The converted fish factory in Wellington has been transformed into a stylish home. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

Home profile: a former fish factory in Wellington


‘What should we do with our fish factory?’ isn’t a question many of us will ever have to ask. But then most of us don’t plunge our life savings into a two-storey warehouse with a distinctly fishy aroma.

The late Paul Larkman, however, found himself in that position in 2017 when he bought a run-down commercial building in the Lower Hutt suburb of Petone.

“Dad grew up in the area and although he moved to Paeroa where he owned a pet-food company, he always wanted to return to Petone,” says his daughter Polly Larkman.

The two-storey building, which was built in 1939 initially as a dry ice factory before being converted into a fish processing/wholesale market, wasn’t in a good way when Paul bought it. But he could see its potential as a loft-style apartment for himself and his wife.

Fish Factory couple INP

Polly Larkham and husband, Antony D'Esposito outside their former fish factory home. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

Sadly, Paul passed away a month into the build. At the time Polly, who was living in London with her now husband, accountant Antony D’Esposito, decided to fulfil her father’s dream so the couple moved back to New Zealand to oversee the renovation.

It helped that Polly works as a commercial asset manager so had her finger on the property market pulse. Having a strong design ethic didn’t hurt either.

“The aim was to keep a sense of the building’s heritage but also turn it into a stylish, comfortable home,” Polly says.

But before any hammers could be swung, years of fishing detritus, including old nets and crab baskets, had to be removed.

Fish Factory steps INP

The former fish factory has been converted into a stylish and practical home. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

Designed by Wellington architect John Mills, the year-long build involved gutting the space and extending it by 20sqm – increasing the building’s footprint to 170sqm. That created a contemporary living room which leads onto a deck Polly has landscaped into various zones.

The star of this space is a stylish suspended fireplace which can rotate so it works both as an indoor fire and an outdoor heater.

The couple knocked out a wall to open up the kitchen and dining area which is accessed via a few steps. This space was previously used as the fish factory’s shop and the large tin sign which hangs on one wall came from the original shop.

“It’s a nice connection to the building’s history.”

Another artwork with special significance is the large colourful dog-roll advertising sign. It’s by renowned Kiwi artist Dick Frizzell and is, Polly says, a nod to the pet food company her father once owned.

Both Polly and her husband love to cook, so a spacious kitchen was top of their wish list. “We’d lived in tiny English flats for so long that we really wanted lots of space to cook and entertain friends.”

Fish Factory kitchen INP

The kitchen is the hub for entertaining in the fish factory home. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

A must-have was the 3.2m long granite worktop which was constructed as one piece and took several burly builders to manoeuvre into place.

Upstairs are two bedrooms, including a guest bedroom which doubles as a study, and the main bedroom which is flooded with light from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

A metal screen not only aligns with the building’s industrial bones, it adds privacy to the generous deck which extends from the main bedroom.

Privacy is, in fact, a key part of this luxury conversion. The house itself lies off a busy thoroughfare, tucked between a supermarket and a fast-food store.

“Most people have no idea that there’s even a house here,” says Polly of the location, which is mostly home to industrial and retail sites. “First time visitors often get lost.”

Access is via a side entrance and a ‘forest’ of black lancewood trees which creates a suitably dramatic introduction to the property.

Double glazing blocks out the surrounding neighbourhood noise, further adding to the home’s urban sanctuary feel. Skylights were also added to bring light into the space, including the downstairs living room where it bounces off a wall of eucalyptus planks that Paul had found years ago and saved for the right occasion.

Fish Factory living INP

The industrial feel of the former fish factory lends itself to vintage and op shop décor. Photo by Nicola Edmonds.

It’s been four years since the couple moved in and they say the house works perfectly for them.

“I’m so pleased Dad had the vision to turn an old fish factory into such a cool home which is easy to live in, keep clean and style,” Polly says. “The industrial feel means that it suits a lot of vintage and op-shop furniture and we’re a few minutes from the beach, which is handy to walk our dog. The area has also changed since we’ve been here, with more bars and cafés. We definitely don’t see ourselves leaving any time soon.”


Story by Sharon Stephenson for the Autumn 2024 issue of AA Directions Magazine. Sharon is a Wellington-based freelance writer who regularly contributes to AA Directions. 

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