Written by John Williams
Photography by Tony Nyberg
Despite being conceived well over 50 years ago, 1B Rewiti Street feels surprisingly modern and sophisticated; in many ways, much more so than the bulk of apartment and townhouse developments on offer around the city today.
Designed by Wilson & Juriss, members of the acclaimed Group Architects, during a burgeoning era of New Zealand design, where attention was given to every detail and function, this home feels snug and familiar from the moment you step over its threshold; much like pulling on your favourite pair of RM Williams boots – not perfect, but reassuringly and comfortably worn in, with an authentic patina that’s been carefully nurtured over the years.
Walking around its well-proportioned and thoughtfully considered floor plan, it’s the little details that catch your eye – the built-in coat pegs lined up behind the front door; the now obsolete, but still charming little telephone shelf in the hallway; the matching recessed pulls on all the internal joinery throughout the house; and my personal favourite, the series of wooden dividers, specifically for LP’s, hidden within the built-in sideboard in the lounge. And what really works here is that all these design flourishes are derived from the same pen, so they all look and work perfectly in tune with each other.
Of the four identical homes that step down from the top of Rewiti Street, 1B is the most original. From the outside, the difference is clear. There are no unsightly additions and not one piece of aluminium joinery in sight. All of the Rimu window frames have all been restored, and are now as good as new, says Andrew, the current owner, who took on the task of reviving this classic example of Kiwi architecture to its original condition.
“I deliberately haven’t been slavish, and only sanded and repaired the woodwork where necessary.""Much of it is in its original condition, and has this lovely colour to it,” he says running his hand down one of the window frames. It even has the original underfloor heating that can control the temperature in different parts of the house – the bedrooms, bathroom, lounge, and kitchen. All the carpets are new, throughout, carefully chosen by Andrew to be modern, but still in keeping with the period of the home.
For a home so tightly hemmed in by its siblings, it is reassuringly light and bright inside. This is no doubt helped by the long run of generous clerestory windows that flow along the entire west-facing wall that not only allow the warm evening light to flood into the lounge, both bedrooms, and bathroom, but also give the most amazing sunsets and great views out over Orakei basin and to the city.
Another surprise is the complete privacy this home enjoys, something that is especially evident in the garden courtyard at the far end of the property, where Andrew has planted out the entire back wall in lush ferns and palms, re-creating his own slice of Palm Springs, mid-century modern in suburban Auckland.
It’s this lush wall of vegetation that helps make the lounge Andrew’s favourite place to hang out, he says. “I love the living room. It’s the room I spend most of my time in. It’s so private, but it doesn’t feel enclosed because of the access to the garden and also those high windows that let the evening sun in. It’s especially nice in the summer when I can throw back the bi-fold windows and let the green of the garden flow in. But even in the winter, when I’m sitting inside, I get a beautiful outlook from the garden. It’s very soothing and calming,” he adds.
Andrew says he has always been a mid-century fan. He loves the classic clean lines and the fact they are so easy to live in. “If it wasn’t so easy to live in, I would have changed it,” he says, referring to the fact that he has comfortably lived with largely the original kitchen and bathroom since moving in two years ago. “Right from day one, everything just quietly fitted in. It didn’t need much art on the walls because there are so many architectural details everywhere, and it didn’t need too much furniture because of all the built-ins. Other than having to buy a new fridge and washing machine, I slotted straight in,” he adds.
Before living here, Andrew was across the city in Grey Lynn and loved living near Farro, so when he first drove over to the open home, past the new Orakei shopping precinct, and saw there was a Farro coming soon, he took it as a sign, he laughs. “Then, when I walked in and saw how original it was, I knew this was the place. I bid hard at the auction – I was determined to have it, no matter what I paid,” he says.
As I’m leaving, we walk past Andrew’s car sitting under the carport. “I used to have an old classic version of one of these. What made it so valuable [to me] was that it was a completely original model… the seats, the wheels, the paint, everything. It hadn’t been tinkered with, and that’s where the value lies if you are a collector. For me, the attraction to this house was the same. It was wholly original, no-one had replaced windows with aluminium joinery, no-one had taken out any of the internal walls, the kitchen and bathroom were as it was. It hadn’t been bastardised. To me, that is where the value is this. My hope is that whoever buys it will want to maintain this integrity. It would break my heart if someone came in and ripped everything out to create a neat, white-walled box.”
Andrew’s analogy between the ‘value’ of his home and his old classic car is an accurate one. Discerning buyers will always pay a premium for an authentic and original example, because once it’s been changed, it can never be re-created, and you can’t put a price on that.