Art, style, color – this surprising Auckland townhouse has it all

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At the end of an unassuming driveway on an unassuming street in Auckland’s suburb of Mt Albert is a collection of eight stylish townhouses. In the garage of one is a sleek 1964 Volvo PS1800, as if James Bond had just come home for a sandwich. It’s the first sign that the interior of Guy Hilson’s home is special.

When Guy moved into the house shortly after it was built four years ago, it was the archetypal blank canvas with a neutral color palette. These classic shades now form the backdrop for a collection of vintage artwork, objects and memorabilia that cover nearly every surface, vertical and horizontal.

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“I really like having a lot of color,” says Guy, who considered replacing the neutral paint with something brighter, but ultimately kept it so the art and embellishments could shine. “Growing up, our family home was filled with beautiful antiques in pristine condition, but there wasn’t a lot of color. I think that’s part of where my love for color and second-hand items comes from,” he says.

In the wrong hands, Guy’s eclectic approach could become a chaotic hodgepodge of styles, but he’s a guy with an eye for good design, as evidenced by this sleek Volvo he found on Trade. Me in practically new condition. “I’m not really a car fanatic, but this car is a good example of very classic, simple design. And it’s fun,” Guy says.

This mix of classic and fun epitomizes Guy’s interior style. He is driven by the thrill of the hunt and finds unexpected and unique pieces.

After living in Muriwai for many years when their children (Hana, now 19, and Baxter, 17) were young, Guy and his then-wife Bridget moved to Mt Albert to be closer to Mt Albert Grammar School. When the couple later separated, Guy wanted to stay in the area to be close to his children.

He then bought the townhouse as a ‘close and leave’ which would have room for his children, while allowing Guy to divide his time between Mt Albert, Muriwai and his office in Huapai, where he co-owns and general manager of Harvest. Fresh, which exports onions, carrots and apples.

Large sliding doors open the back of the house to the lush walled garden making for an extra room.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

Large sliding doors open the back of the house to the lush walled garden making for an extra room.

Guy enlisted the help of interior designers, including Kathryn Enchmarch and a village of friends and family, like his sister Juliana, to carry out the initial transformation from the blank canvas into a welcoming family home. They helped find standout pieces like the blue velvet sofas, but his main goal was to gradually fill the house with unique treasures that had interesting provenance.

“I like to find these pieces that have already had a life. They have a few scratches and dents here and there, but they are interesting and different,” he says.

There’s the outdoor mirror found on the side of a road in the Czech mountains, now sitting in Guy’s back garden, sourced from Showcase. A fine sculpture of Dame Whina Cooper and her granddaughter is by Waikato artist Robin Ranga, which Guy tracked down after missing a similar piece at auction.

It has a concrete garden sculpture by artist Levi Hawken, known to many for the “nek minnit” video that has become entrenched in Kiwi culture. And there’s a prized work by New Zealand artist Reuben Paterson, for which Guy waited patiently to become available.

Guy is just as excited to find a classic Simon Says game in its original box or a vintage View-Master as he is to discover a new artist or a colorful poster bought for $20 in Berlin.

“It’s not about the dollar value of something to me. It’s just what I like. I have things that I bought in galleries, but often it’s in flea markets or auctions,” he says.

Guy’s other driving force is supporting the work of his friends and family. The Muriwai artistic community is well represented in its collection with works by Anna Hanson, Amanda Jakich and Steven Adams, as well as pieces by Guy’s cousin, Angus Walker.

One of Guy’s favorite places in the house is the cozy TV room, lined with vintage hand-colored Whites Aviation photographs, which are a particular passion. The other is the surprisingly secluded and good-sized garden, a feature not often found in newer townhouses.

French bulldogs Archie, left, and Otis make themselves comfortable on one of the velvet sofas in the living room.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

French bulldogs Archie, left, and Otis make themselves comfortable on one of the velvet sofas in the living room.

Guy enlisted the experts at Kiwi Girls Gardens to make the most of the outdoor space. The result is a lush green space that is also low maintenance. At night the garden is filled with lights, and in the summer the house opens up for that essential continuous flow.

Guy’s work has an unexpected influence on his interiors – he travels a lot for business and tries to bring home interesting finds. “Either I keep it, or if it doesn’t work, I give it to someone else.

Guy is a familiar face at some local thrift shops, auction houses and galleries, although he tends not to come with a big plan in mind. “I don’t tend to buy to fill a specific space. I’ll just find something I like and then find a place to put it. I’m probably a bit pickier these days with what I buy…partly because I’m starting to run out of places to put my things.

His current passion is outdoor sculptural pieces which he also purchases for his larger Muriwai property. “I love Gibbs Farm [sculpture park] in Kaukapakapa. Obviously not everyone can do it on this scale, but it’s very inspiring and I would love to create this kind of outdoor space where people can have a little fun.

And while Mt Albert may be running out of wall space, Guy is eyeing Muriwai’s interior for a facelift. “I don’t just want to replicate what I have here. It will still be mostly second-hand but probably more 70s style Scandinavian that will suit this place.

During the lockdowns, Guy bought land on Indonesia’s Rote Island and had a vacation home built right on the beach – perfect for relaxing getaways with new partner Kate de Lautour, friends and teenage brood. It’s another blank canvas: “It’s definitely going to need furniture and art!”

A portrait of Guy's daughter, Hana, in full head girl attire at Mt Albert Grammar School, is by Henry Mackenzie.  One of Guy's favorite pieces is this wall sculpture Dame Whina Cooper and her granddaughter Irenee by Waikato artist Robin Ranga, inspired by an iconic 1970s photograph.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

A portrait of Guy’s daughter, Hana, in full head girl attire at Mt Albert Grammar School, is by Henry Mackenzie. One of Guy’s favorite pieces is this wall sculpture Dame Whina Cooper and her granddaughter Irenee by Waikato artist Robin Ranga, inspired by an iconic 1970s photograph.

Q&A with Guy Hilson

My decorating style is: Eclectic mix and match.

A tip for others: Find a specialist to hang your art like my great friends Doug and Kim Gow.

Top budget tip: Find a print or poster you like at an op store and splash the cash on a funky frame.

The best money I’ve ever spent: Outdoor colored solar lights that double as speakers.

This weekend I will be: Direction Muriwai.

New favorite find: A 1970s Simon Says game and a black and white Yuki Kihara piece.

Favorite Family Treasure: The portrait of my daughter by the talented Henry Mackenzie.

Best place in the house: On a bar stool on the kitchen bench.

The first thing I do when I get home from work is: Feed the dogs.

Best local walk: Owairaka Park.

A well-kept secret in this area: The wonderful team at Baankaew Thai Sport Massage.

One thing you must see during your visit: Alberton, a historic local colonial property.

Favorite local restaurant: Icco sake bar.

Guy spent a lot of time researching outdoor furniture to find something a little different and settled on this black set from Design Concepts, which contrasts nicely with less formal pieces like the auction-bought Coca Cola table and a cheeky gnome from Junk & Disorderly.

Jane Ussher / New Zealand Home and Garden

Guy spent a lot of time researching outdoor furniture to find something a little different and settled on this black set from Design Concepts, which contrasts nicely with less formal pieces like the auction-bought Coca Cola table and a cheeky gnome from Junk & Disorderly.

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