House of the week: Art deco Wellington gem
When it was new, Bruce and Megan Sedcole's house featured in the 1937 New Zealand Woman's Weekly. Built for a local doctor as his residence and surgery, the two-storey stucco home in leafy Woburn, Lower Hutt, was the last word in art deco style.
It was designed by high-profile local architect Bernard Johns, and the Weekly's writer gushed over the daring rhubarb-toned velvet curtains and green striped carpet.
But by the time Bruce and Megan discovered the house 20-odd years ago it was pure 70s, with shag-pile carpet, shiny fleur-de-lis wallpaper and mock chandeliers. Large trees hid the ivy-covered house from the street.
Out on a weekend drive in the Hutt, the Sedcoles got lost and happened upon the auction.
They weren't intending to buy. Megan was heavily pregnant with the first of their two daughters, for starters. But Bruce, an architect, could see how solid and well-designed the place was. Then there was the small matter of his long love affair with art deco: he'd begun collecting pieces when he was a student at Victoria University, long before it was fashionable or pricey.
The Sedcoles had a house full of authentic furniture, lamps, mirrors and ceramics and even an antique polar bear rug.
"We realised all our stuff would fit in so well here; the furniture augments the building rather than changing it," Bruce says. His practice, BSA Architects Ltd, specialises in historic places, aiming to restore and enhance rather than fight with the buildings they work on.
One of his recent projects involved lifting up a large old villa in Central Hutt, adding another storey and a basement underneath plus a new side extension, then repositioning the whole thing on the section all as seamlessly as possible.
"I always say to a client, 'You should never know that I have been here.' It's the opposite of ego-trip, monument-building architecture."
It's an ethos that applies equally to his own home, making the Sedcoles ideal caretakers for Woburn's art deco treasure.
And perhaps the ghost of Bernard Johns had a hand in it, as they ended up making the winning bid and becoming just the fourth owners since 1936. Previous inhabitants include former broadcaster Sharon Crosbie.
Little was required to bring the house up to date. "Johns was such a good architect; the house didn't need rehashing. We just had to work with it and make the most of what was already here."
Bruce's collections of Lalique glass, Poole and Keith Murray pottery, Bakelite objects, Shelley porcelain and more, often displayed on chrome tea trolleys, are perfectly at home. It might seem a bit odd, a bloke collecting teacups, he muses. "I might face some crockery-mockery, but to me it is art."
One significant change they did make was to repaint the exterior a burnt orange with navy window trims. Their painter was highly dubious, but the resulting colour scheme prompted a letter of congratulation from a local MP.
"The whole building has a radiant glow, especially at twilight, and when all the lamps inside come on it is always magical," says Bruce.
The 70s shag-pile was pulled up to reveal rich-toned matai floorboards, and brass coach lamps were replaced with authentic light fittings. The kitchen-dining area was opened up from the rabbit warren of spaces once used by the staff of the house.
Out the back door, the little walled courtyard where the butcher would make his deliveries is now a secluded suntrap.
Other renovations are subtle: replacing the solid doors into the formal sitting room with replica glass-panelled ones, and restoring the bathrooms.
Bruce rescued authentic crystal towel rails, a pedestal basin and a solid cast-iron bath all destined for the dump from a house he was working on. The bath sports a few battle scars.
"I don't believe in restoring old baths and basins."
They resisted the temptation to add an ensuite, leaving the four bedrooms with their original built-in furniture and charming niches and nooks as the original architect intended.
Outside, the 30s textured stucco has been replicated on the garden walls, creating a private outdoor dining area. The garden is surrounded by mature trees, including large palms and a pohutukawa dating from when the house was built. Some less important trees, including a huge willow, had to go.
"There were so many that you couldn't see the sky," Megan says. "We tamed the garden."
They might have tamed the garden, but in their dealings with the house, Bruce was determined to tread lightly.
"It's important to us that you can't tell what we've changed about a building," he says of his architectural practice.
And he continues to admire how well-designed this home is: "All of the spaces have a subtle variation in proportion or shape. This house is never boring, even after 20 years."
Renovation high point: Discovering the full set of architect Bernard Johns' original 1936 hand-annotated, watercoloured architectural drawings for the house and, later, an architectural magazine from the 30s featuring the house… in the attic. (Bruce)
The best money we ever spent: The green pearl granite benchtops in the kitchen and pantry. (Megan)
Best piece of advice I ever received: "Form follows function." From US architect Louis Sullivan via Dr Russell Walden, former lecturer at Victoria University School of Architecture. (Bruce)
This weekend we will be: Jamming with our band, One Bar Heater – me on vocals and Bruce on guitar. (Megan)
The one thing you must see when you visit: The Dowse Art Museum in Lower Hutt. (Bruce)
Bruce and Megan Sedcole
- NZ House & Garden