When French ambassador Sylvaine Carta-Le Vert arrived in Thorndon in 2018, her new home was "a lovely surprise". The 119-year-old villa, in the coveted Wellington suburb, has been French ambassadors' deuxieme chez-soi, their home from home, since 1999, but it had been just been refurbished by her predecessor in a blend of contemporary French style and vintage colonial detailing.
Carta-Le Vert arrived from the European Summer to a chilly to a chilly Kiwi Spring. But the house more than made up for the cold.
“You might see pictures but it’s never the same thing as seeing it yourself,” Carta-Le Vert says, ushering me into the stunning entrance hall. “My predecessor had told me she worked a lot on the redecoration of the residence and I must say it was a lovely surprise.”
I know exactly what she means. The hall with its tall stained glass windows, handpainted Victorian tiles and warm wood panelling in native rimu and matai is delightfully unexpected. It’s almost like the cabin of an antique sailing ship - all that’s missing is a naval flag and the smell of salt spray.
Nameplates above the doors add to the seafaring vibe - they bear the names of French sea captains who skippered early visitors to Aotearoa-NZ. It’s breathtaking.