Floral History

This grand old Warkworth villa seems to have been here forever, but in fact it was moved here from Epsom 30 years ago. Built in 1917 by a timber merchant who lavished his best kauri on it, it now has breathtaking views north to the bush-clad ramparts of Dome Valley.

Artist Janette Cervin and partner Jake Kennedy found each other later in life and have lived here blissfully for nearly five years. With eight grown-up offspring between them, the space at the villa comes in handy! Jake has 42 years in the fire service behind him but he’s now busier than ever working on the house and helping Janette with the practicalities of her art. 

Entering the house, the deep teal colour of the vestibule has immediate impact. “My favourite shade,” Jan says affectionately. “It’s called ‘Cook Strait’. It works brilliantly with the of reds in the old Turkish rugs.” The wide hall is hung with vintage chandeliers and the kitchen has bi-fold windows opening to the view and the colourful gardens.

Janette has been surrounded by flowers and grand old architecture since she was a child. Her parents had a villa on the water’s edge in Whenuapai for 40 years, where they farmed calla lilies and collected antiques. Her mum loves coming here to garden – still fighting fit in her 80s. 

Janette previously spent 30 years in Sandringham where she was a regular at the ‘Den of Antiquity’, a vintage store then owned by Joy Bell, the artist who designed the exceptional mosaics on Warkworth’s town clock. Jan now goes to The Red Barn in Warkworth for antiques – her favourite floral chandelier came from here.

Joy and Janette are still great friends and it was Joy who suggested making a mosaic wall out of Janette’s chipped or cracked vintage china pieces, by cutting them with her special ceramics saw and grouting them to the wall behind the magnificent wood range – a creative solution to a storage problem. 

Although Janette shows her work at both Matakana’s Vivian Gallery and Rawene’s No. 1 Parnell Gallery, she travels regularly to her main gallery in Wanaka, Gallery 33. She and Jake often stop in Christchurch, where the demolition yards yield rich pickings. They’re collecting stained glass windows to use in their new bathroom and in a feature wall when they extend the deck. 

Janette’s lush art is everywhere and her love of flowers is obvious. Since living here, with mature bush around the house, she’s fallen in love with native birds (photographed by Jake). The feel of the villa is undeniably girly and a plumber who visited recently said to Jake, “You poor bugger.” But the man of the house is philosophical about flowers, as long as he can sneak in something a bit industrial here and there. 

Although her subject matter may be construed as feminine, the process isn’t – it involves big, gutsy power tools and construction materials. Layers of paint and resin are built up on huge pieces of steel cut by Jake. “I’m way too hard on canvas!” Janette grins ruefully. She partially removes the first few layers with a grinder, leaving ghostly imprints which, when finished, impart a 3D feel to the pieces. The final layer of high-gloss resin is done mostly by Jake, despite occasional frustrating experiences involving grisly ends for inquisitive moths.  

Janette’s art is reminiscent of the specimen works done by Cook’s visiting botanists. They make appropriate adornments for the 101-year-old villa, just as the huge kauri trees outside resonate with the rich panelling within. It seems that perfect partnerships abound here. 



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