Opening bid for a living gallery

By Louise Richardson

SIZE: Land 507sq m, house 248sq m.
PRICE INDICATION: CV $1.61 million. Properties in the area are generally selling above CV. Auction November 21.
INSPECT: Sat/Sun 1-1.40pm.
SCHOOL ZONES: Freemans Bay Primary, Ponsonby Intermediate, Western Springs College, Auckland Girls' Grammar.
CONTACT: Daryl Spense, ph 021 955 387, or Mitchell Roberts, 027 413 0797, Ray White.
FEATURES: Large renovated villa with versatile living spaces, basement garaging and wine cellar. Courtyard with outdoor fire.
17 Picton St, Freemans Bay.
17 Picton St, Freemans Bay.

When Peter Webb was a small boy, he loved setting up displays of groceries in his mother's kitchen.

"I think you're going to be a window dresser," she'd say.

Peter went on to work in the art world, eventually establishing one of the country's best-known auction houses with wife Annie, and surrounding himself with the beautiful things he loves.

With no children at home, the couple felt it was time to leave Western Springs and create their own dream space closer to the city; a place where their extensive art collection could be displayed to best advantage.

They thought they'd found the perfect property here in Freemans Bay. It had been council-owned and, as Peter describes it, was basically a crumbly old villa, with a dirt floor in the basement and an outside toilet. Nevertheless, both could see its potential and after being outbid at auction, they were somewhat dejected.

Then, an unexpected phone call brought great news.

"The person who'd bought it realised that the price of the renovation was more than they could afford," remembers Peter. "We made an offer straight away."

The Webbs engaged architect Grant Copeland to work with them on what was indeed a major remodelling challenge.

The stunning result includes an entrance hall so large it's practically a room in its own right. The couple regularly rotate their artworks in this space, setting up spectacular "stories".

Downstairs there's double garaging and two good-sized bedrooms, one of which has an en suite. A large laundry room has potential for conversion to other uses and, right in the middle, is a wine cellar.

"It's pretty empty these days," says Peter. "But it was great when we used it, because it's practically underground so the wine stays cool."

It's at the top of the stairs that the true scale of the property becomes apparent. A huge, open and expansive living area with bamboo floors and towering ceilings features what are effectively rooms within a room: a dining area with garden views, a cosy conversation spot around the gas fireplace, and a music corner where Peter bangs out a few notes on the grand piano when his fingers aren't feeling stiff. Skylights highlight large paintings and installations, and bookcases and display shelves abound.

French doors lead to a generous courtyard with a fishpond and outdoor fire. "It's really an extension of the house," says Peter. "With all this room it's an ideal place for parties - and we've had some wild ones!"

The kitchen is reasonably small but well appointed. "You could easily use some of the dining space if you wanted to make it bigger," he suggests.

There's a light and pleasant main bathroom. "We haven't touched it for20 years and someone would probably want to modernise it."

The master bedroom is refined and elegant, with a walk-in wardrobe. When they first moved in, the couple considered double glazing these windows to cut out traffic noise but decided against it. "To be honest, you don't notice it at all." says Peter.

In a house with so many interesting twists and turns, the final revelation is a cosy and intimate sitting room where Annie likes to sit and read. It could easily be used as an office or even another bedroom.

Now they've retired from the auction business, the Webbs plan to spend more time at their beach house, so they've bought a city apartment. "This house would be great for an artist or musician. We just want someone to walk in and love it."

- NZ Herald

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