In 1971 Franz Iseke designed a new house in Pārāwai Thames for the town’s surgeon Philip Lane and Lane’s wife Meg on a sinewy piece of land above the Hape Stream, with views over the town and the Firth of Thames.Built from white-painted concrete block with warm timber accents, its structure celebrated and on display, it was a striking piece of modernism in an otherwise provincial town.
Iseke was born in Shanghai and studied in Munich and at Harvard before he emigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand. Here, he became known for rational but elegant buildings that used humble materials in a precise, detailed way. Many had flat roofs and steel frames, with non-load-bearing concrete walls.
Iseke’s designs were international in style at a time when New Zealand architects were looking to the shed, but his clever use of local materials struck a chord with clients. He designed many houses (most notably his own, in Kohimārama, Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland) and commercial buildings, including the Rolleston Motel in Thames, a design which caught the eye of the Lanes.
Eventually the Lanes sold the house and it fell into a state of not-quite disrepair, before being bought and sensitively restored by designer Dean Sharpe (who grew up nearby and had fond memories of the house) and his husband Bentley de Beyer. They trimmed back the garden and renovated the bathrooms, using the original tiles; they restored timber work and turned a service room into an elegant library; and they improved the home’s street presence with a new concrete wall, creating a motorcourt and private courtyard.
The house is long and thin, with rooms strung along the edge of the steep section. It is two-storeyed at one end and a single level at the other, with a white-painted concrete block base and a sarked timber top storey. The main bedroom and bathroom sit above the living areas, and three further bedrooms run off a long hallway with a second bathroom. You enter into the open-plan living spaces, all separated subtly by a step or two, with warm sarked timber ceilings and black slate tiled floors. Living areas lead out to a terrace that feels like it’s floating in the trees. The house is very coherent but highly poetic.
In 2016, the couple sold the house to equally discriminating owners, interior designers Matthew Shang and Paul Semple. Shang and Semple are now seeking new custodians for this unique and special home.who now seek new custodians. The house is listed on theThames-Coromandel District Council’s list of scheduled buildings: a true modern classic.
101 Vernon Street
Contact Paul Semple