The welcoming party at the gate to Julia Sloane's holiday pad in Whangateau, north of Auckland stands only 30cm high. Yet his presence speaks volumes. He's perched on a post where a security code is required for access - a resin gnome in shocking pink. And he's giving the finger. To get here, you must travel along a dirt track beside a creek and over wooden bridges, beneath the gloom of overhanging trees with a gravel driveway that twists around the hillside. This is not a property you might just stumble upon. That's exactly how Sloane - a well-known face since her appearance on The Real Housewives of Auckland (yes, she was the one with the sex toys) - and her husband, Michael Lorimer, like it. "The minute you arrive, the weight drops off your shoulders," she says. "You walk in, hear the birds and feel so at peace." Lorimer purchased the property 15 years ago to grow grapes and run cattle: 20ha of rolling land with a multimillion-dollar view, from Great Barrier Island across to the Coromandel Peninsula and Omaha Bay. They find themselves here most weekends, says Sloane, a former competitive runner and bond broker; and a finalist in the Face of the 80s and Miss New Zealand. They catch up with friends with holiday houses nearby (fellow Housewife Louise Wallace included). "We love stopping off at the local bars on our way up Friday nights," she says. "Smiths [in Matakana] is a favourite."
Anyone who visits gets to leave their shoes on. A floor is for walking on.
The home itself sits low on its site, allowing the landscape hero status. The architecture is part modern ranch house mashed with Kiwi bach. Californian architect Cliff May created the style, where low gable rooflines slope to the ground, wide eaves provide shelter and floor-to-ceiling glass welcome in the light. Vertical cedar cladding, stained black, is closer to the local vernacular. "When I first saw the house, I loved the simplicity of the architecture, and the spaciousness," says Sloane. There's plenty of room for her two teenagers, from her previous marriage to art auctioneer Dunbar Sloane, to hang out.
A passion for art initially brought Lorimer and Sloane together. On one of their first dates, they attended an auction and both fell in love with a Paul Dibble bronze. One lunch led to another, then "it got to the stage where I thought, 'I'm actually looking forward to spending my lunches with Michael way more than starting to date anyone else'," says Sloane. He proposed in Venice and they married in February this year. A scale-model maquette of Solace in the Wind, a work by Wellington-based artist Max Patte that stands on the Wellington waterfront, leans out from the edge of the infinity pool.
Inside are polished eucalyptus timber floors. "Anyone who visits gets to leave their shoes on," says Lorimer. "A floor is for walking on." Cocktails are either poolside or in the rear courtyard, depending on which way the wind is blowing. Like the show, there's a lot of wine-drinking going on. And why not, when you grow award-winning cabernet franc in the front garden? "It's fruity, without being too in-your- face," Sloane says.
The dramas of the show seem to roll over her, particularly when it comes to how her relationship with Lorimer has been presented. "We have a very strong, committed, fun relationship and the show hasn't challenged that at all," she says. And are the Housewives really friends?
"I've known Anne for years and have attended her Pussy parties in the past. Louise I knew through mutual friends and her sister lives in the same apartment block. Michelle's daughter and my daughter have got to know one another through the show, and that's been great. Angela and I have grown close toward the end of the show." Still it's a rare few who will get to share the fruits of their vine. For Real Housewives'
fans, catching a glimpse of Sloane relaxing at her weekend home would be a chance to discover whether the real deal matches her on-screen persona. Get past the discourteous pink gnome and you may well find out.
Julia's favourite places to shop
• I love Baran de Bordeaux in Parnell for antiques. And their 19th century French chandeliers; those hand-cut crystal droplets are just gorgeous. The ornate Louis XV-style candlesticks look just the part in our cellar. • Michael and I both enjoy heading along to the contemporary art auctions at Art and Object. Luckily we both have the same taste. Although what we like usually tends to be the most expensive piece in the catalogue! • I love antique furniture but also antique jewellery and my go-to shop for Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian period necklaces is Graeme Thomson Antique Jewellery. • I always pop in to Damask at Matakana Village to see what's new. • Apart from the fashion, World has some really quirky objects. That's where my daughter found the pink gnome that stands at the entrance gate, that she bought Michael for Christmas.