Character in the dress circle

MIKE SHAW
Last updated 05:00 08/02/2014

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Three family owners in a century. That says something about the attraction of life at 22 Ridge Lane in New Plymouth.

The roughcast bungalow here was built just on a century ago for the Cruickshank family, who lived in it for 34 years; the Quilliam family followed them and enjoyed life here for 22 years; Brian and Eileen Gundesen then moved in and doubled that for a 44-year tenure.

With Brian's passing last year, former New Plymouth district councillor Eileen is now looking to life beyond Ridge Lane. "It's right thing to do," she says. "It's time for a new family to enjoy this."

It's no surprise that the 44 years the couple spent here have been happy ones. Eileen and daughter Megan, the eldest of her five children, recount plenty of satisfying family gatherings and happenings during those times and a stray tear from Megan confirms that this home will be sincerely missed when new owners begin their time here.

"I didn't expect that," she admits, with surprise at the tear. "But we've been so busy getting the place ready for sale ... and it's just hit me now, talking about it. There are so many good memories, of family, extended family, and friends."

It almost didn't happen, however, Eileen reveals. She and Brian had been seriously interested in another city property, but had missed the chance to buy it. Eileen says she wasn't too happy about that at the time and, when Brian said the Quilliam house was coming up for sale, she left him to look at the property by himself.

"He came back and said 'It's in a good location, and I think we could make it what we want'," Eileen recalls. "And he was right."

There was, of course, much about the home from the start that was appealing.

Location was obviously a major factor in that appeal. The property is at the corner of Ridge Lane and Rogan St, where the rare South African coral tree grows in the middle of the roadway. That tree is now 143 years old.

This position along the city's dress circle gives the home a panoramic view out over the city to the shimmering Tasman Sea.

That view is protected by a covenant that the couple placed on the lower front half of their section when they subdivided it some years ago to make a retirement-friendly setting. They also commissioned architect Paul Goldsmith to create a suitable design for a home to go with the section sale.

As part of the subdivision project, Paul Goldsmith also designed a curved patio addition to the home to allow better use of the front sunroom, with more French doors for easy access.

The advantages of the location are probably a major reason why each of this home's owners has stayed here so long.

"You could not buy a home that was more handy than this one," Megan points out. "You're already at the top of the hill, so it's easy to get to Boys' High and Highlands Intermediate. My children regularly walk to Mum's after school because it's so close for them. I pick them up when I finish work. I don't know what I will do when the house sells.

"Our friends always loved visiting us in Ridge Lane - it's a quirky little lane and quite different from any other street in town. If we said we lived 'beside the tree in the middle of the road', that too was a landmark everyone knew.

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"People drive up Ridge Lane just for a look because it's old fashioned and quaint.

"Our home has long been a gathering place for friends to launch out to the races, to Womad, to concerts at the Bowl of Brooklands and TSB Stadium, to the Festival of Lights, to sports in the TSB Stadium, to the cricket pavilion, and to summer Concerts in the Park - it's all within an easy stroll. Fantastic for parents with teenagers. And great for people with littlies too - there's the small playground just at the top of Gover Street, and then the big one down in the park."

Eileen recalls the morning visits their children made to Pukekura Park when they were young. "They used to help the boatmen put the boats out on the lake."

Megan remembers the pleasure of keeping her pony in the valley below the house and being able to ride through parts of the racecourse " . . . and if we were really sneaky, the back parts of Pukekura Park."

Brian enjoyed jogging through the park each morning, Eileen adds. She opted for more sedate walks up Coronation Ave, through Pukekura Park, or down the Te Henui walkway to the sea and back up home again.

"The position is just marvellous ... especially when I was on council. I could walk down to council meetings, and then walk home again."

The views down to the seaway off the city add to the convenience of the proximity to schools, city and parks and have always been appreciated by the home's owners.

"Ellison Quilliam used to talk about 'the ships in the stream'," says Eileen. "It's a busy port, you know," she adds, looking down now to a ship sitting out on the water awaiting a berth at Port Taranaki.

"A big ship went in this morning; it was absolutely loaded down, and it was so unusual that I took a photo."

Flocks of white sails offer a different view at other times, she says. "There are a lot of yachts down there."

To one side, the top of Paritutu Rock and its chimney neighbour rise over the buildings and trees of the city foreground, with Saddleback, one of the Sugarloaf Islands, prominent further out to sea. At night, the lights of the city are sprinkled across the darkness.

As well as those views, the home here has provided a comfortable, character environment for the family from the day they moved in.

It is a single-level roughcast bungalow with a distinctly architectural feel - a sheltered porch entry with leadlight glass windows illuminating the foyer; beautiful dark-stained Oregon features in the foyer and lining the hallway, lounge and dining room; boxed-beam ceilings in the main living areas and battened ceilings elsewhere, a floor-to-ceiling riverstone fireplace in the lounge; and a complementary brick fireplace behind it in the dining room.

Four bedrooms offer plenty of space for family or visitors. The previous owners had made their changes to the home in their time - closing in the front verandah to create a dressing room for the master bedroom, and closing in the north-facing side porch to provide a sunroom off the lounge. A double garage had also been built on the Rogan St boundary - a definite improvement over the single, if any, garages associated with many homes of the era.

Brian and Eileen added some improvements promptly to make the home their own - turning the verandah/dressing room into an ensuite to give the home an extra bathroom and giving a lighter, slightly more contemporary feel to the interior by painting some of the dark-stained window frames white and adding skylight panels along the hallway.

The once-separate double garage and workshop was also connected to the house by a covered way - effectively granting the house internal access.

A concrete block wall was built to give the corner section extra privacy and shelter - with sufficient space within for many different games over the years, from kicking a ball to raising a net for badminton.

Other changes followed to suit family dynamics as children moved away for university studies. "Brian had the brilliant idea to change the boy's bedroom into another living area."

He created a raised patio, and then installed French doors in the former bedroom to allow an easy indoor-outdoor flow to the sun-drenched space.

That became a focus for family returning over the years, Eileen says. "It's protected from the southerly winds ... it's lovely out there. All the children would come home at Christmas time and on Boxing Day drinks on the patio became an institution ... everybody turned up here."

That began about 11am, Megan adds, and then everyone would go across the road to the races.

That advantage of locality will no doubt be a factor when new owners sign up for the purchase of this property, says Bayleys consultant Neale Parkinson.

"This dress-circle setting is 10 out of 10 for location ... everything is on your doorstep, from the park to the CBD."

Neale knows the sale will attract plenty of interest. "These properties do not come up for sale very often."

The home has all the right attributes of warmth and character to appeal to many prospective buyers, he suggests, with potential for enhancing them further. "I imagine new owners will have fresh ideas for this home as Brian and Eileen did when they bought it."

- Taranaki Daily News

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