1. You started a studio in your parents spare bedroom at 20. What sort of work did you do?
I did a little en suite for the elderly parents of one of my mother's friends. I did a back deck and some fences. To me it just looked like alchemy, like magic, that I could sit and imagine something, draw it and one day a bunch of really tough, big, gruff people would turn up in trucks with piles of timber and turn it into a reality.
2. When first meeting the clients of the future Home of the Year, you brought along an antique Chinese teapot. Why?
I just wanted to completely abandon the idea that we might be talking about living rooms and en suites and "here's a beautiful basin that I saw in a magazine". We were talking about fundamentals. The teapot was a really humble place to start. It had, in its singularity, a weight that I thought was very powerful.
3. Would you agree that Auckland specialises in ugly apartments?
Yeah, there was something that started happening in this city about 15 years ago; we started throwing up what will be the tenements of our future. They are appalling crimes on a city but, at the same time, they offered a kind of population density that was desperately needed. Now I think apartment living is being taken very seriously as the future of Auckland city. Mine is a generation that won't be able to live in the kinds of houses we grew up in. As much as that will be a growing pain for the culture, it's also probably about time. Auckland has suffered from our determination to live with a front garden and a back garden and four bedrooms and three bathrooms.
4. What's your own house like?My wife and I live in an old photographer's studio. It's a simple shed with exposed gang-nail trusses, everything sprayed out white, and a plywood floor. I think of it as a sort of house with training wheels for apartment dwellers. It's very contained and very private. I love that it's been recycled and twisted and its use now is not at all what it was when it was built.
5. Do you think you'll ever have a house in the suburbs with a garden?
I just don't know what the future looks like anymore. I don't know if I'll be in this city or another one, whether I'll be in a little apartment up a building or living deep in the countryside. That kind of freedom -- that not knowing -- is the greatest luxury I could hope for.
6. You are said to work phenomenal hours. Is that accurate?
For a long time I would get up at four in the morning and go to work, six days a week, and I'd work a half day on a Sunday as well. I'd barely sleep. Five years ago, as a studio, we just had to go so fast, because we were kind of scared that someone might discover that we were just making it all up. In my mind, the scale of the opportunity was so extraordinary that I just thought, "damn you if you sleep through this". But I decided that I'd kill myself if I'd carried on as I started. I'd turn up to dinners at family or friends' houses and I'd fall asleep halfway through a sentence. That's not a sob story. It was the most exhilarating version of life that I'd seen up until then, it felt as if everything around me was exploding.
7. When did you realise you'd reached your brink?
I do remember an airplane toilet moment. I was measuring the width of the toilet with my shoes and comparing it with a staircase that was being built and realising I had made what I thought was a terrible mistake. It was like a "clunk". It was an accumulation of exhaustion, uncertainty and operating beyond the limits of my own experience, in an environment where the implications of my acts were enormous, concrete, expensive and real. I don't want to paint that as a melodrama moment. It was just realising what my limit was, and that's very, very empowering. It's easy to stop far, far short of the cliff's edge because of your uncertainty about where it might be.
8. You have a reputation for good manners and charm. Was that hard to maintain when you were at your most stressed?
No, when I was most wrecked is when I needed most of all that other things be in order. That's when I would turn up in a bowtie.
9. What were you like as a teenager?
You would not have noticed me. I started high school at Auckland Grammar and I was ill-suited for that school; I was a little blond kid who loved painting and surfing, from a liberal family in Freemans Bay. I moved to senior college when I was 16. I turned up on the first day in a jersey that my nana had knitted me. I found senior college a most extraordinary place. I painted like crazy. The art room became like a second home to me. I got adopted by an extraordinary collection of girls in the 7th form and their art teacher -- they took me under their wing as a kind of curiosity and they were amazing. They had piercings all through their faces, they lived in flats in Grey Lynn. They made me feel like I belonged somewhere for the first time in a long time.
10. How did you meet your wife Lizzie?
I was on a bus leaving art school and she was crossing the road. I'm not sure that I can quite articulate what hit me but I recognised the young woman she was walking alongside -- she was in some of my classes -- so the next day I said, "who the hell was that you were walking down the road with?" Three hours later I met her. I'm 34 and I was 19 then, so it was that long ago.
11. What do you look to for visual stimulation?
I try not to look at almost anything architectural. I read no magazines, avoid blogs. When confronted with a problem, you might see only the solutions that others have provided. The flipside is that I saturate myself with other forms of input; cooking, eating, living, this city, other cities, clothing, ceramics, glass blowing. I always look at fashion designers, whether it's Karl Lagerfeld or Beth Ellery, and I am awed.
12. Most people are aware that your dad is architect Pip Cheshire. Who is your mother?
My mum [Aileen Cheshire] is an extraordinary woman. She taught English and then, while raising three boys, she retrained as a guidance counsellor. She's the absolute rock around which our very chaotic family swirls. The centre of everything.