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New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1985

Designers at Work

page 64

Designers at Work

What sort of design do designers do for themselves? Is an architect's office instantly recognisable as such? More importantly are their offices a statement of ability, philosophy, or do they simply reflect the personal taste of the occupants.

Home and Building magazine visited four such offices in Auckland city and found four quite different practices, reflecting four quite different attitudes. Distinctly different from one another, each office did in many ways reflect the beliefs of the occupants, and each provided a fascinating glimpse at the enormous range of possibility that is artchitecture and design.

page 65

Cacophony of texture and colour

left to right — Hugh Mullane, John Hughes, Colin Martin.

left to right — Hugh Mullane, John Hughes, Colin Martin.

On the slopes of Grafton Road is a small commercial building with the pleasing proportions of a house. In it are the offices of Martin Hughes Associates, interior designers. The outside of the building is attractively painted and the ramped entrance is bordered by a garden of herbs.

The indoor spaces are not large but the shapes are interesting and make good use of natural lighting. These spaces are in many ways simply anonymous background for the art and craft of interior design. The furniture and art works are carefully chosen and reflect both the tastes of the individual partners and the skill of placing possibly incongruous pieces side by side. Here there are Korean chests, New Zealand sculpture and paintings, Chinese pots and colourful Kelim rugs. The result is an attractive cacophony of texture and colour.

The large conference room is comfortable and a bold statement of ability and intent. In many ways the public offices of this practice are a stage, a place where the props can be changed and a whole new image evoked. With the props removed there is simply a pleasant, grey space and the anticipation of potential beauty and style.

Much time was spent looking for premises such as these, for the physical needs of the practice had been well defined. It was important that the office be located on the periphery of the city rather than in the city centre. This peripheral placement gives them accessibility and an appeal to a wider range of clients than a central city location would allow.

The appeal of their work is wide, attracting a diverse clientele. Commercial buildings, office and retail space, the hospitality industry and the private home have been a part of the past success of the last 15 years. Today they are finding that a large proportion of their work is coming from the world of commerce and industry.

"It is the coming of age of interior design," said Hugh Mullane, the third partner in the firm. "Designers have made their niche and are here to stay."

A further example of the coming of age is expressed by the response of architects, he says, for now they want the interiors as well as the buildings!

Although the firm is keen to use New Zealand products and New Zealand art in its work they have found that taste, style and design have in many respects become internationalised. An idea that may appear to be a colloquial response may well turn up in a similar form in a home in New York, or an office in London. The world of design is becoming smaller.

Martin Hughes Interiors is a practice which has vibrance. The overwhelming feeling there, is that of confident expertise.

page 66

Warehouse of ideas

page 67
Above in foreground from right: Pip Cheshire, Mal Bartleet and Pete Bossley.

Above in foreground from right: Pip Cheshire, Mal Bartleet and Pete Bossley.

Tucked into the narrow steep streets which form the light industrial area behind Victoria Park market is the Artifice Design Studio.

Three architects work there, each as a separate entity but with a shared commitment to accessibility and the direct approach.

They are Mal Bartleet, Pete Bossley and Pip Cheshire who have been working as a team for five years.

Their studio is a spacious, off-white, brick building which they share with a staff of six and two other businesses of related but different disciplines.

The feeling is of a warehouse. There are no individual offices, no closed doors. Each individual's work space is open, the drawing boards there to be seen. In the midst of this is a large conference table. A place to sit and talk feeling comfortable and private yet is surrounded by an intensity of work and ideas. "The use of a warehouse is intentional," said Pip Cheshire, "we are trying to get the feeling of a warehouse of ideas and abilities as well as a physical space."

The atmosphere is friendly, interesting and active. Light is reflected off the corrugated iron roof lining. The large timber trusses are painted green. The conduit system is orange and a huge kite and umbrella provide exciting decoration. The feeling is positive if unpredictable and the expectation of client involvement high.

Their building is the third that they have used and is the result of a long search within the confines of a very specific area. These architects live locally and do a great deal of work within the inner city. For them all, it is important to be a part of the movement and accessibility of the inner city suburbs without being in the centre of Queen Street. All three are scornfully derisive of the amorphous corporate personna that is muscling its mirrored passage down Queen Street reflecting power, money and the constraints of out-dated town planning.

Much of the work of these architects has been locally based and has provided them with a broad approach to design in addition to an historical perspective. Their present work includes both commercial and domestic briefs and their approach to this work is energetic and enhanced by the understanding they have learned through their work with older buildings.

The Artifice Design Studio reflects the philosophy of the architects. It and they are neither coy nor bashful. They are concerned with the alienation of the professions from the people and it is their intention to make themselves explicitly and directly approachable. In this they succeed.

page 68

Diversity of outlook

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left: Ron Sang. Right: Simon Carnachan.

left: Ron Sang. Right: Simon Carnachan.

Housed in the unlikely renovation of what was originally the Parnell fire station is the architectural, engineering and design practice of Fairhead, Sang and Carnachan. Their building has been exquisitely restored with the outside being as faithful to the original as possible. A strong, sculptural wall protects the occupants of the building from the irritation of the heavy traffic noise of Parnell Road while also giving the entrance to the building clear and resolute definition. Inside the wall is a garden which in itself provides a setting for large pieces of sculpture.

An elegant front door opens into a large reception area. There the clean lines and subtle colours provide a suitable background for the collection of New Zealand art which is displayed there. For this part of the building doubles as an art gallery for the frequent exhibitions held there and which in themselves reflect the diversity of outlook of this practice. A catholic approach to art is expressed by the pieces hung here. There are examples of painting, prints, pottery and weaving, all well lit and exhibited and all by New Zealand artists.

Fairhead, Sang and Carna-chan is a practice of architects, engineers and designers and it is necessary that aspects of all this work is, at least in part, expressed in this building.

The building, however, does not make a statement about architecture or design but is intended to be comfortable and to provide a cosy place in which to work. Its prime function is that of an office, a place to house a business rather than to advertise the talents of its owners.

It is, however, a response to a clean and simple architectural style. Theirs is a practical approach to the gradual changes that time will bring.

Parnell was chosen specifically as being central and yet without the problems of access that Queen Street brings. The partners also felt that it was important to bring people to a house rather than an office building and have chosen to do that in spite of the consequent zoning limitations.

The members of this practice believe that the work they do is its own best advertisement and that the office they use should be primarily easy to work in, rather than be used to influence clients. "There were many determining factors, and there has been the need for compromise," said Simon Carnachan, "but our hope is to be happy and housed in some style and comfort, and that that is able to be seen by our clients."

The resulting feeling expressed by these surroundings is one of quality, comfort and strength. It is a good place to be.

page 70

Expression of taste

page 71
left: Wah Chong. Right: Gretel Lukas.

left: Wah Chong. Right: Gretel Lukas.

Inscape Design Ltd, Auckland is the northern home of the successful Wellington firm of the same name. Gretel Lukas and Wah Chong provide the Auckland expertise for this branch of the business in regular consultation with Duncan Dempsey the managing director from Wellington.

The practice is to be found housed in a classic two-storey Ponsonby villa. Its original features have been retained and the front door accentuated by a trellis-roofed portico. The feeling is austere, yet generous and achieves an elegant sophistication. The subtle tonings of the colour scheme are acquiring a following among houses in the neighbourhood.

The inner city suburban location of this firm was chosen with deliberate care, encompassing as it does several aspects of Inscape's philosophy. The use of a house as their base provides a superb background for the delightful mixture of antique and modern furniture. It is also an inspired, interesting and yet relaxed place for their clients to be. Moreover there is ease of accessibility and parking.

The range of work commissioned from this company has been all encompassing, but today is mostly that of commercial interiors, the hospitality industry and even the interior design of yachts.

Their approach is simple, preferring as they do the elegant, non-cluttered look, which they achieve through the use of timeless, quality furniture and fittings against a background of subtly toned colour.

Their own building, both inside and out echoes this approach, expressing their philosophy and the designers' own taste. The space is intended to be an expression of style rather than specifically as an advertisement of ability.

The designers at Inscape strongly empathise with a style that is responsive to both the arts and the technology of our time. The technical systems approach to interiors is a style which although almost unknown in New Zealand at the present time, is one that appeals. They would, however, be keen to combine this super functional look with the use of New Zealand native timbers, wool and planting.

"Our objective," said Gretel Lukas, "is to use everyone's strength — and produce a design that people, all people can relate to."

Inscape are not slavish followers of a New Zealand style or an international one, but have the ability to juxtapose ideas and pieces of art with skill and flair. The art they display there is all work done by New Zealand artists, potters and weavers. This is a conscious statement by these designers of their belief and intent.

That the makers of taste, have taste themselves, is self evident as you enter these premises, and as you leave you are warmed by the memory of their use of colour and of elegance achieved.

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