House of the week: Country simplicity in Canterbury

If the world were divided into doers and dreamers, Bridget Hope would be standing boldly astride both hemispheres.

The flair that powered her career in the publishing and fashion world was based on a mix of romantic style and realism that she also applies to her own lifestyle – be it an apartment in high-rise Singapore or a lifestyle block in North Canterbury. 

Bridget and her husband Gabe made that switch 18 months ago, returning to New Zealand with their two young sons, Henry, four, and Sam, three, after a seven-year stint in Singapore where she was at the helm of a number of international magazines, including Harper's Bazaar and Cosmopolitan.

The choice of a 1.6ha block in Ohoka on the outskirts of Christchurch, complete with small paddock and large garden, seems unlikely for a family used to life in a faster lane, but they wanted the boys to feel the grass beneath their feet and have a vege patch to pick from.

House of the week: Cosy Arrowtown cottage
House of the week: Mid-century Christchurch home
House of the week: Beachfront at Mt Maunganui 

And the daughter of fashion doyenne Paula Ryan knows what it takes to turn dreams into reality.

"So many people only survive on lifestyle blocks for a couple of years. We don't want to make it hard," she says.

"I have lots of help and I'm quite open about it. I have a live-in nanny and a gardener three times a week. Otherwise it wouldn't work. Properties like this could be a full-time job. You could be outside every day and not even get the housework done." 

They also made a deal with the boys: no animals for two years, worm farm excluded. 

Bridget and Gabe bought the property in November 2014 after spotting it on the internet while in Singapore.

Both had family connections in Canterbury and Gabe's only requirement was that they were close to an international airport, as his job entails a lot of overseas travel. "I look back and think, 'We bought this house without even seeing it!' It was either genius or total ignorance," says Bridget.

They oversaw the renovations from afar, a frustrating experience for the hands-on style queen, but she says Jonathan Coote from architectural studio Warren and Mahoney did a masterful job.  

"I've gone a little bit Hamptons. I love those elegant, white American country homes. It's big, but it's not pretentious. It's country, but it's definitely not rustic," says Bridget, who tried to source most of the furnishings locally. 

The most visual change was plastering the red brick house and painting it white. "We almost didn't do it after getting the quote, but it made all the difference." 

Much of the interior is white, too. Resene 'Alabaster' is Bridget's go-to paint for interiors. "It doesn't yellow or fade over time," she says. Nevertheless white is not the norm for a household with two small boys. "A lot of people say, 'We won't get anything nice until the children are older,' and then have this car crash of a place for about 10 years." Cream leather may sound risky for a family room but she insists it's super-practical as you can just wipe it. 

A peek into the playroom down the hall reveals a riot of racing car tracks and gaudy toys. "That wasn't in the photo shoot," she says, quickly closing the door. "I'm not a fan of bright plastic toys. 

We keep them all in one room and have a big clean-up once a year." 

The formal sitting room, lavish in duck-egg blue and cream, is more of a showpiece. "When I was young, there were certain rooms we didn't go into. This is one of those. The boys call it 'Mummy's room'."  

Bridget confesses to an obsession with styling. "I love styling up rooms in a singular theme and then bringing in multiple textures of like-minded colours. Having said that, all the rooms end up looking slightly different, which I'm sure is to do with making it more fun for me, rather than from any considered process."

When it comes to decorating, Gabe's been happy to let Bridget take the lead, "although he thinks we have far too many throw cushions," she says. 

Both are revelling in the home's connection to the outdoors. "I love nothing more than sitting with a glass of chardonnay looking over the front garden," says Bridget, who happily dons her designer gumboots to join Tanya Izard, her gardener and now friend. "It's a good feeling, being close to the earth. Although 

I have to say, I'm not really a weeder. I like a project."  

Bridget's most consuming recent venture has been launching a personal styling and fashion business. The original owner's seven-car garage has been converted into a sleek salon for her fledgling enterprise, Magpie Style. The name is apt. Like the bird, her aesthetic is largely black and white and they share a penchant for gathering beautiful things. "It's hard shopping in Christchurch with everything so spread out, so I thought, 'How can I make it easier for women?'" Women come in groups or individually for advice and to shop, with a focus on Paula Ryan clothes, homewares and accessories. 

"I started the business because I wanted to work without going to work. I never want to lie in bed again and think, 'Oh, I've got to get dressed and get in the car and go to work.' Now I can be here all day. It's lovely."  


Best decorating tip: Build a room slowly and don't buy anything before you have the measurements or have lived in the space. I made a few mistakes buying furniture in Singapore.

Best budget tip: Ikea furniture can look great when mixed with high-end furniture. With clever styling, it's really hard to spot. (See if you can!)

Proudest DIY achievement: Designing and then painting our French-style planter boxes for the topiary buxus myself.

Favourite chore: Watering my topiary creations. Least favourite is rolling up the hose properly afterwards.

Best money we ever spent: Raising the door heights from 2.3m to 2.6m high. It makes even the smallest rooms look much bigger.

This weekend I will be: Down at the Kaiapoi scooter park with my kids.

Bridget Hope

 - NZ House & Garden