Bold was best for this charismatic homeowner

If James Thyne’s Greytown home were to be summed up in a single word, it would most likely be “bold”.

The boldness begins in the grounds with a swathe of green lawn the size of two tennis courts, towering trees, singular sculptures and a walkway of industrial steel square arches – a clever take on ancient stone uprights, as at the legendary Stonehenge.

Two stony-faced Sentinels guard the front door to Ambervilla, James Thyne’s Greytown home; the men are in perfect harmony with the bungalow’s 1920s vintage and are part of an edition of nine sculptures by Wellington artist Max Patté.


Two stony-faced Sentinels guard the front door to Ambervilla, James Thyne’s Greytown home; the men are in perfect harmony with the bungalow’s 1920s vintage and are part of an edition of nine sculptures by Wellington artist Max Patté.

Two old-school gentlemen flank the front steps; these are the Sentinels, sculptured in cement by Wellington-based artist Max Patté. Inside the house, the boldness continues with glorious colours, glittering chandeliers and mirrors, exotic wallpapers, and a profusion of artworks and artefacts.

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James has taken huge pleasure in refurbishing Ambervilla, a classic 1920s bungalow with a relatively informal layout and deep wraparound verandahs to suit the Wairarapa’s hot climate.

James is a property developer and vineyard owner, and for a long time he commuted between homes in Wellington and Greytown, making a permanent move about two and a half years ago. He eventually bought Ambervilla, drawn to its scope to house his sculpture collection and the art and furniture he had left stored in Wellington.

Ambervilla had lovely bones, and all the spaces he needed: two living rooms, a kitchen in good nick, a study, three bedrooms, each with an ensuite, a guest bathroom, and an ironing cupboard that he immediately turned into a wine cellar with racks for 1200 bottles, including pinot noir from his own Hillview Estate winery in Martinborough.

But Ambervilla was bland, with a cream theme that didn’t do justice to the board-and-batten ceilings and other wooden fittings.

So James and interior designer Heather Thorley of Inspiration and Co, on the Kāpiti Coast, set to work to turn dull into daring. James says Heather is an expert in colour and design: “She really got me into it, we had a lot of fun. We went bold with fabrics and colours, and we replaced all the light fittings with chandeliers.”

He and Heather chose colourful, exotic wallpapers. There is orange monkey-themed wallpaper in the dining alcove, blue butterfly mural wallpaper in the guest bathroom and whimsical green paper in the hall. The dining alcove also has black pressed tin replica paper on the ceiling.

Says James: “Early bungalows would have had these Egyptian and African wallpaper themes, these styles and colours. There is a growing confidence to use bold wallpapers again in houses of this era.”

The main living room is out of Africa, with deep teal walls in Dulux Tutukaka, tawny leather furniture, a porcupine quill lampshade and an original fireplace with a stuffed pheasant perched on its top shelf.

The interior doors had earlier been replaced by ones out of step with the bungalow’s era so James scoured demolition yards for 20 authentic Oregon pine doors that were more in keeping.

“There was such joy in finding them. They could actually have been from this house.”

His favourite find has leadlight panels and is now in the master bedroom ensuite. “It is beautiful and the light falls delicately through it.”

The 4000sqm grounds, ringed by graceful silver birches, have had a massive makeover as well. James says he never imagined having a big property: “I really didn’t know much about gardening.”

The former cottage-style planting was removed and 40 mature trees were ambitiously transplanted from an adjacent area using diggers and cranes. The trees survived the upheaval, aided by Greytown’s rich soil and kind climate.

James worked with Martinborough garden designer Kim Walton of Red Horticultural to achieve the bold, structural effect he wanted. The meticulously placed henge walkway matches the height and line of the bungalow and there are perfect spaces in the new garden for James’ sculptures. You don’t crowd them, he says, you find a site that sets them against blue sky and green planting.

A number of his works are from the annual Sculpture by the Sea event in Bondi, Sydney. Favourites include the bronze Man with Birds, a self-portrait by Chinese sculptor Wang Shugang, and a magical outdoor room by Australian sculptor Anne Levitch made of heavy duty corten steel.

James shares Ambervilla with partner Irma Kappert, and he has truly put down roots in Greytown. “Everything I need is here, the people are fantastic, there is a strong sense of community. And this place is now like a beautiful private park.”


Most satisfying room: The wine cellar with its dungeon feel.

Best seats in the garden: Three oversized Parisian park benches, sourced and restored by Country Trader in Greytown.

Boldest decision: Using black wallpaper for the dining alcove ceiling to create a pressed tin look.

Top tip for wallpaper: Stick to a theme, and a common brand.

Most gasps from visitors: The blue butterfly mural wallpaper in the guest bathroom.

Best coffee in Greytown: Brasserie 74.

The local shop I can’t walk past: Country Trader – I’ve bought so many things there.

Never again will I: Commit to outdoor dining spaces before living in a house for a full year and experiencing the different seasons.

James Thyne

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