Throughout the 1960s, the legendary ceramicist Len Castle crafted his best works from his family home deep in the Titirangi bush.

He quarried clay from down the bank by his outdoor brick kiln. He handcrafted his pieces in his basement studio next to his indoor kiln and picked kauri grass here for his rich blue-on-brown glazes. And when he was done with all that, he exhibited the best and dumped the rest down behind the house.

Several changes of ownership followed after Len and Ruth Castle and their daughter Briar moved to South Titirangi in 1972, and documented stories surfaced of old kiln bricks reappearing as new paths and discarded pottery coming to light from beneath decades of leaf drop.

But Treasa Dunworth and Marty Wilkinson knew none of this 19 years ago when they came here looking for a home in the bush. Their first inkling of the artistic and architectural provenance came when Marty smelled linseed oil in the basement, the day he visited with his real estate agent.


"I went 'Oh, wow! That's linseed oil'. I said 'Was this a potter's house?' She said 'Yes. This was Len Castle's house.' And we didn't know Len Castle from a bar of soap."

Thanks to their alterations to the house, Treasa and Marty got first hand insight into the inventiveness and habits of Len Castle, whose works are still highly collectible six years after his death.

20 Tawini Rd, Titirangi. Photo / Ted Baghurst
20 Tawini Rd, Titirangi. Photo / Ted Baghurst

The house itself was designed in 1959 by James Hackshaw shortly after he'd left the famous Group Architects collective to further develop what he called the "New Zealandness" concept of house design.

Much has been written about "The Castle House" with its Kiwi roofline and remaining Japanese-style features, including the cedar sliding doors and exposed timber structures that were among Len Castle's influences.

Original architectural drawings show its separate lounge and combined kitchen/dining area on the entry level with a stepped-down bedroom/bathroom wing to one side.

For Treasa, a legal academic, and Marty, a special needs teacher, their historical appreciation has gone beyond the under-sill bookshelves and the brick fireplace with vents which once brought ducted heat up from Len's basement kiln.

Outside, they were delighted to discover broken and intact pottery pieces in the ground and to retrieve the last of the kiln bricks for Marty's paths.

20 Tawini Rd, Titirangi. Photo / Ted Baghurst
20 Tawini Rd, Titirangi. Photo / Ted Baghurst

But they had no idea there was more to come until 2006/2007 when they added the rear double-storey family room/master bedroom extension, designed by architect Stephen Voyle.

"When we started to clear the area it was clear that the whole hillside was a disposal pit for Len Castle's work," says Marty. "The downstairs area from his studio was still open and he'd just wheelbarrowed it out and chucked it down the slope. There was just this huge pile of dross."

Amid the rubble, they found more gems to add to their collection of some "six or eight" intact pieces including moulds and a vase with internal glazing from Len's Japanese era.

They are the perfect period accessories for this blended home with its new ceiling trusses and band-sawed weatherboards that match the originals, and demolition heart rimu bearers and joists which Marty had re-milled as floorboards and stair treads.

Four years ago Treasa and Marty opened up the centre of the house with a kitchen built on the same spot as the original galley kitchen. Now it is another family's time to enjoy this slice of architectural history.

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