“We spend a lot of time around that dining table,” says Dee Johnston, who lives in a converted garage in Wellington.
Dee Johnston is the founder of Plain and Simple, specializing in certified organic and Merino babywear, loungewear and ceramics made in New Zealand. She lives in Mt Victoria in Wellington with her partner, photographer Simon Devitt, her two daughters Margaux, 6, and Charlotte, 5, and their cat, Maschka.
DEE JOHNSTON: I moved here with the daughters after separating from their father in 2019. It’s actually a garage that was converted into a three bedroom house over 20 years ago. It’s only 90m², but someone managed to make good use of the space. People walk through the door and are amazed at how well we can fit in here.
I didn’t have to do anything. Fortunately, a previous owner had painted the walls white and added dark floorboards. There are also exposed concrete walls, which reflect its origins as a garage.
I had to get rid of a lot of stuff when I moved here. Going from a large villa to this space meant I had to be a ruthless slaughterer. In my old house, I had a whole wall of built-in bookcases, but I only have two shelves here, so the fiction books all had to go. The only books I couldn’t part with were my cookbooks because I love to cook.
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I managed to insert all my artwork. I have been collecting mainly New Zealand art for over 20 years and have found a space for all of them. Simon moved from Auckland a year ago, so combining two households and two art collections has been a challenge. Four people in this space was also interesting, and we are now looking for a bigger house.
The large black and white artwork behind the bed is Simon’s. It’s from Mary McIntyre, a gift from the artist to Simon, after he published a book about her. The black and white works are by Auckland artist Andrew Steel, who introduced me to Simon. We bought them during the summer.
I bought the Bauhaus sofa in Auckland. A friend I boarded with started the business and I think I was one of his first clients. I’ve had it for 10 years, and it was brown, but then I got washable white covers, which is essential when you have kids and a cat.
The artwork above the sofa is all by New Zealand artists. I have pieces by Michael Parekōwhai, John Pule, and Robyn Kahukiwa’s tiki piece, which was one of the first pieces of art I ever bought. I was 19 and my friends were shopping for handbags, but I saved up like crazy to buy this painting.
I brought the big silver trunk from my old house. I got it from Halo, and it offers great storage in a home without too much. The painting of nudes on the wall behind is by Wellington artist Lucy McArthur. I found the globe at a Gray Lynn flea market for $12.
The bone carving on the gallery wall was a gift from my grandfather. He gave it to me 25 years ago and it is one of my most prized possessions.
The Taccia lamp was a birthday present from Simon. I coveted it for about 15 years. It’s from ECC Lighting and it’s the best birthday present ever. The chandelier lamp and the globe lamps are from Simon James Design.
We spend a lot of time around this dining table. I found it on Trade Me and bought the chairs from Corso De’ Fiori. The kauri bowls were given to my parents for their wedding, they are over 40 years old. My parents now live in Whangārei, so they send us boxes of avocados frequently. There’s never a shortage of lawyers in this house.
The black and white painting behind the dining table is by Raglan-based artist Sam Mathers. Simon took the black and white photo in the attic of Caldwell House in Auckland. It’s one of his favorites.
The shelf houses my favorite ceramics. We sell some of these at Plain and Simple, but there’s also a piece by John Parker and items we’ve both collected over the years. Since there isn’t a lot of room, we have to be careful not to add more.
What surprises guests is the original sump under the dining room floor. It’s another reminder that this was once a garage. We now use it to store suitcases and other bulky items.
The girls need a lot more space, so Simon and I are currently looking to buy our first home together. I will miss Mt Vic and its proximity to everything, but we want a property on the flat – somewhere near the sea and with enough space to house everything Simon and I have collected over the years.