Friday, 16 May 2008

A = Architecture

I come from simple beginnings. A small wooden house, which began life as a two-room dwelling but ended life as a three bedroom house. My father grew up there, though when his younger brothers and sisters arrived he was shunted outside to sleep in the caravan (which we later used as a playhouse) with his brother.

By the time my sisters and I came along, the by then three-bedroom house was badly in need of repair, renovation, or demolition. My parents knew that demolition and construction of a new house was the best option. But complications over the farm inheritance delayed this. Consequently I have many memories as a child of my mother poring over design books, or looking eagerly at any new houses she saw. This went on for years. At times she got dispirited and the books were packed away for months and years, but finally (the year I was on my student exchange) they were able to go ahead. My mother designed the house, drafted up the plans and had them approved by the local Council. My uncle then built the house.

It was a simple New Zealand farm house, but with good bones, plenty of sun, warm, and easy to live in.

Surrounded for so many years by housing design books, I learned to accurately read plans, to determine where the sun would rise and set, figure out what shade there would be, how practical different designs might be, and to imagine the house as built.

I took this totally for granted, and thought everyone could do it. Until I started living in and buying houses of my own, seeing the impracticalities of design, or wondering at the odd purchase decisions friends made, hearing them later complain of lack of sun or other problems which should (to me) have been obvious. I am also frequently appalled at mediocre houses and buildings in spectacular locations. How could they not want their architecture to reflect the beauty and magnificence of the nature around them? Or to blend in at least?

Over the years I’ve developed a strong view of the architecture I prefer. I like strong contemporary individualistic architecture. Whilst I can appreciate a classic villa and think they can be very beautiful, I am unlikely to choose to live in such a house. I also particularly dislike subdivisions full of mediocre architecture, mass built, all looking like variations of the same design. Suburbia never appealed. Perhaps it was growing up singing Little Boxes at school and playing my sister’s copy of “Mother’s Little Helper.” I was shocked when, years ago on my first visit to the US, I was taken to a housing estate in silicon valley in California. Huge expensive-looking houses, but all the same same same. No individuality. The kind of place you’re not allowed to hang your washing outside.

And whilst I love Italian and French villas, I love them in Italy and France, not New Zealand. They don't work here. They don't look at home. I love homegrown architecture, that looks comfortable in the landscape. Like this place.

Our current house appealed to me strongly with its different shapes. I fell in love with it as I walked down the drive and caught the first glimpse of its sharp lines.

When we opened the door and found
a multi-levelled, spacious house with a view, with a cat curled up in the sun, it was a done deal. So we resisted the conservative advice of our engineer father-in-law who felt it needed too much work, and bought the house. We’ve been here 15 years now.

I still get pleasure from the view of our macrocarpa trees through the window in different lights,

or the different angles of the ceiling and stairs.

And I love the view across the valley.

I do however harbour a dream of designing and building my own house one day. It doesn’t have to be a mansion, and I definitely don’t want it full of marble and grandeur. I like unusual (often cheaper) materials used creatively. I want a smallish, quirky, stylish house that meets our needs for socialising and nesting, for work and play. With a view of course.

With this ambition tightly held, following in the footsteps of my mother, I buy architecture magazines to keep up with the latest trends and to get ideas for my dream house. I am constantly on the lookout for the perfect design and perfect location. For the perfect budget too of course. I know none of these exist. But it’s fun looking.


  1. Nice digs!

    I think the perfect design and location can exist and co-exist, but probably not in conjunction with the perfect budget.

  2. That is one groovy house.

    I'll have to share mine sometime.


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