Labour of architects' love

By Penny Lewis

SIZE: Land 1088sq m, house 315sq m (approx).
PRICE INDICATION: CV $2.15 million. Auction April 24.
INSPECT: Please phone for an appointment.
SCHOOL ZONES: St Heliers School, Glendowie College.
CONTACT: Karin Cooper, Barfoot & Thompson, ph 027 491 2158.
FEATURES: Beautiful home initially designed by Richard Toy; then later owned and rebuilt by renowned architect Claude Megson. Set among mature trees and is a short walk to Dingle Dell, St Heliers Bay beach and shopping village.
40 Fern Glen Rd North, St Heliers. Photo / Ted Baghurst
40 Fern Glen Rd North, St Heliers. Photo / Ted Baghurst

Standing tall and elegant on a corner site overlooking Dingle Dell Reserve, this St Heliers home has an impressive architectural pedigree. Owned by Carol and Graeme England since the late 1990s, for 25 years it was the home of renowned architect Claude Megson, who died in 1994 aged 57. The house was originally built by Professor Richard Toy (1911-1995), a senior colleague of Claude's at the University of Auckland's School of Architecture.

One of Claude's former students, Andrew Barrie, now himself a professor of design at the university's School of Architecture and Planning, says Claude and his wife Cherie lived in the house for 15 years before carrying out an extensive renovation in 1983-1984. A new structure was built over the original brick base, with balconies - described by Andrew as "cages of mesh and steel tube" - projecting from the house out into the treetops.

Carol and Graeme's son, Simon, an architect in London, is also a former student of Claude's. Simon visited his design lecturer at home several times, the last visit not long before Claude succumbed to cancer.

"He always welcomed his students and was working until his last days."

The first time Carol saw the house, at an open home after Claude's death, she was awestruck.

"There it was, the most amazing house, growing out of the dell," she recalls, adding that Simon had always spoken of it with enthusiasm.

Other people bought it then, but the Englands bought it when it came on the market again in 1997.

Fully appreciative of the its provenance, the Englands left the footprint of the house as it was, but commissioned Simon to undertake changes which retained the integrity of Claude's design.

"I learned a lot from Claude and I was in a fair amount of awe over this wonderful house. It was an incredible privilege being able to restore it and show it in its full glory," Simon says.

Changes included updating bathrooms and replacing carpet and marble flooring with tiles downstairs. The central main level, with its two living areas and the kitchen, has Tasmanian oak timber flooring, while the uppermost mezzanine level, with three bedrooms, has soft carpet.

The Englands planted cypresses and formal, sculptural hedging to complement the house, with its geometric masses of brick softened by cedar-shingle cladding. Inside, Claude's conservatory kitchen with extra-thick stainless steel benchtop and beautifully arranged pantry storage are largely as they were, along with extensive negative detailing throughout the house - no skirting or cornices here - and a sense of light and space.

Carol recalls a visit by a couple of Claude's family members after the alterations were completed and says she was thrilled when they said, "[Claude] would have approved."

Andrew Barrie says Claude was a world-class architect. "His houses brought a sculptural quality but they were also incredibly tied to the way people live. Usually, it's one or the other and to do both was unusual ... there were few like him."

As a young graduate, architect Ron Seeto and two others worked for Claude in a downstairs home studio, a room now used as a den. Ron says he was lucky to be picked to work for Claude. He recalls him as a perfectionist.

This house has been a wonderful home for Carol and Graeme and for their children when they visit from overseas. Simon returns annually, while daughter Nicole, a Melbourne-based architectural photographer, flies over regularly.

Carol and Graeme have loved much about this house, including spending time in the courtyard off the kitchen. It's particularly special in summer when there are council-organised opera concerts in the reserve below. "We have friends over for dinner and we sit outside, drinking wine and listening to the opera," says Carol. "It's magical."

- NZ Herald

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