House of the week: The colourful house beyond the blue door gallery video

Visitors sometimes reach for their sunglasses, but this artist says colour makes her happy

Some people shed houses the way a snake sheds its skin, while others buy once and stay forever. Rhondda Greig is firmly in the latter camp.

The award-winning artist and her late husband James, an acclaimed potter, bought this two-storey villa on the outskirts of Carterton 46 years ago. "We'd decided to make art our full-time occupation and James needed space for his kiln so we started looking in the country," says Rhondda.

But the 4ha property they first laid eyes on in 1970 was in need of owners with optimism and energy. "The house had been empty for years and was being used to store hay. Birds and cattle were living in it, the garden was overgrown and it was an absolute mess."

Rhondda Greig in the sunny kitchen; colour, she says, makes her happy.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Rhondda Greig in the sunny kitchen; colour, she says, makes her happy.

Money may have been tight for the young couple, but the ideas flowed. They'd both studied architecture, so knew a thing or two about living spaces. They started renovating soon after moving into the 1860s-built house to create a working and living space for themselves and their two children.

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Once the essentials such as wiring, piling, plumbing and the original scrim had been replaced, the couple set to with hammers and removed several walls, including one that divided a sun-splashed but tiny living room and bathroom. 

"It seemed criminal that the bathroom was in the sunniest spot in the house, so we relocated it to a storage cupboard next to the laundry," says Rhondda. In the expanded living room the couple installed French doors to the garden and added the adjacent sunroom in the 80s. Like most of the house, it features Rhondda's vibrant abstract art, as well as ceramic bowls and sculptures made by James, who died in 1986 while exhibiting in Japan.  

Just as Rhondda's art is filled with bold splashes of colour, so too is her home. There's the pink kitchen with its striking green trim, a sunny yellow living room and an orange, green and apricot bathroom.

Rhondda’s artwork, Tunnel, from her 1997 Railway series, contrasts with the pink kitchen wall.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Rhondda’s artwork, Tunnel, from her 1997 Railway series, contrasts with the pink kitchen wall.

"There's something very energising about being able to live in colour," says Rhondda, whose works hang in the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul and Carterton Events Centre, as well in private collections in the US, Australia, France and New Zealand.

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"I must have a heightened sense of colour because shades that I find okay make some visitors want to put their sunglasses on," she says with a laugh.

The house's colour palette has evolved over the years, with shades chosen specifically for the activities the rooms are used for. So, for example, the blue/green combination in the kitchen is a cooler hue, suited to food preparation, while the use of pink in the dining area is designed to be "calm for digestion and warm for human interaction".

The kitchen was designed and made by Rhondda’s long-time friend, Robert Hancock, who travelled from Auckland to revamp ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The kitchen was designed and made by Rhondda’s long-time friend, Robert Hancock, who travelled from Auckland to revamp the kitchen in the late 90s; most of the timber used was recycled from elsewhere on the property.

"The cool side of the house has colours from the warm side of the spectrum – yellow, oranges and more vibrant pinks – while the saffron in the main living room was a bit of a risk, but has proved itself as a backdrop for paintings."  

Rhondda, now married to former Fair Go reporter and oral historian Hugo Manson, says she's never found it difficult to match furniture with her choices. "Colour provides so many opportunities for trying out different combinations, so it's never boring. For example, I'll throw a green towel over an orange chair, or use red and blue glasses on a window ledge to let the colours radiate with the light." 

Rhondda's love of recycling also comes to the fore throughout the house. The wooden kitchen island, for example, started life in a Carterton bakery and was originally earmarked for Rhondda's studio, but it wouldn't fit up the steep stairs. 

Colour greets visitors at the door at Rhondda and Hugo’s Carterton home.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Colour greets visitors at the door at Rhondda and Hugo’s Carterton home.

Rhondda, who designed and made actress Anna Paquin's dress when she presented at the 1995 Oscars, has sewn her own clothes since she cut up a tartan wool skirt to make a blouse by hand when she was 12. Her love of fashion endures to this day and the artist has an enviably large wardrobe. So large, she's had to claim one of the smaller bedrooms as her dressing room where she's had racks installed across one wall. 

Opposite the house is the art studio, built from one of Greytown's 19th century settlers' cottages. Rhondda believes it was one of the first houses to be moved by truck in the Wairarapa. "It was the 1970s and no one really moved houses back then. The police and ambulance followed us and we ended up on TV!"

The adjacent Blue Roof Studio was added in the 1980s, where Rhondda holds up to three exhibitions a year. She paints in the studio attached to the gallery, but draws wherever inspiration strikes. She has also completed her second book of poetry. 

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Not surprisingly, she admits it would be hard to leave this house. "This has been home for the wider family as well as a professional working environment for most of my life," she says. "I can't imagine not living here."  

Have you got a fantastic or interesting house you'd like to show others? Let us know about it. Send your story, photos or video homed@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Q&A: 

The wooden sideboard on the upstairs landing was a local op shop find and wasn’t in great shape when Rhondda rescued it.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The wooden sideboard on the upstairs landing was a local op shop find and wasn’t in great shape when Rhondda rescued it.

What I love about living here: The intensity of the seasonal changes. (Rhondda). The huge Wairarapa skies. (Hugo)

My favourite thing about this house: The space, the sweeping views and the quality of light. Also, going upstairs to sleep at night and coming down in the morning to a new day – I like the exchange between the two levels. (Rhondda). The view from the upstairs front door that opens to nowhere (Hugo)

Artwork i would save in a fire: Blue Escaping the Drought or Sunshine Hill Taumarunui and Trout. These works come from two autobiographical series that are very important to me. (Rhondda). A small drawing, Toroa, that hangs above my desk. (Hugo)

The wall hanging in the alcove on the top floor is by German artist Ilse von Randow; the upstairs front door leads nowhere.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The wall hanging in the alcove on the top floor is by German artist Ilse von Randow; the upstairs front door leads nowhere.

The best place to get a coffee in Carterton: Our kitchen, accompanied by home-made chocolate crunch or date and lemon slice. (Rhondda)

Rhondda Greig and Hugo Manson 

Have you got a fantastic or interesting house you'd like to show others? Let us know about it. Send your story, photos or video homed@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

The vibrant artwork above the sofa is Blue Escaping the Drought, painted by Rhondda in 1998.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The vibrant artwork above the sofa is Blue Escaping the Drought, painted by Rhondda in 1998.

 

Rhondda painted the green chair in the master bedroom to pick up on the colours in Tracks Through Trees, a painting from ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Rhondda painted the green chair in the master bedroom to pick up on the colours in Tracks Through Trees, a painting from her 1997 Railway series.

Light floods into the upstairs guest bedroom, a favourite of Rhondda’s daughter Tania and granddaughter Samara when they ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Light floods into the upstairs guest bedroom, a favourite of Rhondda’s daughter Tania and granddaughter Samara when they visit from Auckland.

The bright green sink in the downstairs bathroom is an original Royal Doulton pedestal basin that Rhondda installed 40 ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The bright green sink in the downstairs bathroom is an original Royal Doulton pedestal basin that Rhondda installed 40 years ago.

The black and white fabric hanging above the master bed was created by Rhondda in the late 1990s for an exhibition in ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The black and white fabric hanging above the master bed was created by Rhondda in the late 1990s for an exhibition in Japan and, later, Wellington’s City Gallery.

A spare bedroom complete with built-in bookcase.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

A spare bedroom complete with built-in bookcase.

The artist in her light-filled studio, a short stroll across a shingle path from the main house; the painting behind her ...
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The artist in her light-filled studio, a short stroll across a shingle path from the main house; the painting behind her is Viaduct.

Looking towards the sunroom.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

Looking towards the sunroom.

The view from the kitchen, looking out to the entertaining area.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The view from the kitchen, looking out to the entertaining area.

The sculptures are by James: “I see the grounds as an outdoor gallery,” says Rhondda.
JANE USSHER/NZ HOUSE & GARDEN

The sculptures are by James: “I see the grounds as an outdoor gallery,” says Rhondda.

 - NZ House & Garden

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