Just a few steps from the bustle of Ponsonby Road, quietly hidden away with no street frontage to give away its presence, is 17 Paget Street. Its unique location, on a landlocked site surrounded by mature natives, has the feeling of a hidden getaway, with shimmering glimpses of the Waitemata and the Sky Tower to remind you that you are indeed on the fringe of Auckland's CBD. But that's only half the story.
Originally a small, turn-of-the-century workingman's cottage, the house was imaginatively modernised and expanded in the early 80s by architect Pete Bossley for himself and his two daughters. At the time, Bossley was a young, up-and-coming and relatively unknown architect who has since grown to become one of New Zealand's most revered architects. Most notably, he is responsible for the design and documentation of the architecture of the National Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington. He is also a recipient of the NZIA Gold Medal, the highest honour in New Zealand Architecture.
Paget St clearly hasn't the scale or the glamour of Bossley's later work. Still, it is nevertheless an important piece of New Zealand's architectural history. True to its original form (and colours), it is a time capsule that represents the emerging design styles from that period. It's also a super functional home to live in and experience, and is and is as cool today as the day it was built.
The current owner, the film producer, Chris Hampson, bought the house 21 years ago from Pete Bossley.
"I remember clearly, I walked in through the front door, stepped into the living area and thought, yeah, this is it. And it still does it to me to this day," he says, standing in the same spot he did over two decades ago. "I love all the glass, I love the view and the way it's slightly jungly out there, but you're right in the centre of the city. I love that you can walk down the path from a bar on Ponsonby Road, close the gate, and it's completely quiet, and I could be anywhere. Because of all the glass and all the doors opening up onto the decks, it's kind of like having a bach in the centre of the city. It just rings my bells, and that feeling's never ever changed."
Emotions aside, is it a practical place to live in?
“I find it infinitely practical. There is a large living, dining, kitchen space that all flows into itself, then through the ‘bookshelf’ door [on the ground floor] is the master bedroom, which also has superb views. And upstairs, there are two identical bedrooms and a large deck, with even better views.”
Bossley clearly used his own home as an incubator for thoughts and ideas. There are design details in Paget Street that went on to become fully examined in many houses that he designed and built later in his career. Looking around this house, it's evident that he also had a lot of fun with the design, with its bold-painted joinery and numerous architectural follies and flourishes.
"One afternoon, Pete was round here, and I said to him, there are certain aspects of the house that continue to baffle me – one of them being those six prongs sticking up out of the seating on the deck. Why are they there, Pete? There was a long, long pause while he looked at them, then he said… Ah, I never did put that seat-back on. So, I went out the next day and bought a big piece of Totara and put the seat-back on," he laughs.
"Seriously though, this is a very well-considered house. I only use a heater here for two or three months of the year. The rest of the time, particularly in winter, when the sun's lower, it sucks all the daylight and warmth in through these windows. For me, it's a gorgeous place to live. It's a great place to live for a couple who have guests or occasional extended family come to stay."
Recounting long lunches that went on into the night, Chris says it's also a great place to socialise, whether a small gathering out on the private deck off the dining area or a large celebration. There is no sense of separation, and there's a surprising amount of space when you take in all the decks.
"Even though I've owned it for 21 years, I still refer to it as Pete's house. Pete knows I'm selling it, and he likes the fact it is loved and that I haven't changed it, other than to re-tile the bathroom. We've grown to become good friends."
When asked what he’s going to miss about the house, Chris replies… “Living in it – the simple sense of contentment being here. For me, it’s just an excellent place to live. It’s comfortable, it’s warm, and it’s in a really great location.”
Upstairs, beyond the twin bedrooms with large sliding doors that can turn the top floor into a multi-use space, the house reveals what Chris describes as the "second experience" – a large deck with astonishing panoramic views and uninterrupted, all-day sun from dawn to dusk. It even has a prow, so movie lovers can relive that Titanic moment, plus a decorative but somewhat redundant structure overhead that looks like it could, one day, offer some sort of shelter.
“It’s a bit like those spikes on the deck downstairs,” quips Chris. “I like it, but I’ve never quite worked it out. I guess it could have a purpose if you added a sunshade, but I’ve investigated. Had I stayed here, I wanted to move my bedroom up here.”
There is plenty of scope for improvement and expansion with this house. In fact, Pete has given Chris concept drawings for potential extensions and alterations, including adding an upstairs bathroom, or turning the upper level into a large master suite, and also extending the whole house by adding a new wing that runs down the hill to where the sleepout/studio currently sits – adding a further two bedrooms, a courtyard and light-filled atrium.
17 Paget Street is not a typical Ponsonby villa or Grey Lynn bungalow. In fact, there's nothing 'typical' about this house, it's quirky, playful, and could do with some cosmetic TLC. So who's it for? It's for the person that falls in love with it when they first walk into it, just like Chris did 21 years ago.
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