THE IMAGINARIUM OF VIRGIL & FAY
There’s nothing ordinary about this Auckland couple
IT WAS TIME for Virgil and Fay Roberts to think about a design for the main staircase of their about-to-be-built inner-city Auckland townhouse. “You take this piece of paper and a pencil,” Virgil told Fay, “and go over there and you draw what’s in your mind. And don’t tell me what you’re thinking. I’ll take this piece of paper and pencil and sit here to draw what I think it should look like.”
When the two drawings were put side-by-side, they were eerily similar. Both had imagined a staircase “flying” in the space, created in a tactile material. To bring the resulting braided steel-rope work of functional art to life required the skills of a master steel smith – in fact, the very same one who maintains the Auckland Harbour Bridge steelwork.
“We live in our art. We feel this house is, in its entirety, one sculptural piece and we live within a sculpture,” says Virgil, who is one of the world’s great enthusiasts and eager to share the pleasure of good design. He leaps up and grasps a kitchen cupboard handle to illustrate his point: the handles are a pleasing oval shape and feel like a plump pullet’s egg.
“Everything is tactile. Most people wouldn’t notice but there are three different finishes for these handles depending where they are in the kitchen. Chrome, polished aluminium and gold – yes, real gold. “And the doors of the refrigerators – what do you think of them?” Bear with me for a moment, and imagine yourself as a fridge. You are not just any old fridge but a descendant of a German engineering family whose cleverness runs all the way back to a forebear who invented the tower crane. You are a very fine fridge from within the prestigious catalogue of the Liebherr family. As befits an appliance of pedigree, your home is destined to be a spacious ridgetop house overlooking the city and harbour bridge, and positioned to enjoy more than its share of sunsets. Your stainless doors are polished to a perfect mirror finish, and you’ll spend your days opening and closing with the whisper of quality.
Alas, instead of being delivered to that new home, your cushioned packing case walls are ripped open by a bloke wearing overalls and a mask. The motor-body painter approaches your gleaming flanks with a wand emitting vibrant pink polymer plaster. After you’ve been spray-coated in many layers of pink paint and hot-air dried, you are positioned seamlessly shoulder-to-shoulder in a bank of similarly coloured kitchen cabinetry.
PREVIOUS PAGES: The three staircases in this townhouse are all individually designed and each very different. The main stair is self- supporting with a braided steel bannister; the access to the guest quarters appears to be via an elegant jewel- encrusted stiletto shoe; and the third, to Virgil and Fay’s bedroom (not in shot), is of a steel semi- circular construction. THESE PAGES, CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: The front door, entrance hall and entry to the gallery/garage are finished in burnished copper so guests have a “wow” feeling as they are welcomed; Fay’s VW Beetle wears a bespoke pink vinyl coating in one of the couple’s favourite colours – pink; the three- storey townhouse is clad in overlapping copper tiles providing armadillo protection to the outer shell. “We didn’t have a budget for the house,” says Virgil. “But we had an idea of one and when we got to three times that we decided, ‘ Right, we had better shut this down now. Let’s call it over.’ Or it could have gone on forever.”