LeeAnn Yare looks like the poster child for the woman who does it all, and has it all. When meeting the Weekly for a coffee, she looks immaculate, despite having stayed up until 1am that morning, finishing a piece she was writing on interior styling. As soon as she’s done here, it’s time to head home and look after the younger of her two boys, Dylan, who’s unwell.
Later, she’ll pop into Collected at Bloc, the design and gift shop she set up last year, just a couple of minutes’ drive from her Sandringham home in Auckland. She’s also really excited about a promotion at work. After years as a short-haul pilot, flying through Australia and the Pacific, in August she will begin piloting Boeing 767s long-haul, to destinations including Japan, China and Hawaii. And on Tuesday, she’s making her debut as the only female judge on the latest series of TV2’s iconic DIY show, Mitre 10 Dream Home.
“I might look like an organised supermum, but I’m pretty practical. I’m busy and work very hard – but I love it,” says LeeAnn (41), who lives with her husband, fellow pilot Glen (38), and their boys, Tyler (6), and Dylan (4),
They live in a renovated bungalow LeeAnn has been slowly rehabilitating since they moved in four-and-a-half years ago – one night after leaving hospital with baby Dylan.
“My main jobs are the flying, which I’ve been doing since I was 16, but I’ve also been an interior stylist and writer for about 12 years. The styling started off as a hobby – it was my other interest when I was deciding on a career as a school leaver – but now I do both. And it’s given me the opportunity to be on Dream Home. I’m absolutely stoked.”
As the show’s interior design judge, LeeAnn stars alongside building specialist David Reid, and architecture expert Huia Rereti. But while she insists all the judges are fair, she’s already developing a reputation for being the nice one.
“We’ve nicknamed Dave the Simon Cowell of the group!” she laughs. “I think we’re all nice – but none of us beat around the bush. We all have a different focus. My aim was always to help the families create their own dream home and do what’s right for them. It needs to be their own style – we’re building their dream home, not mine.” While many of us would be a quivering wreck with a schedule like LeeAnn’s, it’s all in a day’s work for the likable brunette.
“Glen does sometimes despair at how busy we are, but I honestly enjoy it,” says LeeAnn. “I’m driven by work, and I’m way more productive if I’m super-busy. If I have a deadline, I push ahead and get things done. If I do nothing, I literally do nothing. I’ve had to learn to use my time well.”
And she does – even if it means accepting that not everything can be perfect. “It’s about compromise. I’m really practical, because when you work and have kids, something has to give, and as I’m not prepared to sacrifice time with my kids, it’s usually the cleaning and tidying.
“I’m not Wonder Woman,” she says. “I have an amazing husband, who has been a really hands-on dad since the day the kids were born, and a fantastic mum, who lives four hours away, but still comes down to help out if Glen’s and my rosters overlap. It doesn’t happen as often as you’d expect, though. Everyone thinks he and I must be ships that pass in the night, but we see each other all the time.”
LeeAnn’s house is a riot of colour, shapes and objects, most of which were obtained from TradeMe or second-hand shops. And while there’s plenty of storage space, pretty much everything is on display.
“I have a bit of a mantra that if you have treasures you love, they shouldn’t be tucked away,” she says. “Nothing should be so precious that you can never use it.”
It’s a far cry from the plain sea of beige which dominated every room when the family moved in.
“It was a typical renovated character bungalow. Every surface was the same colour, the ceiling detail and original skirting had been removed, and all the bungalow doors had been taken out and replaced with plain modern ones,” she remembers.
“While they did a good job of renovating, it certainly wasn’t my cup of tea. All the character and charm had gone.”
Bit by bit, LeeAnn has transformed the house into a completely unique space. The kitchen bench is encapsulated with a roll of wallpaper left over from an interior design job.
“It was only supposed to be temporary, as I had no idea if it would stick, or if it would stand up to people knocking against it when they sat down, but it’s lasted three years.”
And the living room is full of nooks that house her magazine collection and a host of other “things”, from advertising posters and plates, to glassware and prints.
The room is dominated by a skull print by Martin Popplewell that LeeAnn describes as “one of only three proper pieces of art we own. The rest are just objects I’ve turned into art."
While Glen prefers the minimal look, his wish is unlikely to come true any time soon, thanks to LeeAnn.
“People assume our house looks like a photo shoot, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth,” she laughs. “If I had to style my whole house, it would take me around three days to get it right. “Glen’s pet hate is when I walk in and dump everything on the dining room table, where things accumulate for days until, eventually, it’s taken over three quarters of the table, and we have to huddle in one tiny corner to have dinner!”
Despite the pair sometimes disagreeing on design elements, their chaotic life clearly works.
“When we bought our first house, Glen used to leave all the decorating to me. Now, he’s done a complete reversal and is involved in everything,” says LeeAnn, wistfully.
“There’s always something we have to remember – the kids’ rugby practice, birthday parties, that kind of thing – on the chalkboard stickers in the kitchen. And I do after-hours work, like paying bills and ordering stock for the shop once the kids go to bed.”
She even finds time to hang out with her husband. “We watch a lot of TV together – we love food programmes, and were fully hooked on My Kitchen Rules.”
The one element LeeAnn admits is often missing, however, is a social life. “I’m working on getting out more, but most of the time I can only fit in seeing people when the kids are at school. Part of why I like working in the shop is it’s a good place for people to pop by and chat,” she says.
But she’s not unhappy – far from it. “My idea of relaxation is hanging out with the kids at home, and doing stuff with them,” she says. “No matter what else I do, or how many jobs I have, time with family is the most important thing of all.
I think I’m a better mum for being a working mum.”
A WORKING MUM'S GUIDE TO PRACTICAL PARENTING
- Keep a diary. I have a big book at home, so I can cross things off the list as I do them. The kids have sports training and birthday parties all the time – if it’s written down, you’re less likely to forget.
- Delegate. Glen is a much better shopper than me, because he can stick to a budget, while I’m more likely to be sucked in by “specials”. Stick to what you are good at.
- Invest in a good freezer. I cook meals like lasagne in bulk, then stick half in the big chest freezer in the laundry. When Glen’s away, I’ve got an easy meal for the kids and me.
- Kids’ rooms can be practical and cool. Tyler and Dylan have old soda pots under their beds with castor wheels attached to them. All they have to do to tidy their room is pull them out and chuck everything in.
- Accept that you can’t be perfect. We all want to be awesome mums, but we can’t do everything, so it’s okay if the house isn’t spotless, or dinner isn’t worthy of MasterChef. There’s nothing wrong with a basic chicken, mash and broccoli, or the occasional takeaway on a Friday night.
PHOTO: Larnie Nicolson