Colours on high
Nestled high on St Andrews Hill, a couple and their young son enjoy a sunny abode.
Beach bright by Rosa Shiels
In a quiet St Andrews Hill street, magical views stretch over the ocean to the snowy mountains. It's a blue-sky day and one of the three houses in the street (out of 12) where the occupants remain after the earthquakes to enjoy this view is nestled down snug on the hillside amid sculptural foliage.
It's hardly the 45˚C desert heat of Palm Springs, California, but the owners of this sunny, 1950s house have progressively re-themed their surroundings to evoke elements of their favourite design and architectural era - mid-century modern. This is strongly associated with parts of California and exponents such as Charles and Ray Eames, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig.
Partners Nadia and Leigh, with their 16-month-old son, Hero, and two small dogs, have been here about six years. They believe their long and low, glass-fronted house was designed by architect Paul Pascoe, from the Christchurch modern school. While this can't be verified (the plans were lost long ago in a Christchurch City Council fire), the house's lines could easily transport it to Palm Springs, where it would not look out of place among other single-storey modern residences. Leigh and Nadia take pointers from the pioneers of the style on both sides of the Pacific.
The house stretches out along their more-than-180-degree view, with dining and living rooms and both bedrooms attracting sun for much of the day. "We visited Palm Springs," Nadia says. "It was a hot, 45˚C day. It's what we like."
"We think our house survived [the earthquakes] because of the piles of the deck, which were sunk in very deep," Leigh says. "We took off aluminium louvres, added the deck and replanted throughout the yard."
While Nadia works as the managing director of a printing and stationery company, Leigh takes on the roles of "stay-at-home mum and housewife". This is not strictly accurate; she is a carpentry whizz and, with a septuagenarian friend, has done all the renovations inside and out.
"I went to a few Polytech night classes," she says, understating her achievements.
She has made Hero's bike, which converts from a three-wheeler to a two-wheeler, their beds, bedside cabinets and letterbox. She also made the removable contraption on which Hero's high-chair sits, to elevate it to bench height.
In keeping with the beachside spirit, the couple have painted the house in bright Dulux bluey-greens - 'Marahau' in the hallway, 'Viaduct' in the dining room and 'Colac Bay' in the lounge area.
Old carpet was removed and Leigh sanded and polished the rimu floorboards. They have underfloor and ceiling insulation, a heat pump, and retro-fitted double-glazing. As well as that, the sun belts in along the whole length of the house.
"It's north-facing, so it really holds the heat," Leigh says.
Where there was a fireplace before February 22's earthquake, there is now a feature wall of rimu panelling. Elsewhere, plywood cupboard fronts, the polished ply benchtop and sleek retro cabinets underline their design preferences. "We love plywood."
A full wall of shelving in the lounge is one of the features that sold them on the house originally. Now, with alternate panels painted to pick up the colours of the walls, it holds their television, sound system and books, as well as an eclectic collection - photos, robotic toys, model cars and retro-kitsch knick-knacks.
Their furniture comprises either real or reproduction timepieces: a George Nelson coffee table and various clocks, an Eames chair and chaise, and a large '60s pop ball chair from San Diego with Kiwiana and Americana scatter cushions.
An Andy Warhol poster portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy, framed pictures from a favourite design calendar and George Nelson clocks hang on the walls, with cowhide rugs underfoot.
The dining table and unmatched chairs are from Nood and a Harry Bertoia Diamond chair is another favourite collectible. A newly framed Goldie portrait looks regal on the turquoise wall amid modern and old pieces - a Crown Lynn swan, Dick Frizzell's 'Mickey to Tiki tu Meke' print and retro-look light fittings. The dining table is shaded from direct sun by an awning in black-and-white stripes.
"We completed the kitchen five days before the earthquake," Nadia says.
The idea was to spruce it up and modernise it, but "retain the feeling of the era". They refreshed the lino in classic black-and-white checks, replaced cupboard doors with plywood and painted others in alternating colour-block shades. They opened it out by knocking down the old wall and service hutch, and putting a laminated ply benchtop in its place. The hot-water cylinder was removed and replaced with gas hot-water heating and a small flat-screen television has been set into one of the kitchen cupboards.
Given a new lease of life from within a bold contemporary frame, a teal-faced Tretchikoff maiden indicates the hallway with a turn of her head, past a box-framed Che Guevara 'Revolucion' print, and into the bedrooms.
The main bedroom, they say, "is the least exciting of the lot". They might consider this to be true (one wall will soon be painted inky black), but their ocean view towards the Kaikouras, seen from the bed, is spectacular and this view is doubled back to the city and the Southern Alps beyond by the wardrobe's floor-length sliding mirrored door. The other slider is covered with a scaled-up Americana kitsch J H Lynch 'Tina' print.
Hero's room next door is cheerful and boyish, waiting for him to be grown up enough to enjoy it. The wall linings were removed and replaced with wool insulation and then covered in aqua-painted groove ply. It has full-length cowboy-fabric curtains and a prefab ply deer-head wall sculpture on which to hang his cowboy hat. There are stuffed dolls, toys, and a cock-horse rider piled inside the frame of a rocket-shaped standard-light frame, and photos of Hero and his cousins look down from the wall above his cot. An iPad sitting on his toy box contains his bedtime stories.
In the formerly wallpapered bathroom, a glass-sided shower booth with a cavity slider replaces the original closed-in, phone box-style shower booth, with its wooden door and glass panels. Checkerboard lino continues thematically from the kitchen and a Roy Lichtenstein pop-comic reproduction print hangs above the bath. In the small toilet room, a trio of cutout wooden ducks flies up the pink-painted wall. The laundry is in the original, but spruced-up, self-contained room next door.
The couple's three-tiered yard rolls down from the deck towards the ocean view.
"On a fine day, you can see the Kaikouras and almost all the way down to Mt Hutt," Nadia says.
The former owner grew a multitude of rose bushes. Nadia and Leigh have replaced these with various agaves, palms, cycads and cactuses.
"You can't see all of the yard," Leigh says. "It unfolds as you wander through it. It was a big grassed section with rose bushes, so we took it all up and turned it into garden."
They have a small raised vege garden up the back and under the house there is a huge concrete-floored storage space, with another small shed for garden tools.
From the deck, you can glimpse patches of the bright-blue acrylic fence at their boundary. "The fencing is a bit of a triumph," Leigh says. It echoes the blues of the ocean on a sparkly day and brightens up what could otherwise be a forgotten dark corner.
There are many other surprises among the plants - a Buddha statue wearing a plastic lei, decorative urns, artworks, flamingos and paua shells, and there is a little pond with frogs way down at the front. "I always wanted a pond, so Nadia made it for me," Leigh says.