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Village People

The ability to work from home - and separate work off - close to the city, amenities, park and 'something a little bit different' was designer Campbell Johnson’s checklist for a home when he returned to New Zealand.

In 2009, the Christchurch born designer, who specialises in experiential interior design (focused on user experience), shifted to Auckland after two and a half years working abroad in London and the Middle East.

'The first home I bought was a Star Block apartment in Freemans Bay, which is a mix of apartments and houses built by Auckland City Council in the 60s and 70s. They are quite sought after because of their clean lines, mid-century look and park-like setting. That was my intro to medium density living. So when I returned to Christchurch I was on the lookout for something similar - a bit quirky and in a good suburb.'

Growing up in Merivale, Campbell had always been aware of Peter Beaven's Tonbridge Mews, nestled within leafy, quaint narrow streets that twist and turn on the edge of Christchurch city. Built in 1974, Tonbridge Mews comprises 18 town houses - a mix of single, two and three-storeys, each irregular in design and with quirks such as turrets, porthole windows and intersecting rooflines - laid out as a small urban village.

'When one came up for sale I jumped at it because of the location and I like that it’s quirky,' says Campbell.

'New apartments just don’t have that level of detail and proportions that give the illusion of space. The Mews are small, but exposed rooflines and good ceiling heights make rooms feel much bigger and there are little nooks and crannies where you can tuck in a chair, table or a lamp.'

Dedicated to protecting and preserving Christchurch's architectural heritage, Peter Beaven was known as an advocate for good design. A lesser-known aspect of his work was his contribution to medium-density housing. According to University of Auckland School of Architecture's Andrew Barrie, Peter Beaven's designs 'made an elegant, convivial lifestyle possible in the heart of the city'.

Like Peter Beaven, Campbell is passionate about architectural heritage and has taken charge of the Tonbridge Mews Owners Association, a role he takes seriously and not so seriously, as required.

'It's not a body corporate, it's more of a loose collective that meets up twice a year and we work together to get things upgraded and it’s good to catch up.'

Campbell owns a two bedroom three-storey unit with a courtyard and turret containing an office. He says he was lucky enough to buy a second home in Tonbridge Mews - a second storey 'loft' to live in while he awaits earthquake repairs on his first home. He has completely gutted the loft and refitted it with modern comforts such as insulation and double glazing.

'There are a lot more owner occupiers here now who really appreciate their homes and take care of them, which is nice to see as the units get older. We are a small community, but even though we're close, we're not in each other's faces. When there's an earthquake or an aftershock, we look after each other.'