Di Henshall Interior Design

A remarkable vision

This home’s muted yet luxurious interiors form the perfect backdrop to spectacular picture-postcard views.

Photo courtesy Di Henshall Interior Design


Gabrielle Chariton

Perched on an impossibly steep hillside above Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand, this vast five-bedroom home stands in celebration of its majestic, 180-degree views of glacial waters and snow-capped Remarkables.

Designed by Mason & Wales architect Francis Whitaker and built by Triple Star, the glass-fronted abode hugs the contours of the hillside, its strong horizontal planes allowing the spectacular view to be enjoyed from within almost every room.

Throughout the interiors, swathes of rustic stonework and timber intersect with luxurious textiles, sculptural architecture and bespoke furniture. Every single detail and design element – from the placement of artworks to the colour of the window frames – was painstakingly planned by HIA member Di Henshall, owner of Australian design and build consultancy Di Henshall Interior Design, together with her client.

From the climate-controlled wine cellar and bar, right through to the expansive kitchen and living spaces, the interiors are a study in subdued glamour; the palette deliberately understated to heighten the sparkling drama of the mountain vistas.

‘The fact is, this house has one of the most awesome views in New Zealand, and I didn’t want anything to detract from that,’ Di explains.

The ambitious project took two years from concept to completion, and Di was involved every step of the way. New Zealand may seem a long way from Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, where Di’s business is based, but her client-focused approach and technical flair made her a natural fit for the project.

‘This house has one of the most awesome views in New Zealand, and I didn’t want anything to detract from that’

‘I’d worked with the client on several projects here in Australia,’ she explains. ‘We collaborate well … we challenge each other’s thoughts and ideas and then what comes out in the end is usually the perfect solution for everybody concerned.’

As a qualified builder and designer, and 2016 winner of HIA Professional Woman of the Year (QLD), Di expertly navigates the line between practical and whimsy. With nearly 30 years’ experience, she is completely unfazed by logistical obstacles and challenges. In this instance, her brief was to create a cosy, welcoming home for a ‘young, very energetic family’.

The client wanted a home that can be enjoyed in all seasons – from the sub-zero winters to the long, lazy days of summer; a home that encapsulates both intimate family life as well as large-scale entertaining. Aesthetically, the client specified a particular ‘restrained luxury’, with an emphasis on high-end, natural finishes.

‘My client has very definite ideas and one of them was that he’s got a pattern phobia,’ Di says. ‘So I had to be very careful that I could still create something that was interesting by placing an emphasis on texture rather than motifs.’

With 879 square metres of internal space and a further 345 square metres of outdoor living, the home’s expansive rooms are almost equal in grandeur to the surrounding mountain range.

It’s one of the largest residential projects that Di has ever worked on, and she says the immense scale of the three-storey building, coupled with the floor-to-ceiling glazing, meant there was a risk of the interiors feeling sparse and exposed. ‘To make something of that size feel homely is a challenge in itself.’

Di Henshall Interior Design
Layering of natural finishes & textures
Photo courtesy Di Henshall Interior Design
Di Henshall Interior Design
The colour scheme – a blend of pale neutrals, browns and greys – draws directly from the surrounding landscape
Photo courtesy Di Henshall Interior Design

However, thanks to the clever layering of natural finishes and textures, the living spaces are imbued with warmth and an easy-going elegance. New Zealand-grown plantation timber cladding, stained to a soft, lightly weathered-looking shade of grey-brown, underpins the interior palette. An assortment of luxurious textiles and plush furnishings serve to further soften the home’s more severe geometric form.

‘Linen and wool and velvets, some silk, we even used a bit of fur, leather; all sorts of textures,’ says Di.

The colour scheme – a blend of pale neutrals, browns and greys – draws directly from the surrounding landscape. ‘Whenever I do any job, I look at the topography of the place, the architectural intent, where it is, what it’s looking at,’ Di explains. ‘This house is literally pinned back to solid rock, so there’s a lot of earthy tones in there that blend in with the mountain itself.’

While Di was careful to avoid the cliched ski lodge look, the home is quintessentially New Zealand in character, and showcases locally-sourced materials and building techniques. The extensive use of schist stonework, for example, echoes the rocky form of the surrounding environment.

‘Schist is basically a stacked volcanic stone, usually laid using a very thick mortar,’ Di explains. Used in this instance both on the exterior of the home and the fireplace surrounds that dominate either end of the open-plan living space, the stone delivers a rustic, time-worn appeal – the perfect foil to the building’s geometric architecture and contemporary styling.

‘To make something of that size feel homely is a challenge in itself’

Mood, ambience and spatial zoning are all fine-tuned with what Di considers one of a designer’s most powerful tools – lighting. ‘Lighting can be one of the greatest challenges but when done well, it can take the interiors to the next level,’ she says. ‘Because of the size of this home, it was incredibly important.’

In this instance, she employed a combination of uplights, feature lighting, downlights, pendants and standard lamps to create intimacy, highlight architectural details and visually define the spaces within the home.

Di Henshall Interior Design provides a turnkey design and installation service, with custom-designed cabinetry and furniture manufactured at the company’s factory in Noosaville. Di is hands-on with all her projects, and says that coordinating the design and construction from across the Tasman did pose a number of logistical difficulties. 

‘We shipped over 120 cubic metres of furniture and cabinetry from Australia. It was technically challenging and physically challenging – we had to unpack and assemble every one of those 120 cubic metres in a very short timeframe. But it was such a thrill to see it all come together.’

And the reaction? ‘They love what we’ve done...The client has told me that when they step into the home, they breathe out, it makes them feel so relaxed. They also love that it’s the sort of house that feels wonderful to be in, whether there’s only two people at home or you’ve got a party of 50 going on.’

Di Henshall Interior Design
Schist stacked volcanic stone
Photo courtesy Di Henshall Interior Design
Di Henshall Interior Design
Lighting to create intimacy, highlight details & define spaces
Photo courtesy Di Henshall Interior Design

Related Articles

Black to the future

Smart joinery solutions and high-tech hardware are flawlessly integrated within this award-winning kitchen’s bold monochromatic colour scheme.

Passion project

Luxury inclusions, well-considered customisation and meticulous workmanship gave this project home the winning edge.

2020 Vision

Though we’re just dipping our toes into the pool that is the 2020s, there are already a few vibrant trends vying for our attention – and a few understated styles quietly stepping up to the podium. From building design to interior décor, these trends are set to make a splash within the home this year, offering enough variety and versatility to serve as inspiration for a permanent or seasonal change.

Get a load of this

You may be an old hand when it comes to installing basins, vanities and laundry troughs but incorrectly applying water-resistant and waterproofing requirements could mean you’re failing to meet the building code.

Join more than 120,000 like-minded subscribers