Just like a Rolling Stone

By John Gardner

After the Rolling Stones crashed through the last chords of their marathon Bigger Bang tour they paid tribute to New Zealand neurosurgeon Andrew Law who worked on Keith Richards after his misguided attempt, when not quite himself, to shin up a coconut palm in Fiji.

The king of the riffs might also have grateful memories of Cotter House, the Remuera boutique hotel where he recovered amid gracious surroundings and a wealth of artwork in which he apparently displayed more than a passing interest.

The combination of the notoriously hard-case Richards and high art is not as incongruous as it seems. He was, like many other rockers, educated at art school, and Johnny Depp's inspiration for his role in Pirates of the Caribbean was drawn as much from a painting of Richards by Paul Kerslake, brother of Ronnie Woods, as from the guitarist's buccaneering approach to life.

And at Cotter House Richards would have encountered another lively personality - its owner Gloria Poupard-Walbridge who, for a small woman, is larger than life. The house itself is one of the oldest in the city. It was built in 1847 by Joseph Newman who arrived in New Zealand in 1840 and did extremely well - including buying 60 acres (24 ha) at 20 shillings an acre.

After his death in 1892 (a liquor advertising hoarding fell on this teetotaller's head) the house and its land passed to the Cotter family.

They subdivided the surrounding land into what became Remuera, an enterprise which puts contemporary Auckland developers into the shade. After it was sold in 1926 the house fell into various hands and some disrepair but the more recent owners, culminating with Gloria, have restored it to its former glory.

The entertainment rooms and pretty garden are elegant and domestic rather than grand, although the ballroom lifts it out of the run of the average historic home. The art distinguishes it and makes for a unique weekend.

Gloria's collection is eclectic and ranges from old religious carvings, to Latin American primitives, the highly regarded Australian Anne Marie Graham, and the New Zealander Claudia McKay who painted Gloria's daughter against a Desert Rd backdrop.

The house and garden also shows the works of contemporary artists based in New Zealand that change from time to time. Gloria will arrange visits to galleries and studios where her guests can meet working artists.

Cotter House is the sort of place where artists drop in. John Abramcyzk, whose wonderful cast glass is displayed at the house, arrived to deliver a new piece just in time for afternoon tea in a sunny sheltered spot on the terrace. He came with us on our visit to the new Customs St studio of Simon Payton and Delia Woodham.

There was something enormously beguiling in being surrounded by the evidence of an artist's career with finished pieces and works in progress including some rather unsettling shrouded three-dimensional figures from a continuing major project.

The mysterious presence of figures in Payton's layered and textured works was unsettling but his conversation about his work was absorbing and provided a rare insight into how an artist works.

From Payton's studio it was on to the EA Gallery in High St for more conversation with young gallery director Lang Ea and a look at the ceramics of Phillipa Durkin, From the body of a whale, and work by Gill Saker and Sharon Painter-Arps.

Other itineraries include the Warwick Henderson gallery in Parnell or Oedipus Rex in Lorne St.

Even without the art, Cotter House is still something of an experience. The bed and breakfast arrangement includes afternoon tea, a stylish affair of petits fours and other nibbles.

In the evening we had an array of delightful canapes with our glasses of good wine, which made going out to dinner around the corner in Remuera an exercise in redundancy.

And the whole is accompanied by Gloria drawing her conversation from a deep well with reminiscences and anecdotes from an interesting life. She is from a diplomatic background, was born in Colombia and educated in France, and it shows.

As it is such an intimate establishment there's a reasonable chance other guests will be interesting too. Our companions until jetlag claimed them were a charming neuro-surgeon from Chicago and his wife.

Then it was off to bed in one of just three lovely bedrooms. This is, indeed, a boutique establishment. The rooms manage to combine all the touches of period charm and all the mod cons, including ISDN.

Our room had a CD player, digital television, a stylish shower and a realistic gas fire using the old flue. And artworks are everywhere.

Don't plan a quick getaway after your night here. The breakfast is leisurely and includes enough food to last the day, with fresh fruit, compote, homemade cereals, warm croissants, eggs every which way and all presented in silver-service style.

Driving into the traffic was a wrench but if Keef used the experience as a refuelling platform to hit the road again we just had to grin and bear it too.

CHECKLIST

Contact: Cotter House Luxury Retreat, 4 St Vincent Ave, Remuera. Phone (09) 529 5156.

Getting there: Cotter House is an easy walk from Remuera's restaurants and shops and an easy drive from central Auckland.

Galleries:

Simon Payton/Delia Woodham, Level 2, Customs St East.
EA Gallery, 3A, 47 High St. Phone (09) 379 6460.
Oedipus Rex Gallery, 1st Floor, 32 Lorne St. Phone (09) 379 0588.
Warwick Henderson Gallery, 32 Bath St, Parnell. Phone (09) 309 7513.

John Gardner was a guest of Cotter House.

- Herald on Sunday

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