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.”

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