs perfectly. The inviting open-plan living spaces curve around a full-height central atrium, with the master bedroom upstairs, and the boys' bedrooms, plus a large games room, on the lower level.

Hot pink office
Hot pink study
Shelves: A true reflection of Debra's colour bravery, her south-facing office is painted hot pink Resene Smitten.  Study: Debra's hot pink Resene Smitten study.

"We love it here," says Debra. "We feel like this is the house we were always meant to have – it's made for us and it has everything we need."

However, the neutral d├ęcor didn't match her personal style. "When we bought the house, it was completely beige inside and out. It was lovely, but I'm not a beige person. This place has a lot of curves and they were just crying out for colour."

Light blue living room
To visually cool the sunny main living room, Debra chose a combination of two blues inspired by the colours in a rug – Resene Awash (lighter) and Resene Marathon (darker).

With no master plan, the interior scheme evolved organically, at times inspired by a piece of furniture or a rug, and at others by the aspect of a space. While initially Adam didn't always share Debra's colour vision for certain rooms, he trusted her, gave her free rein and now loves the result.

The living room was the first space to be transformed. Taking her inspiration from a red, blue and gold Persian rug that now hangs on the wall, Debra chose a combination of fresh blues and rich reds to visually cool the sunny room. A pair of 1950s French chairs, re-upholstered in red velvet and teamed with a rug of the same colour, contrasts with the two-toned blue walls in Resene Awash and Resene Marathon, and the grey-blue couch.

Dark blue games room
Contrasting with the vibrant orange of the rest of the games room (in Resene Daredevil), the rear wall is Resene Nite Life, a deep inky blue.

"I'm quite brave and I love colour," says Debra. "I'm never really sure how it's going to turn out, to be honest, and sometimes it can be a bit nerve-racking when the painter first starts, but if it doesn't work, you can always paint over it." No room exemplifies her bravery more than her hot pink Resene Smitten study. And that's exactly what happened in the adjacent dining room, which was repainted four times. Its walls are in Resene Roasted Orange from the Karen Walker Paints range. The paint's subtle metallic sheen sparkles in the light, adding depth and complementing the appealing curves of the Scandinavian dining table and sideboard. But it took a few attempts to get it right.

Blue master bedroom
In keeping with other blues used in the house, the main bedroom has a bedhead wall and ceiling painted in Resene Seachange.

"I started off with a jadey blue, but that was too bright so I went for a paler green, but I didn't like that either," laughs Debra. "We finally settled on gold to match the upholstery on the dining chairs."

Upstairs, the master bedroom – another hot, north facing space – features a tranquil combination of blues and greens, with the walls and ceiling painted in soothing Resene Seachange. "I wanted to keep the blue theme going upstairs," explains Debra. "It's a really nice moody blue that's relaxing and the dark ceiling makes it quite cosy."

Bright red walls
Japanese wooden dolls
Chair: Resene Daredevil brightens the games room and contrasts with a zebra-patterned Zazu chair.  Lamp: Get the look with Resene SpaceCote Low Sheen tinted to Resene Seachange.  Dolls: Japanese wooden dolls on a sideboard in the dining room.

Debra and Adam always knew the house would be ideal for a growing family. Their teenage sons have full run of the lower level with its large, boldly themed games room decorated in monochromatic animal prints and a surprising combination of colours. Resene Nite Life, a deep navy blue, is used on the wall behind the TV, offset by Resene Daredevil, an uplifting orange inspired by a favourite print.

The boys chose wallpaper and colours for their bedrooms; 14-year-old Fin opting for more subtle earthy shades, while his brother Harper chose a high-gloss black wall of Resene Blackout behind his bed and accents of red and white.

Brown dining room
Red office
Office: Get the look with Norwall wallpaper (no 6643-27), from Resene.

Outside the games room and reaching up through the central atrium space is one of the home's most striking features – a sculptural painted tree. Set into concrete, it was originally surrounded by stones, which have been replaced by a wavy deck painted in Resene Awash. With a boxful of accumulated testpots, Debra patiently painted the branches a kaleidoscope of vivid shades.

"We'd talked about putting a sculpture there but the budget didn't allow for that, so I just thought: let's paint the tree," laughs Debra. "I didn't plan it out, it just happened organically. It took a while, but it was so much fun."

Mid-century style

Restoring neglected mid-century furniture is a passion Debra has turned into a business. Her company, Chair Squad, upcycles chairs and sofas, with a focus on classic pieces from the 1950s to 1970s, many of which are showcased in her home. They include wing-back armchairs reupholstered in zebra print, an iconic coconut chair, and the simple forms and timeless appeal of wooden Scandinavian furniture.

"It takes a bit of research to find good pieces, and while there are still some bargains to be had, they are getting harder to find."

Debra recommends choosing what you like, whether it's a Formica table with hairpin chrome legs (one of her favourites), or a simple sofa finished in a bold fabric.

"I don't get hung up on it all having to match. I mix wooden legs with metal and even different coloured woods. If you really love something, it works and it personalises your home."

Debra's favourite mid-century colours are red, blue, green and orange.

Accessories: Scandinavian Bumling lamp, bought second-hand. Japanese wooden dolls on a sideboard in the dining room. Get the look with Norwall wallpaper (no 6643-27), from Resene.

Alternative solution – colour pops

bright is right for this casual dining space

Victoria Bibby and Dael Brady of Bibby + Brady suggest this alternative scheme:

We wanted to create a fresh, bright and relaxed space. Resene Elvis blue makes a stunning backdrop for the furniture and art pieces. We added a panel of Resene Captain Cook to add extra interest and create a subtle design feature. To highlight the beautiful curved wall we've chosen a hot pink called Resene Smitten, which picks up the pinks in the art and rug. The bright pink draws your eye around the room to create a cohesive space. The art and the sideboard create a relaxed focal point at the far end of the room. The table is anchored by the light shade and the rug, which also help to create a zone for the dining area.

Alternative solution 1

Vibrant colour makes this dining room sizzle with personality and is joined by fun pieces of furniture. Also featured are a Brittany Bass Navy Geo artwork from Etsy, an extra large gold Uashmana plant holder from MintSix and Ball Heritage Mason Jars from Jamie Kay used as vases.

Top tip: Minimise fly spots on ceilings with Resene Fly Deterrent. Designed to discourage flies from sitting on the painted surface, it reduces the appearance of unwanted fly spots.

phone 021 207 9903 (Dael) or 022 090 1770 (Vic)   web

Accessories: Arden Buffet by SM Interiors, Large Viva Dining Table by SM Interiors, from Bibby + Brady. Jens Roson replica chairs, from Zuca. Rose Kilim rug, from Izzy and Jean. Pinhole Dipped Yellow light shade, from Homebase Collections.

Alternative solution – international style

the perfect space for the metro man

Janet Weir of Beautiful Rooms suggests this alternative scheme:

Achieving the wow factor in the rather stark architecture of the retro period can be a daunting task to most homeowners. That problem has been overcome in this scheme by choosing well-designed products with good colour that have simple, stylish lines – but with a cheeky twist. The chairs are purposely mismatched and together with the bowler hat lights and quirky Chess table, the room has the feel of a sophisticated gentleman's retreat. The deep bruised colour of Resene Mobster, sits alongside soft neutral colours like Resene Thorndon Cream and Resene Alabaster. Accents of translucent amber tones and gold add touches of luxury and glamour to this internationally inspired room.

Alternative solution 2

Resene Mobster walls and amber accents give this room soft elegance and glamour with neutrals like Resene Thorndon Cream and Resene Alabaster. Wide floorboards in Resene Colorwood Weathered Grey stain anchor the scheme. The room also features a Ruckstuhl Salim rug from Sallee, a New Antiques Container table, Moooi Chess side table and Tom Dixon vessel from ECC, an Allan Chawner colour photograph Musee du Louvre I from Galerie Langman, and a Bourgie lamp from Backhouse Interiors.

Top tip: Enhance timber flooring with Resene Colorwood stain in your choice of timber colour then finish in Resene Qristal ClearFloor waterborne urethane to protect its good looks.

phone 0274 892 688   email

Accessories: Marcel Stone Stool by Kartell in Amber, All Saints Mirror by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba, from Backhouse. Monster dining chair, Innermost Jeeves + Wooster pendant lights, Monster dining chair, from ECC Lighting + Furniture.

words: Deirdre Coleman
pictures: Mark Heaslip
llustration: Malcolm White

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