Vogue’s Book of Houses, Gardens, People was released in 1968, containing stories commissioned by Diana Vreeland. With photographs by Horst P Horst and texts by Valentine Lawford, it documented a particular time of glamour, and went on to define the idea of the coffee-table book. Among others, it featured the Roman palazzo of the artist Cy Twombly that was sparsely dotted with busts, statues, gilt armchairs and contemporary art – a mixture that made an impression on a 14-year-old Philip Clarke.
To be clear: Philip Clarke and Jane Wild don’t live in a Roman palazzo, but they do have some gilt furniture. Rather, they live in a 1920s house in Grey Lynn, Auckland, that has undergone a transformative renovation by architect Malcolm Walker, and they also have a collection of seemingly unrelated art and objects that come together into a cohesive whole.
Upstairs in the sitting room, New Zealand ceramic pieces by Richard Parker and Len Castle keep company with a modernist couch and low tables designed for the then Auckland Public Library and bought for a song. There are the gilt chairs, and there is a 19th-century urn that belonged to Clarke’s parents. Next to it, there’s a chair designed by Wild’s father, Allan Wild, for the first Group house in the 1950s. “That’s the modernist tradition I come from, very plain and minimal furniture,” she says. “It’s a famously uncomfortable and unstable chair, but it looks pretty good.”
Clarke’s upbringing was similarly modernist. “We were brought up being told that china cabinets were terrible,” he says, “so I think my interest in antiques is a bit of a rebellion. As a kid I was always interested in history.”
The couple moved to their bungalow about 12 years ago. The home was built in the 1920s by the Auckland City Council for workers, and previous owners had built an extension with a large pitched roof on the back for a kitchen and living spaces, with a studio above. This awkward addition was interrupted by a lightwell sitting square in the middle of the two structures, blocking the flow between the two.
To reach the new part of the house, you had to dog-leg through a living room, around the bathroom, out the original back door and down concrete steps into the kitchen. A separate staircase leading upstairs “just slid off to the side” from the dining room, says Walker. It was a poorly finished building with a mishmash of faux historic details. Despite the minuses, the house was far more accommodating of a family than their former inner-city apartment, and it came with a garden and views to the Waitākere Ranges. “We moved in here and just loved the outlook,” says Wild. “And we didn’t have the wherewithal to do much for quite a while.”
So they lived happily until the inherited kitchen whiteware stopped working, and the secondhand kitchen began to fall apart. They approached Walker with a brief that focused on the kitchen, followed by lesser priorities. “All we wanted was a kitchen that would work,” says Wild. “And we hoped we’d be able to undo the knot at the centre of the house.”
Walker’s design was simple. The plan demolished the lightwell, shifted the bathroom to the left, and created a square opening at the end of the hall that connects the TV room with a new staircase leading up to the sitting room or down to the kitchen and dining area.
All three living spaces now connect to each other. Light floods the middle of the house from multiple directions, and there are sight lines through to other rooms and up the hall. “We were trying to connect upstairs with downstairs and the outside, because the back yard is fantastic,” says Walker.
Walker – who is known for his sensitive work with old houses – gave the new addition its own language, while still being kind to the original. There are white-painted battens on the ceiling, fine timber work on the stairs, and a full-height glass door into the library. But the couple also wanted to add colour, and after being talked out of painting all the doors different colours, Clarke suggested they paint the ceilings – an idea inspired by the interior designer Nanette Cameron’s black-painted ceiling in her dining room in Auckland in the 1970s. And Walker was okay with that.
In the original part of the house, the ceilings are predominantly a light pink, which makes you conscious of its gentle, diffuse presence. As you come down the hall and around the corner, a solid wall of bright pink runs from the top floor, through the hall and into the kitchen, wrapping the bathroom and throwing light around. The dining area is brown, an ideal backdrop for art. “I was keen on pink as an accent, because it’s loony. It fires colour everywhere,” says Walker, who learned about colour from interior designer Penny Vernon. “The thing about colour is not the colour, but where it goes and what it does.”
The moves might seem simple, but they’re expertly executed, and they pull the various parts of the house together. “Malcolm is very attentive to volume,” says Clarke. “It’s not just the floor plan. You get this sense, which we never had before, of drama. It was two buildings pushed together with a rudimentary connection – and now you have a space with wonderful light.”