Seven years ago it was art that convinced Karen Dennis and Nigel Russell this Westmere home was the right one for them. Designed by architect Noel Lane in 1989 and known as the AB Gibbs house, this distinctive home has appeared in numerous local and international architecture publications.
The mix of once-new and reclaimed materials and the bespoke fittings made by artists they knew captured Karen and Nigel. "When we pulled up outside I said to Nigel that it wouldn't suit us, but then we walked through and recognised the artwork of Matthew von Sturmer and Neil Miller," says Karen who, with Nigel, was a contemporary of these artists at Elam Art School. Amongst other metalwork, Miller's pieces include a steel, granite-topped kitchen island, while von Sturmer shaped a sinuous sculpture that forms part of what originally was an indoor water feature. "A lot of our artwork is also from that period," says Karen. It all felt right.
The house's proportions and layout suited them, too. "We ran a tape measure around," says Nigel. "Spatially it worked for us. The bedrooms were all the right size and the kids had their privacy and we had ours."
Karen and Nigel had previously lived in a Grey Lynn villa for 14 years, but with their children Jasper, then aged 14, and Madi, 10, growing up, the family needed a different sort of home. Jasper and Madi are musical - both are now in bands - so it helped to have a little separation between the generations.
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Jasper's and Madi's quarters are in a two-storey, pitched-roof annex, with a shower and toilet, which stands slightly apart from the main house and opens on to a courtyard. Jasper has now left home, so Karen uses the loft space as a studio where she creates her Trixie Delicious range of "vandalised vintage" painted china artworks. Nigel, formerly a bass player in New Zealand punk band The Spelling Mistakes, now works in the pro audio industry.
With a soaring roof, the main house is a sculpture-like mix of materials. Enclosed in it are the living, kitchen and dining areas, along with a separate laundry and a bathroom with a sunken, marble-surround bath. The master bedroom is suspended above on a mezzanine level. Outside is a covered outdoor living area.
Karen and Nigel are the third owners of this home and have kept it largely as it was when Lane designed it 23 years ago. Inside, a bold purple double-height wall is a foil for unadorned concrete block walls, timber batten and weatherboard ceilings and a recycled brick fireplace. "An assemblage of independent elements", is how Noel Lane has described this house in a book published about his projects.
Some of the more notable reclaimed elements include Crittall steel windows and crazy-paved marble flooring. Lane tells HeraldHomes the flooring was laid using marble off-cuts acquired from a tip in Wiri. Other materials were sourced from buildings being demolished at the time. Referring to the curved steel beam between the dining and living spaces, Lane says, "The big gantry beam is the shape it was when it hit the ground in the old Auckland Star building as it was being taken apart."
Noel Lane says this home was a significant project in his career because "it was a real opportunity to build on a small site", catering for his client's wish for privacy and sunlight. "She didn't want a villa as they weren't practical."
Now that Jasper and Madi are flying the nest, Karen and Nigel and their whippet, Devo, are leaving this slice of Auckland's architectural history for a new home out of the city.