Glass house

A Claude Meg­son clas­sic comes back to life

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Rafik Pa­tel sits on a ‘Sil­ver Lake’ chair by Pa­tri­cia Urquiola for Moroso in the liv­ing room with his son Zi­dane, who reads on the ‘Florence Knoll’ sofa by Florence Knoll for Knoll. The ‘Lo­tus’ arm­chair to Rafik’s left is by Rob Parry for Whit­more’s Arti Domo. A ‘Red and Blue’ chair by Ger­rit Ri­etveld sits in the cor­ner. The rug is ‘Emer­gence’ by Louise McGre­gor for ID-Col­lec­tion by De­signer Rugs. The art­work above the liv­ing area is ‘To­wards Eden’ by Ge­off Tune. In the back­ground, the art­work in the study is ‘High Houses, Sara­jevo, 94’ by Lebbeus Woods.

Even the most rudi­men­tary re­search on ar­chi­tect Claude Meg­son throws up the fact that he was some­thing of an ego­tist.

His houses say as much. De­signed mainly in the 60s and 70s, they are brazenly dis­tinc­tive. The son of a builder, Meg­son thumbed his nose at the demo­cratic sim­plic­ity of “the el­e­gant shed” favour­ing multi-faceted ex­te­ri­ors that have been likened to “small, an­cient hill towns”, and rooms of labyrinthine com­plex­ity. Spa­tial-de­sign lec­turer Rafik Pa­tel could not be­lieve his good for­tune when the Meg­son house he had been track­ing on Trade Me re­mained un­sold a month later. Tucked down a pri­vate road along­side a lush gully in Glen­field, Auck­land, it had all the trade­mark fea­tures of ar­chi­tec­tural ar­tic­u­la­tion – mi­nus the mag­ni­tude. “When you en­tered the house, there was this du­al­ity of it ris­ing up, but also fall­ing into the bush,” says Pa­tel. He put in an of­fer in­stantly. The move across the har­bour bridge from his city-fringe apart­ment has be­come more than just a geo­graph­i­cal re­lo­ca­tion for Pa­tel, for whom coax­ing the in­te­ri­ors back to life rep­re­sents a grad­ual ex­pres­sion of iden­tity. “The restora­tion is re­spect­ful and mind­ful, but I am cre­at­ing my own his­tory,” he says. By com­par­i­son to Meg­son’s bet­ter-known projects – the Cocker town­houses in Auck­land’s Free­mans Bay and Bowker house in Whangarei, for in­stance – this home is diminu­tive. Known as the ‘Green House’ (for the for­mer colour of its marine-ply cladding) and com­pleted in 1979, it stretches ver­ti­cally over six half-lev­els – seven if you count the lower deck. The pre­vi­ous own­ers had aug­mented some rooms with Moroc­can-style arch­ways and blocked off a set of stairs to in­cor­po­rate a book­shelf (on one side) and pantry (on the other). Be­fore he moved in, Pa­tel took four months to make al­ter­ations, most of which would garner Meg­son’s ap­proval. He stripped off the faux ad­di­tions – tick – and sanded back the con­crete-block brick­work which had been painted so vo­lu­mi­nously that the joins dis­ap­peared – tick. He re­in­stated the stair­well that leads di­rectly from the liv­ing room to kitchen – tick – and sev­eral voids that had been boarded up, no doubt to as­sist with heat­ing – tick. Then he com­pletely al­tered the kitchen… hmm – no tick. That’s not to say the kitchen doesn’t meld aes­thet­i­cally with the sur­round­ing spa­ces. It does. It’s just that, as Meg­son au­thor­ity Giles Reid states in his on­line biog­ra­phy of his sub­ject: “Sto­ries abound of him tak­ing a shovel to the client’s gar­den while they were away on hol­i­day in or­der to bring it in line with his in­ten­tions.” For Pa­tel, the in­ti­mate black kitchen is “a place that re­cedes”, an en­tire room that echoes the neg­a­tive

Pa­tel has taken an ab­stract Ge­off Tune paint­ing as his tonal muse, us­ing cheer­ful yel­low, pri­mary red and a hint of blue as dec­o­ra­tive dabs.

de­tail cut into sur­faces where walls meet floor. Of the kitchen’s new green tiling, which am­pli­fies the bush that floods in through the glass roof, a neigh­bour once asked: “Where did you find those orig­i­nal 70s tiles?” One morn­ing while hav­ing cof­fee at the round ta­ble in the area along­side the kitchen, Pa­tel re­alised an­other thing. The ceil­ings through­out needed to be black, too: “White was just not work­ing”. The spa­tial ef­fect of black is easy to get your head around if you’re an ar­chi­tect, but it was in his use of colour that Meg­son ex­celled. For his part, Pa­tel has taken an ab­stract Ge­off Tune paint­ing as his tonal muse, us­ing cheer­ful yel­low, pri­mary red and a hint of blue as dec­o­ra­tive dabs. He also points out the ‘Red and Blue’ chair by Ger­rit Ri­etveld in the liv­ing room: “The house has a mod­ernist pal­ette, which cor­re­sponds to the chair and a sim­i­lar sense of planes,” he says. Out­side, Pa­tel has ex­pressed his own brand of de­fi­ance by re­paint­ing the boards that earned the ‘Green House’ nick­name. The deep emer­ald-green Du­lux ‘Cruel Sea’ is a move away from the orig­i­nal ‘Hunter’ green. “It’s darker and blends into the con­text but still has per­son­al­ity,” he says. From the ex­te­rior, there’s in­stant in­trigue as typ­i­cal periscope forms, seem­ingly with no rhyme or rea­son,

“Meg­son had an in­cred­i­ble mind for ge­ome­tries in the way he con­fig­ured the rooms as a se­ries of vol­umes that open into one an­other.”

col­lec­tion of toy aero­planes await their next jour­ney. It is also a the­atri­cal home. “An ac­tor friend pointed that out,” says Pa­tel. “He said we should put on a play in the liv­ing room and the au­di­ence could watch from the se­ries of bal­conies that over­look it.” Var­i­ous fea­tures still need restora­tion. The steel roof join­ery in the laun­dry leaks (hardly a sur­prise to Meg­son lovers) and the 90s bathroom has yet to be re-imag­ined. Pa­tel has been slowly fur­nish­ing the rooms with col­lectible pieces. “With so many spa­ces, it doesn’t feel right for the house to be too empty,” he says. A mod­ernist sofa by Dutch de­signer Rob Parry and a rose­wood ta­ble by Aus­trian-New Zealan­der Rudi Sch­warz sit to­gether on the din­ing-room bal­cony, a Ger­man pot­tery col­lec­tion is dis­played on the win­dow ledge of the main bed­room and a Noguchi lan­tern oc­cu­pies a glazed, can­tilevered cor­ner in the liv­ing room. There’s joy in mov­ing from space to space, in and out of the shad­ows with the sun, in learn­ing to live dif­fer­ently. To ob­serve a wood pi­geon through a frame as it plucks nikau berries from the for­est or to lis­ten to the rush of the gar­den creek af­ter a fierce storm is nur­tur­ing. As it turns out, this 40-year-old Meg­son home just keeps on giv­ing: ego­tist on the out­side, al­tru­ist at heart. project at ran­dom. In­side, the rea­son be­comes clear. They of­fer un­ex­pected cor­ners from which to sur­vey the street and sur­round­ing bush while, at var­i­ous times of day, a light show pa­rades across the in­ter­nal walls. Look­ing at an in­tri­cate sketch of a Claude Meg­son home does lit­tle to pre­pare you for the ex­pe­ri­ence of step­ping over the thresh­old. This is when the ra­tio­nale turns to magic per­formed by a vir­tu­oso ma­nip­u­la­tor of space. “Meg­son had an in­cred­i­ble mind for ge­ome­tries in the way he con­fig­ured the rooms as a se­ries of vol­umes that open into one an­other,” says Pa­tel. Such ab­so­lute in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness has its prob­lems (heat­ing and pri­vacy for ex­am­ple) but the pos­i­tives far out­weigh these and Pa­tel is happy to make con­ces­sions. Meg­son once said that a house should wrap around its oc­cu­pants like a cloak and, at other times, sim­ply dis­ap­pear. Here, he has mas­tered many moods. There is calm and quiet in the study al­cove off the liv­ing room – “I’m do­ing my PhD and it’s some­where to write” – and clos­eted cosi­ness in the fire nook on the other side – “I some­times sleep there on the daybed in win­ter”. At the same time, it’s a play­ful home where Pa­tel’s eight-year-old son likes to drive his cars along the many ban­is­ters or climb the built-in lad­der from his bed­room to the mez­za­nine ‘cubby’ where a

Above Pri­mary colours punc­tu­ate the home, start­ing with the cheer­ful front door.

Right A ‘GE-258 DayBed’ by Hans J. Weg­ner for Ge­tama in the fire nook off the lounge. The ‘Eames Wire Base Low Ta­ble’ is by Charles and Ray Eames for Her­man Miller. The red lamp be­hind it is by Yoami Col­lec­tion, Italy. The pho­to­graph of Auck­land is by Whites Avi­a­tion. Op­po­site A periscope form projects from Zi­dane’s room.

Op­po­site Pa­tel painted the kitchen ceil­ing black to en­cour­age the space to re­cede. The ‘Mossy Green’ tiles are from Mid­dle Earth Tiles. The acrylic HI-MACS bench­top, ply cab­i­netry and break­fast ta­ble were fab­ri­cated by Base­ment Fur­ni­ture. The ‘Last Minute’ stool is by Pa­tri­cia Urquiola for Vic­carbe. The ‘Lo­tus’ arm­chair is by Rob Parry for Whit­more’s Arti Domo. The ‘Cesca’ chair at the ta­ble is by Mar­cel Breuer for Knoll. The rug is by BoCon­cept. Far right The home ex­tends across six half lev­els, seven if you in­clude the deck.

Right The steel join­ery opens to the deck, which is framed by a 25mm wa­ter pipe per­gola.

Be­low The bed­room is a vol­ume within the vol­ume. In it is a side­board by Uni­flex and art­work by John Crich­ton. The bed is by BoCon­cept. Pre­vi­ous page The rose­wood din­ing ta­ble is by Rudi Sch­warz for Whit­more’s Arti Domo, with ‘Grand Prix’ chairs by Arne Ja­cob­sen for Fritz Hansen. The mo­saic-tile bowls on the ta­ble are by John Crich­ton. The ‘Lo­tus’ sofa is by Rob Parry for Whit­more’s Arti Domo. The ‘Pol­lock Ex­ec­u­tive’ chair is by Charles Pol­lock for Knoll and the rug is from Stu­dio Italia.

Above Pa­tel re­in­stated the lines and sur­faces of the gar­den and block work. Left The ‘Bro­ken Wa­ter’ art­work is by Shane Cot­ton. The bru­tal­ist wall sculp­ture is from Mr Big­gleswor­thy. The art­work in the bed­room is ‘Windy Day’ by Vladimir Tretchikoff.

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