When interior designer Nicki Dobrzynski and her husband, Chris, finished their first renovation they swore they’d never live in a home during a project again. But skip ahead to 2023 and they’re wrapping up their fourth live-in renovation. “You go into them thinking they’ll be smaller but they snowball,” admits Nicki.
Who lives here?
Nicki Dobrzynski, an interior designer and photographer; her husband Chris, who works in property, their children, Eva, 10, and Jake, six; and Bailey the Rhodesian Ridgeback.
What makes a great home? Nicki: “A home that functions well, that makes you feel good, safe and happy.”
Christmas decorating style? “I love the way Americans decorate though I don’t go as far as Chevy Chase [in ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’]. I love garlands and fairy lights. I add what the kids make.”
How do you spend the summer? “Entertaining at home and hanging out with friends by the lake. We go biking, hiking and camping.”
The latest project was a dream come true for the couple and their children, Eva, 10, and Jake, six, who had hoped to move to New Zealand for years then took the plunge in 2021, when they found a home with potential in a lakeside town on the South Island.
While the interior dining area isn’t often used for hosting due to its humble size, the space is still filled with character and cheer. A scalloped rattan pendant light from Ivory & Deene hangs above the dining table, that’s clad in a Julia Amory tablecloth reminiscent of candy canes with its red and white swirls. Teal and white embroidered napkins from Maison Margaux add a cooling contrast.
Antique Gien plates decorate the walls, fitting perfectly between the board and batten panelling. “I’ve done a lot of V-groove cladding in other projects so I wanted something a bit different,” says Nicki. Elsewhere, touches of nature, such as a bouquet from The Joy Farmer in Wanaka and pinecone decorations from Pottery Barn, give organic appeal.
“The home was liveable but not in a great shape,” says Nicki. Built 20 or so years ago, it had never been renovated and so the carpets were worse for wear and the kitchen was covered in purple laminate. “It didn’t have much character,” says Nicki. “But it had natural light and big windows. I thought ‘I’m going to decorate the heck out of it’.” And so the fourth renovation began.
For many families, Christmas revolves around the kitchen and for Nicki it’s no different. “Christmas is always centred around food in our house,” says Nicki. “With my husband’s family from Poland, our celebration starts on Christmas Eve with traditional festivities and a feast called Wigilia. We then do it all again on Christmas Day but a bit more relaxed in Aussie and Kiwi style.”
The space is an idyllic country cottage kitchen. Shaker-style cabinets, island panels and a statement rangehood, all finished in Resene Destiny, look charming beside vintage plates from Rustication. Black honed granite benchtops are sleek and practical.
Careful not to make the move too tumultuous for the children, the couple took a slow approach. “The focus was to make sure everyone felt happy and settled,” says Nicki, “living life and then tweaking the reno as we go.” But in-demand tradespeople, material shortages and shipping delays slowed the process down even more.
Eight months passed before the kitchen was installed, which meant their first Christmas in the home was entirely reliant on the barbecue. Thankfully, after two years, the majority of the work is complete.
Opening up interior walls to create an open-plan living, dining and kitchen area has improved the flow of the space while insulation has added soundproofing and warmth. Foregoing a walk-in robe allowed for a more spacious ensuite, with built-in joinery in the main bedroom providing all the wardrobe space the couple needs.
For the interiors, Nicki has introduced a touch of East Coast American blues, a kitchen inspired by English cottages and board and batten cladding on the walls for country Kiwi character.
An East Coast colour palette is given a cottage touch in this room with board and batten wainscoting. Sisal carpet from Artisan Collective New Zealand provides a neutral base, with antique art and bedside table drawing out the brown tones. Wallpaper from Soane Britain, Visual Comfort wall lights in a custom fabric made by Nicki and a bed quilt from Etsy all provide cooling colours.
Muted pinks add feminine flair in the Wallace Cotton bedlinen and Sanderson wallpaper, available through Artisan Collective New Zealand. A bedside table from The Bronte Tram shop meshes well with the custom bedhead.
The ensuite feels luxurious with marble floor tiles from Tilemax and VJ boards finished in Resene Norwester. “The interiors were inspired by the teal waters of Lake Wanaka and the Clutha River,” says Nicki. Beyond is the entrance to the main bedroom, with a pleated stripe sconce shade from Alice Palmer & Co.
We love… decorative lights
While wall lights serve a practical purpose, providing a softer form of task lighting that doesn’t take up space on the bedside table, they also present an opportunity to add details. “I had a bit of fun with textiles and colour,” shares Nicki.
With three bedrooms and two bathrooms, the home is humble but Nicki wouldn’t want to be anywhere else for Christmas. Hosting family and friends, especially on Christmas Eve in recognition of Chris’s Polish heritage, is blissful. “Our dining area isn’t that big but we have an outdoor table that seats 12 people,” says Nicki. “We eat delicious food, hang out in the backyard.”
“In the summer, the sun doesn’t go down until late. We’re surrounded by acreage. We sit outside. It’s lovely.”Nicki
“Living by the lake is a huge part of our lives now, the lifestyle of kayaking, swimming and eating picnic food,” says Nicki. Christmas is the most wonderful time but now that they’re living the dream of a cottage home in New Zealand, the family feels joyful year-round. “I’ve loved creating this bright, happy family home.”
Seating up to 12 people, the outdoor dining area is Nicki’s preferred space for entertaining. “I was inspired by the lake for the design of the home,” explains Nicki, who incorporated the reds, blues and greens she saw in her natural surrounds into her table setting. The custom-made tablecloth, created from Inchyra Scottish linen, is a perfect example of these hues coming together.
Nicki’s generous pavlova is presented on an Aerin platter from Williams Sonoma. White plates and bowls from Pottery Barn, Jean Dubost Laguiole white and silver cutlery, and William Yeoward wine glasses complete the tableau.
“Christmas is a time to be with family and to be grateful for what we have.”Nicki
A Christmas feast of champagne ham and potato salad looks picturesque by candlelight. With the sun setting well after 9pm in the summer months, Nicki and her loved ones can relax by the table, drinking and eating into the night as they gaze at the surrounding mountains. After two years, Nicki and her family are certainly reaping the rewards of their hard work. “I just get a lot of joy from the house,” says Nicki.