One of the joys of living on the North Shore is the number of architectural gems from the 1960s and 70s scattered around the inner suburbs. In the years around the opening of the Harbour Bridge, land was cheap and accessible and the place was rapidly filling with brave young families happy to leave their old-fashioned bungalows and villas behind. In the decade before, an exciting bunch of architects had formed a group, known as Group Architects, dedicated to the notion of affordable modern design, and had been building small, affordable houses around the seaside suburbs.
Morris and Barbara Taylor were one of those intrepid couples, moving to Birkenhead from Epsom. Morris was a town planner for the council, so was in tune with the philosophy of the Group. He also had the foresight to see that the suburb would only become more attractive over time so snapped up a huge parcel of land with riparian rights just above the wharf in 1969. Morris was a lecturer at Auckland University so knew Group member Ivan Juriss, by then practising on his own. The couple briefed Juriss for their family home, and construction began in 1970.
The house so perfectly suited the Taylors and their son David, that it wasn't until early 2012 that the elder Taylors moved on to a retirement community, passing the house on to David. David, himself an urban designer, had just returned home with his family after eight years working for the City of London on sustainable housing and city regeneration. "I'd grown up with this good design, I kind of took it for granted. I didn't realise until I got back that this was quintessential New Zealand design," he says. " This is known in all the architecture books as The Taylor House, so I wanted to change it as little as possible, but bring it up to modern standards."
David worked with builder Joel Douglas to keep the wonderful Juriss-designed split levels, cedar joinery and rimu wood-work. Naturally, after years working on sustainable energy houses, he had to fully re-insulate the house, repair joinery and install low-energy LED lighting. The original ducting for central heating -- well ahead of its time -- was easily repurposed for modern heating.
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The house is deliberately subtle from the street: only a band of clerestory windows and a sculptural carport suggest there are interesting things inside. Inside, glimpses of other levels, and soaring ceilings that draw in light make the compact house seem much larger. David realised that the cork floors, heavy rimu built-in shelves and fixtures made the house seem dark today. Pure architects' white was the obvious choice for walls, and the couple ripped up old flooring to reveal beautiful, untouched rimu floors. Cream carpet in the bedrooms and formal living rooms, and a crisp white tile in the wet areas have lighted the spaces, while the staircase balustrade is now clear glass.
Outside, decks and retaining walls were replaced, but David points out that the magic of the property is the track that leads to a tiny beach. His childhood was spent fossicking and swimming. After years away, he now relishes the sound of tuis and wood-pigeons -- and the silence of the bush. But the children are now at schools on the other side of the bridge, so David is making the trek back to the city side -- leaving this family gem for the next generation of North Shore architecture lovers.