At home: Living for the city

By Claire McCall

The beautifully renovated Auckland apartment of Michael Hooker and Hodi Poorsoltan showcases their love of different styles and cultures, as it combines both old with new, and East with West.

Hooker says he and Poorsoltan share a design sensibility. 'Before we say it out loud, we know what we are both thinking.' Photo / Babiche Martens
Hooker says he and Poorsoltan share a design sensibility. 'Before we say it out loud, we know what we are both thinking.' Photo / Babiche Martens

There is a keeper at the door of Michael Hooker and Hodi Poorsoltan's central Auckland apartment. Actually, there are two. A framed, black-and-white Sam Nixon photograph of two young Maori kids with a great, big attitude hangs boldly in the entrance hall.

"I call them my little warriors," says Hooker. "They make sure the bad doesn't come in."

Hooker and Poorsoltan operate an international model placement and management service. That means identifying New Zealanders who have the talent and looks to strut it on the world's fashion runways - and coaching them and their parents through the ins and outs of the business. It also means that they spend their time jetting between this Auckland pad and their New York base.

"In Manhattan we live in a wonderful area called West Chelsea," explains Hooker. "All the galleries have moved there from Soho, so it's a creative hub, full of photographers, art directors, ad agencies and the like."

Their New York apartment overlooks the High Line, a suspended freight train track that fell into disrepair and has recently been redeveloped and landscaped into an urban park that snakes a green route in the sky from downtown to midtown.

In New York, they also enjoy iconic views of the Empire State building and the Hudson River, and can duck into the Gagosian Gallery on their way home to drink in originals by Monet, Renoir and their contemporaries.

Back here, the view is equally impressive. Directly across from their living room, the new Auckland Art Gallery has just opened. "On one side you could be in Paris," says Hooker, pointing to the revamped facade of the historical 1887 building. The other section of the front entrance is contemporary and striking with a soaring tree-like canopy as its roofline. "It's beautiful all lit up at night. In fact, you can see the reflection of the Sky Tower in its glass."

The pair feel fortunate to live in the cultural heart of the city in an old brick building that was the first YMCA in Auckland. Designed by Australian architect Alexander Wiseman (who was also responsible for the ferry building), it was built in 1913. It is described as Baroque Edwardian in style and archival photographs show a grand, solid structure, with trams rumbling past the entrance. It now wears its distinctive green and red coat proudly. "Hodi has always loved this building," says Hooker. "I think it's the New Yorker in him."

These globe-trotting art lovers had been looking for a lock-up-and-leave for 18 months before they came across this gem. "It had been the manager's apartment," says Hooker. "It had egg-shell blue walls and carpet and brightly patterned curtains."

It also had potential - in spades. Beneath the decorative touches was real substance: wide-plank kauri floors, original red brick, and soaring ceilings with intricately carved cornices.

With the help of Poorsoltan's sister, an architect, they reconfigured the spaces for light, work at all hours - and plenty of entertaining.

"We got a bit of a surprise when the bedroom floor was revealed as chipboard, but a friend sourced old timbers to patch it up and you'd never be able to tell."

The builders, too, were in for a discovery. While removing the Gib to reveal the beautiful brickwork beneath, they suddenly uncovered an area of solid concrete.

"They rang us in a panic wanting to know if they should stop and plaster it all back up. Of course, we said no. We wanted to show the bones," says Hooker.

The result is an essentially urban environment; a heritage architecture that combines with art, furniture and other finds, to create a space that could be anywhere in the world.

"Hodi and I like so many things from different styles and cultures that we don't want to pigeonhole ourselves," explains Hooker. But he's happy to say their look is a combination of old meets new and East meets West, leaving little else to cover really.

There are many nods to Poorsoltan's history. He is of Persian blood, although educated in the US, and the living-room carpet is a family treasure. "It's 60 or 70 years old," explains Hooker. On an antique sideboard in the dining area, a Persian ceremonial helmet stands next to a pair of Chinese horses and a Bosatsu statue from Japan.

A collection of masks on the wall reads like a journey through the East. "We travelled such a lot and decided that instead of buying knick-knacks, we'd have to focus on one thing." Ironically, Hooker's favourite mask is one he discovered in a second-hand shop on the Gold Coast. "Believe it or not, it is an opera mask from La Scala which had once belonged to a costume maker in Italy and had been inherited by his son who sold it on."

Both the living and dining room offer a warm welcome. A leather club chair beneath a stand of books invites a pause between keeping up with the 24/7 business environment of cyberspace. "We do a lot of work by Skype and email. It's lucky that when it's 5pm in New York, it's 9am here so we can call the agencies and tell them how a particular model is doing."

An antique French farmhouse table forms the centrepiece of the entertaining zone. Above it hangs a glorious chandelier. "It's Venetian style and came with lots of crystals to hang off it, but Hodi and I decided that would be too much of a good thing." Chandeliers in both bathrooms, which are tiled floor to ceiling in black, are a little extra indulgence. "Why do we love chandeliers? Because God made us that way."

A pair of antique copper doors from Rajasthan, bought at ABC in Manhattan - "a beautiful shop with fabrics and furnishings from around the world" - bring some history to the dining space while a glass vessel on the table, so sensual it looks like liquid, was purchased at the (now closed) New York branch of the Japanese Takashimaya department store.

The couple, who married recently, share a design sensibility. "Before we say it out loud, we know what we are both thinking," says Hooker.

In the Poggenpohl kitchen, the fridge, dishwasher, a laundry area and even the microwave are discreetly hidden behind soft-closing doors. The former laundry was converted into an office space, which at the tug of a black curtain, is cleverly disguised.

This leaves the art to shine. And, as expected, there are many with stories to tell. A haunting work by John Ward Knox was bought at a charity auction for the Raukatauri Music Therapy Trust, which offers communication with intellectually handicapped children through music. Then there's the joyful floral painting by Pamela Wolfe in the living area which hangs alongside an early piece by Tauranga-based figurative artist Bryce Brown. "We like to support New Zealand art."

In the bedroom, a canvas by Poorsoltan himself, is above the bed. "Hodi is a self-taught artist who tends to have a political element to his work," says Hooker.

This one, which comments on the makers of art and the writers of history, is from a series completed in 2007. Now Poorsoltan is working on a theme that explores the issues of wearing a burqa, and he hopes to exhibit the results next year.

In the meantime, there's an international business to run and, as it happens, housework to do.

The gallery's construction site next door has covered the windows in dust and Hooker is not averse to clambering out on to the parapet, mop and bucket in hand, to reinstate the view he bought into. Hey, it's all glamour.

- NZ Herald

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