Inspiring Coffee Table Books

In January we love having friends and relations to stay. But because the weather is so unpredictable nowadays, we always leave plenty of books around for them to browse in while waiting for the sunshine to return.

Our Spaces: Contemporary New Zealand Interiors

Our Spaces: Contemporary New Zealand Interiors is a stylish coffee table book filled with photographs of exquisitely designed contemporary New Zealand interiors by leading New Zealand designers and home makers. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen-dining, kid’s rooms and even laundries are included. As well as the pictures I enjoyed reading about the thinking behind designing interiors such as:

  • Style is not about following the latest trends and there are no rules. It is about expressing who you are in a thoughtful way.
  • You do not need lots of money to create stylish interiors. You can create a lovely home with not much cash. My mother-in law, who was a solo Mum was a perfect example. She had a wonderful colour sense and chose the things she did have with great care
  • Rearranging some of your things in a new way can make a big difference to how a room looks, and it doesn’t cost anything.
  • Clutter smothers. Simplicity Breathes.


We have lived in our rambling fifties house for thirty years now and it has slowly evolved into a home that fits us, reflects who we are, and makes us happy. It is filled with objects collected on our travels, some New Zealand Art and pottery, op shop finds, old furniture and books. When one of my son’s friends came in one day, he said he loved it because “It’s so Retro.” Well that’s because we are Retro too.

But it is rather faded and does need a bit of a do up. So, although major changes are not on our horizon Our Spaces: Contemporary New Zealand Interiors has found a place on my coffee table for a while. In the evenings I enjoy looking at the beautiful photographs and having a think about which of the many ideas and insights are ones we could possibly afford and use.

Our Spaces: Contemporary New Zealand Interiors by Alana Broadhead. Photography: Michelle Weir. Publisher: Godwit. RRP $70.

Big Ideas for Small Houses

Although it is aimed mainly at young people who are finding that a house of their own is out of their reach, Baby boomers who are thinking of downsizing from the family home to free up capital as a retirement strategy can find inspiration in Big Ideas for Small House too. The stylish small houses in this book are light years away from boring old granny flats!

For those who are seriously thinking about living in a small house the fact that the plans and cost for each house are included makes it extremely useful.

There are good reasons why Catherine Fisher has not included Tiny Houses (the movement which has been sweeping the Western world world) in her book. At the beginning of her book Catherine Fisher discusses the pros and cons of each.

A Tiny House (i.e. a house built to fit on a heavy-duty set of wheels are classified legally as caravans not as houses which means that they are not subject to the rigorous consent process that is required for a permanent structure, nor do the occupants have to pay rates. There is no land-ownership outlay, site development or ongoing costs.

This all sounds really good. But there are downsides. A very important one is that, much like second-hand cars, Tiny Houses are a depreciating asset.

A small house on the other hand (and some of these may be no bigger than a Tiny House) is a permanently sited structure and is situated on legally owned land. As the land is unlikely to devalue it makes them an appreciating rather than depreciating asset.

Choosing the right situation as well as the design of the house is an important consideration. Some are situated on steep and relatively inaccessible sections especially ones in Wellington where it is permitted to build on a very small footprint. Such sections are cheap to buy but older people, especially those with mobility issues, would be wise to build their small house on a piece of flat land.

Jane Cooper is an older woman featured in this book. She needed an easy-care single level home to live in for her retirement years. She and her daughter and son in law decided to combine their resources so they could both have the kind of house they wanted and afford (they were on a tight budget) and which would allow them to provide each other with mutual support. They built two houses on a steep narrow site in Brooklyn, Wellington Jane’s house was built on the comparatively flat area near the roadside.

Both houses were beautifully designed by Kerr Ritchie architects and they complement each other. While they are in close proximity the privacy of the owners has not been compromised. Jane Cooper is thrilled with her small house.

“I love that I have sun, warmth, and light in what is basically one room. It’s beautiful, comfortable and close to everything that matters-what more could you want?”

Even if a small house is not on your horizon right now the stylish photographs of small houses and their interiors and the interesting stories behind them makes Big Ideas for Small House by Catherine Foster an enjoyable coffee table book.

Big Ideas for Small Houses is by Catherine Foster. Publisher: Penguin. RRP: $50

The Spinoff Book

Five years ago, a new media website, The Spinoff, came onto the scene. It quickly attracted large numbers of readers. Today over a million of us visit it at least once per month to read about TV, politics, books, sport and social issues.

The Spinoff Book, edited by Toby Manhire, is a potpourri of the best online stories, photography, collage and poetry that have appeared on the Spinoff website since it began, as well as some new material.The lively and often humorous essays make for an easy and enjoyable read.

In Family Emily writes about how hard it is learning how to be a parent today. Although she thinks previous generations were better supported because there was Plunket, that was not my or my mother- in- law’s experience.

Tara Ward’s essay “The Greatest Playground’ which is in Whanganui made me laugh. She let her kids loose while she enjoyed a few moments of freedom climbing inside the giant boot of the Old Woman who lived in a shoe, squeezing her aged buttocks down a child sized slide and slithering through the worn-out toe.”

In Viral Alex Brae reports on how climate change is surging and how at its vanguard is a global protest alliance called the Extinction Rebellion. They are active in New Zealand too and it is not just young people. At a peaceful BP protest the press spokesman of the day was a remarkable spry great grandmother, Lynn Dempsey, one of a group of older women prepared to be arrested.

I found the section simply called 15/3 at the end of the book deeply moving. Following the remembrance service in Hagley Park, two of the survivors tell their story to Toby Manhire, reliving the terror but also the strength they gained from the community and how it has brought New Zealanders closer together. While the incredible role the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern played in voicing the grief of the nation is covered by Madeleine Chapman.

Toby Morris, who has a great talent for condensing some very big issues into comic style pages concludes with a heartfelt but sobering message that all of us need to face up to the racism which still exists in our society today.

On a lighter note he also did the great cover for The Spinoff Book which features many well-known kiwi faces: politicians, pop stars, beloved TV characters, some of the Spinoff writers and even the recently departed Prime Minister’s cat Paddles,

If the weather turns bad and your visitors are looking for something to do it would make a great little guessing game to see how many they can identify. I happened upon the answers after surfing the net.

Give it a go (but no peeking until you are done!)

The Spinoff Book. Edited by Toby Manhire, Illustrations by Toby Morris. Publisher: Penguin. RRP $38.