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Akitō Studio | A Minimalist Retreat in the Waikato


When I first discovered stylist Erena Te Paa on Instagram, the images of her family home took my breath away. With unique architectural elements and a dreamy, pared-back interior aesthetic, I was surprised to learn that this light-filled, minimalist haven was located in Hamilton. A city located on the banks of the Waikato River in the upper North Island of NZ, how had I not discovered this gem sooner? Wanting to find out more I reached out to Erena in the hope that I could share her home here on the blog. Though the timing was a little out —it had already been photographed for an upcoming magazine feature, with further interest from international publications — I continued to follow along on Instagram, inspired by Erena's ongoing renovations. Fast forward a year, and with the completion of an exciting new stage, the Guesthouse/Airbnb, the stars were this time aligned, and I'm thrilled to share her incredible new project with you.

Captured beautifully by photographer Kirsty Dawn, the one bedroom guesthouse, Akitō Studio, is nestled in a native gully and features a stunning open-plan layout with the added luxury of an outdoor soaking tub. Known for her knack of sourcing unique second-hand furniture and homeware finds, which she lovingly breathes new life into, Erena has added new custom-made pieces and bespoke finishes to the mix. Styled effortlessly against a neutral, gallery-like backdrop, the calming spaces provide the perfect setting for a relaxed weekend getaway.

To help us gain a little more insight into her design process, I asked Erena some questions... 

Where do you find your design inspiration?

I am inspired by so many things be that objects, people, fashion, furniture and so I suppose my go-to for curating what I see is via Pinterest or if I'm scrolling through Instagram and see something exciting, I'll utilise the handy 'Saves' feature on there. Generally I have a clear idea of what I like aesthetically-speaking but I never quite know what will be the thing that pulls me in and gets the creative juices flowing. I love that something as simple as a vase or chair can inspire me to want to do more with a space.

Tell us about your Airbnb and how it came about...

It was a classic case of buying a house that needed more work than we imagined and more money than we could afford and so the idea of transforming the least-used space into something that was beautiful yet could offer some form of return on investment was born. Cue the Airbnb. While it looks newly built, this outhouse was originally the work space of our homes creator, NZ architect Rod Smith and so while I'm sure it was a lovely space in the late 1960's, a handful of owners later and years of neglect meant that it needed to be completely stripped back, reconfigured and reimagined as something new.

You’ve given it a beautiful Maori name, Akitō Studio. What does this mean and why did you choose it? 

Before I knew how I wanted this space to look I knew that I wanted it to feel like somewhere you could unwind and switch-off. Akito in and of itself is a lovely sounding word but more importantly in Maori it simply means to be slow or to do something slowly which is exactly how I want someone to feel when they come to stay. And of course 'studio' simply reflects the size and type of space. 

What was the overall vision for the interior design of the space? 

I remember explaining the space to our builder "concrete floors, bare white walls...think art gallery". He was probably rolling his eyes at me on the inside but it was the best way to describe a blank canvas and that was what I was going for; a large open-plan space that could suit many styles but most of all would give us flexibility down the line and when it came to picking the furnishings I wanted the overall feel to be clean and modern with a resort-feel. 

True to your signature style, the studio features some incredible Trade me finds and customised pieces...

Yes haha, true to form, incorporating Trade Me finds is a part of my style and how I like to add a little something different. It's also a great way to find quality pieces at an affordable pricepoint although in my case, a bit of elbow-grease is almost always needed. The custom made pieces were a real splurge. It was only ever meant to be the bath at first but then came the pendant light, bed and basin, all handcrafted in Bali and while expensive, the space wouldn't feel like the retreat that it is without them.

What was the most challenging part of the project? 

By far it would have to be the duration of the build and realising how much one element relies on another before it can be completed. Weather setbacks, council delays, you name it but it was all a valuable learning curve and now we get to close a chapter and start a new page! 

What do you love most about it?

Gosh, I can't pick just one thing so I will just say the feel of it. I know we live next door but it really does feel like you could be somewhere else. Somewhere relaxed and unencumbered and able to unwind, so I guess in that sense it lives up to it's name and what I hoped it would be.

Design and Styling by Erena Te Paa / Photography by Kirsty Dawn

Huge thanks to Erena for taking the time to answer these questions last week while juggling a new baby and getting the house ready for a photo shoot for an overseas magazine! 

Available for bookings via Airbnb, you can also follow Akitō Studio on Instagram

To see more of Erena's home and styling (a must!) follow on Instagram and via her website

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