An astonishing piece of 1920s architectural heritage lies at the foot of Maungawhau (Mt Eden). Called Whare Tane, the house is a mash-up of the period's international styles - Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie houses, Glasgow Arts and Crafts and Pakeha New Zealand's fascination with Maori-influenced design.
The house reflects the era's growing sense of national identity, in part sparked by its original owner, prominent illustrator and cartoonist, Trevor Lloyd. Lloyd was the first to use the Kiwi as the national symbol, in a 1905 cartoon about the defeat of the British Lions. His illustrations of native flora and fauna and use of Maori symbolism were ahead of the times, too.
Present owner Andrew Whillans was only vaguely aware of its significance when he bought the house from Lloyd's daughters in 1983. "I was just looking for a footstep back into the area I'd grown up in," admits Andrew, "it had no modern amenities so people didn't value it back then."
Andrew has lived in the house periodically, while establishing dental practices locally and in Whangarei. He commissioned plans to introduce more modern conveniences, "but each time I was ready to do it, something else conspired to distract my attention," he says.
Although the house is a bit frayed around the edges, the solid construction and forward-thinking design remain. The building is concrete, sitting on basalt stone quarried from the site. Architect John Anderson clearly referenced Lloyd Wright's Prairie-style houses, with its flat-roofed horizontal design. Now softened by ivy, it must have seemed radical compared to the nearby English-style cottages.
The modernist exterior opens to a wood-panelled lobby, a celebration of Arts and Crafts decoration.
"The house was stuffed with paintings and Maori artefacts when the sisters left," recalls Andrew. The remaining decorations are part of the furniture - Maori-style carvings on newel posts and door frames and even carved tiki (with movable tongues) as light switches and latches. Lloyd himself made the tiki-style brass lampshade.
"The architect was very clever at capturing views and sunlight," says Andrew. To do so, the living areas are upstairs, with bedrooms on the ground floor. The panelled stairwell opens on to a dining area with adjacent living room through multi-paned French doors. This floor reflects the architect's Scottish background, with geometric decorations reminiscent of Glasgow's Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Generous windows and a balcony off the dining room reveal panoramic views of the whole city. A deciduous magnolia tree in the garden below provides summer shade and winter sun. The living room - originally called the music room - features a massive basalt fireplace, complete with three kiwi embossed on the brass hood, and built-in inglenooks.
Also on this floor is the shell of the original kitchen and an ancient lavatory, opening to the mountainside garden. Andrew's plans included a modest rear extension for mod cons, capturing views over the flat roof and kiwi-shaped weather vane.
Downstairs, the three bedrooms retain their original wooden floors and ceilings. The study has another basalt fireplace and westerly windows overlooking the mountain reserve. The adjacent empty shell was once the bathroom.
In the foyer, the tiki-latched door reveals stairs to the basement, originally used as Lloyd's studios. The basalt boulder walls remain, although Andrew removed the rotten wooden floors. An arched door opens to the garden, now a green wilderness with remnants of scoria-edged paths.
Andrew bought the adjoining property in the 1990s, although it can be sold separately. The house is registered by the Historic Places Trust and scheduled by the council so new owners will need to work sensitively to restore this special piece of Auckland's heritage.
"It's time for someone else to assume the mantle of responsibility," says Andrew.By Joanna Smith