Block work

Lisa Webb trans­forms a 1960s con­crete fortress orig­i­nally de­signed by Ge­off New­man.

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A 60s con­crete fortress by Ge­off New­man be­comes a fam­ily home

Ge­off New­man didn’t de­sign many houses: he’s bet­ter known for his work on the Whanganui Memo­rial Hall and later – though less belovedly – on the Auck­land Har­bour Board build­ing. But in 1963 he de­signed a house for the crim­i­nal lawyer Peter Williams, at the time mak­ing a name rep­re­sent­ing some of the coun­try’s most no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nals, and ad­vo­cat­ing for prison re­form. The house New­man de­signed sits at the end of a cul-de-sac in Re­muera: up this quiet street you’ll find houses by Ron Sang, the Group, Claude Meg­son and more. Pos­si­bly be­cause of his client’s rep­u­ta­tion – and, the story goes, to pro­tect the grand pi­ano in the liv­ing room owned by his then wife (“I like women,” he once said) – New­man de­signed some­thing of a fortress. The orig­i­nal struc­ture was es­sen­tially two sto­ries of white-painted con­crete block with black tim­ber neg­a­tive de­tails, and very few win­dows on the north­ern side. “It had this re­ally rig­or­ous lan­guage, with cup­ping walls that faced each other,” says ar­chi­tect Lisa Webb of Stu­dio LWA. “You don’t of­ten come across houses with that.” The liv­ing ar­eas and two bed­rooms were on the top floor; a gi­gan­tic bil­liard room and another bed­room on the ground. The de­tail­ing was crisp: rimu sark­ing, open ris­ers on the stairs, del­i­cate bal­conies sus­pended off the rafters, and a par­ti­tion wall with ver­ti­cal rimu cladding be­tween the din­ing room and liv­ing room. Forty years and just one more owner later, Martin Yeo­man and Su­san Verner were liv­ing just down the street in a Claude Meg­son town­house. They needed more room – they now have two chil­dren – but wanted to stay in the street, and spent months drop­ping notes

in the let­ter­boxes of houses they ad­mired. Even­tu­ally, the New­man house was theirs, with the con­di­tion that they con­tinue to em­ploy the Ja­panese gar­dener, Ya­suhiro. “Pretty much ev­ery­thing was orig­i­nal,” says Yeo­man. “I re­mem­ber the first time we walked in and think­ing it was pretty spe­cial.” Af­ter liv­ing in the house for a few years, they called on their friend Webb to make some changes: they wanted a bet­ter out­door area, more open-plan liv­ing and more light. The din­ing room was long and nar­row with a solid block wall that hin­dered ac­cess to the back gar­den. The liv­ing area was too big and you were forced to walk through it to get to the deck. Webb thought long and hard, then added a long, nar­row win­dow down the front of the house, which drags light into the bil­liard room – now re-pur­posed as a rum­pus room – and the top-floor liv­ing area. She opened up the liv­ing area, re­mov­ing par­ti­tion walls around what had been the din­ing room and that back wall. The tricky bit was work­ing out what to put back: in­stead of just putting in new doors to the back yard, Webb de­signed a lower wooden box that sits off the orig­i­nal con­crete walls and houses doors and win­dows. She de­signed a line of tim­ber ba­tons that de­fine a smaller liv­ing area – and pro­vide much-needed hang­ing space for the cou­ple’s art col­lec­tion – while al­low­ing bet­ter ac­cess to the new deck and a flat lawn, ter­raced with con­crete re­tain­ing walls. In the new kitchen – open to the whole space – she rein­ter­preted the orig­i­nal cab­i­netry with sus­tain­ably har­vested rimu. These moves – each one small and care­fully con­sid­ered, with im­mac­u­late de­tail – add up beau­ti­fully. “It’s an an­swer to what we de­mol­ished,” says Webb. “If you take some­thing away, you try and give some­thing back.”

Right Alexan­dra and Theo Yeo­man on the front steps of their home. Be­low right Alexan­dra takes the stairs from the en­try to the se­cond level. Op­po­site The home orig­i­nally pre­sented a blank face to the street: the ren­o­va­tion opened it up while pre­serv­ing its struc­ture.

Lo­ca­tion Re­muera, Auck­land Ar­chi­tect Lisa Webb, Stu­dio LWA Text Si­mon Far­rell-Green Pho­tog­ra­phy Sam Hart­nett

Be­low left A nook above the fridge pro­vides space for the cou­ple’s col­lec­tion of ceram­ics by Keith Mur­ray and Crown Lynn; the lamb is by Gregor Kre­gar. Right ‘Arnold Cir­cus’ stools by Martino Gam­per face the bench seat at the edge of the raised lawn. Be­low Key to Webb’s de­sign was a long new win­dow in the fa­cade that brings in much­needed north­ern light.

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