Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
Not a cheap copy bought off the internet, or even an authentic one recently acquired from one of those trendy stores in Parnell, but an original one, bought from a store that no longer exists, in Queen Street, in 1968. “It’s looking a little flat now,” smiles, Peter. I agreed, it was, but that made it even more endearing.
Peter, a retired architect, acquired the land this home sits on several years before he bought his chair and immediately started to think about a design; one specifically with a young family in mind. “In those days, you made a hole in the bush beside the road, then you made a bigger hole for your house,” he says, wryly.
Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. No sooner had they bought the land, he and Rosemary went overseas. Working from memory, with a few photos and a contoured plan of the site, the house was designed in Montreal, with a little help from his brother…
“When I needed some specific detail about the site, I’d write to my brother, who was also an architect. There were no emails back then and phone calls were not included in the budget,” explains, Peter. “My brother would then visit the site and report back to me, again via a letter.” So it wasn’t a quick process.
“This wasn’t designed to be our first house and then sold on. We always thought of it as the house we were going to live in as long as we were physically able.” says, Rosemary.
“I wasn’t on any architectural crusade in designing the house. I wanted a three-bedroom New Zealand house that suited a young family – something more generous than the norm in terms of area, built in conventional materials, albeit somewhat rearranged and certainly within a reasonably achievable budget. And perhaps a little Japanese influence” he adds.
There’s something very ‘modern’ and familiar about Peter’ design – structural glazed walls, raked ceilings with clerestory windows, multiple living areas, a separate area for the children, and a parent’s retreat upstairs. Not your typical design from late sixties’ New Zealand.
Apart from two walls that visually anchor the end of each wing, the entire house is constructed with Rimu joinery and paneling internally, and cedar weatherboards externally. Rimu was a cheap timber in those days, but now it’s prohibitively expensive to use as a building material. Budget was a significant consideration. “At the time, when we were in Canada, the consensus was that your rent should not exceed 25% of your income. We equated that to a mortgage, and set our budget accordingly,” says, Peter “And we stuck to it.”
As I follow Peter and Rosemary around their house, they point out some of the personal design details that make this house a home – like in the children’s wing, for example; a linear extension off the main hub, comprising a bathroom and two bedrooms (and latterly, an office). But it’s not quite as simplistic as that. As we make our way down the long, glass-sided corridor, Rosemary pushes open the first three doors. “We compartmentalised each of the elements of the bathroom – the bath, the shower and the toilet – so that they could be used individually at the same time,” she says. “That way, there’s no arguments in the morning.” Brilliant.
“The bush just became part of their rooms,” says, Peter.
Next, we come to two generous bedrooms, but they don’t have doors – in fact, they don’t have walls, just three-metre drapes that pull across to open the rooms to the corridor and, in turn, the bush outside, via floor-to-ceiling sliding doors.
At the back of the bedrooms, there’s another clever design feature – a narrow conduit that passes behind the bathroom, into the laundry, which can be accessed from the family room – a sort of horizontal laundry chute, if you like.
The family room, with it’s soaring six-metre, raked ceiling holds special memories for Peter and Rosemary. “It was a space for all the family activities involving the children when they were young,” says, Rosemary. “And it still provides us with great entertainment when our grandchildren visit. They love the high ceilings – they make paper jets and throw them into the air.”
The adjacent kitchen is a real time capsule. The cabinetry is made from, you guessed it, solid Rimu. The full-width aluminium drawer and door pulls look modern, but they’re original, too. “At the time, you couldn’t buy anything like this, so we had them made locally,” says, Peter. Unless he’d pointed them out, I’d never have noticed.
The one thing in the kitchen that does look like it’s straight out of the sixties is the original Moffat electric hob. And it’s wearing pretty well considering it’s approaching its fiftieth birthday. Imagine what your cooktop would look like in 2066?
The staircase at the core of the house winds its way up to the master suite. At the top of the stairs we’re greeted by a light-filled room that used to have sweeping views back to the city, but 40 years of growth has seen the Titirangi bush close in. “We still know the city’s there because we can see the glow,” smiles, Rosemary.
The adjoining bathroom was first designed as a nursery for their youngest daughter, only becoming their ensuite once she was old enough to move downstairs and join her sister in their very own wing. Yet another thoughtful piece of design.
Our tour ends back where it started, in the lounge. For me, this is the defining room of the house – a simple, Rimu-lined structure, with an open fire in one corner and a built-in bookcase in the other, sitting harmoniously between unobstructed views of the native bush on both sides, thanks to those floor-to-ceiling sliding doors. And, of course that Eames chair.
Much like their beloved Eames chair, there’s an authenticity about Peter and Rosemary’s home. It has a purposeful design that has been well built using honest materials. Not only has it stood the test of time, it’s still as fresh and as relevant today as it was the day it was conceived.
*Please note the owners names have been changed for privacy reasons.
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