One of the real gems in our upcoming issue is the Wellington home of architects Alistair Luke and Sharon Jansen and their two daughters. It was designed in 1958 by Cedric Firth and has remained blissfully untouched since. In fact, the previous owner only decided to sell the home to Alistair and Sharon because unlike many other potential buyers, they felt it should remain just as it is - which is to say, almost perfect.

Paul McCredie took these excellent photographs. In this one, the girls sit on the front deck:


Here's a view through the living room to the entry atrium and the stairs leading to the upper level. Note the beautiful built-in furniture, which includes a stereo connecting to built-in speakers in the living room, dining room and kitchen (yes, in 1958). The buddha head sculpture at right is by Miriam van Wezel.

This photo shows the view through the northwest-facing living room to the dining room.

And here's the entry atrium. The blue chair is by the Danish firm France and Daverkosen and was purchased for the home by its original owners. The artwork at far left is by John Pule, while the work further up the stairs is by Reihana MacDonald. The paper lamp is by Isamu Noguchi.


Cedric Firth was in partnership with Ernst Plischke from 1948-1958, but this house (which was originally commissioned by Ian and Gladys McKenzie) is attributed to Firth alone. We talked to Alistair Luke and asked him to contextualise Firth's work for us. Here's what he had to say:

HOME New Zealand: Who was Cedric Firth, and what makes him an important New Zealand architect?

Alistair Luke: Cedric Firth was an intellectual and socially minded architect, he was also a prolific writer. His primary cause was to deliver affordable architecture to all rather than an elite few. In 1947 he worked for the UN in their housing department. His importance in New Zealand architecture resides in his passion for the “International Style”, something he pursued throughout his career. This was a philoshopical cause rather than a fashionable affectation and he shared it with his practicing partner, from 1948 to 1958, Ernst Plischke. In many ways - though controversial at the time - Plischke Firth introduced New Zealand to this style and demonstrated how it could work within our context.


What are Firth's best-known buildings?

With Plischke, Firth worked on Massey House in Wellington's Lambton Quay and on St Mary’s Church in Taihape. Amongst others, his own projects include his own house, the Ward House, the Vance House and the McKenzie House. He also was the architect for the Memorial to Sir Peter Buck, Urenui. His master work is the Monro Building in Nelson.


He was dedicated to bringing some of the International Style to New Zealand – how well did that style fit the context of the New Zealand sites he worked on?

Firth was very much a contextual architect in that he designed houses and buildings that respond directly to their sites. The stylist overlay, which was an intellectual pursuit, advocated this and fit with his care for the fundamentals of orientation to sun, protection from wind, fit wth contour and the amenties of living. His (and Plischke's) houses contrasted dramatically with their neighbours but that was intentional.


Which parts of your house do you like best?

The serenity - we are surrounded by bush and our house extends well beyond it's physical boundaries with floor to ceiling glass. The built-in furniture is a joy too - very much a part of the philosophy of its style - it is extremely well designed and we have much more storage than we can usefully use.

What attracted you to your place in the first instance?
The spaciousness, the natural light and sun, the built-in cabinets and furniture, the bush setting... but mostly we straight away realised that it was a very clever design perfectly attuned to its setting and extremely cool to boot.

How difficult is it for two architects – in this case you and your partner, Sharon Jansen – to live in a house and not meddle with it?
Before we put in our purchase proposal we revisited the house several times and played around with the plans to see how it might be improved. We quickly realised that it was pretty well perfect just the way it is and that alterations and/or addditions would only be ruinous to its essential character. Living in it for the last four years has borne that out and neither of us is tempted to fiddle. We are instead content to restore its more tired aspects back to their original glory.

If you were to design your own home, what lessons would you take from this one?
Perversely, perhaps, we really enjoy the separation of the kitchen from the living and dining area. The kitchen has two built-in tables - one with a banquet seat, the other used to be for sewing (now used for the computer) - and so it functions like a family room as we can all comfortably, and often do, occupy it at the same time. The other feature we'd repeat (actually replicate in every detail) is the tiny TV room, separating that function from everything else. So, I guess, the big lesson would be that open plan living would no longer be the design route for us.

 
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