Sue Elliott remembers those early days of marriage when her job in a design store helped put her husband through university. Brian feels he’s perhaps repaid the favour. After all, the degree he was pursuing was architecture, which has led to the creation of a few wonderful homes for his family over the years. The latest sits on a Feilding site in Manawatū that only the intrepid would consider a building platform.
Brave Brian, a director with Designgroup Stapleton Elliott, has vision by the bucket-load and the wherewithal, but says it was Sue who planted the idea.
“Sue noticed the section not far from where we were living. It had been an empty site for so long, surrounded by houses about 35 to 40 years old. It hadn’t sold because it was so steep.”
They got it at a good price, which was just as well, as the necessary geotechnical and structural engineering costs were significant – more than that of the section. Half of the 200m² house is cantilevered over the sloping site, with the suspended concrete floor held up by steel cross-bracing. Earthquake sound, the home is both an engineering and an architectural celebration.
The building project generated plenty of interest from the neighbors – but Sue didn’t visit often. “I think I visited the site only twice. I like surprises and the surprises were really good.” The color on the front of the house was a case in point.
Brian and Sue are art enthusiasts. “The front is almost like a painting itself,” Brian says, explaining the blocks of blue, red, yellow and white that were inspired by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian.
“We have various elements of art inside too that reflect the Mondrian approach. There’s the dining room table I designed especially for the house, with its tabletop consisting of a black inlay with three squares of blue, red and yellow,” says Brian.
Sue wanted mirrored walls – one in the foyer, which is like a small art gallery, where the mirror reflects art, furniture and sculpture, and visually expands the feel of the space.
Another mirrored wall, in the open-plan main living area, reflects the expansive rural view, visually lengthens the room and provides a backing for shelves used to display sculptures and ornaments.
Another request was clerestory windows. Says Brian: “Sue’s request for lots of clerestory windows has made the light inside the house a major feature.” The light and the views revealed when entering the main living area “lift the spirits”, he adds. Sue concurs: “I like height in spaces and like the light coming in and bouncing around. It feels nice. And because we have such a wide, interesting view it lends itself to that.”
Such aspects of their home will be enjoyed for many years as “its base concept was to take us into our older years,” says Brian. Hence the lift that runs between the home’s three levels.
The internal views are also important with the house designed to include plenty of wall space for hanging art, pieces which have been primarily accrued on holidays and significant annual celebrations.
“We generally buy a piece of art on our wedding anniversary,” says Brian. “This probably started in the mid-70s when we certainly had no money, but my grandparents left me enough to buy one painting.”
They don’t follow any particular artists but do favor New Zealand art and are keen supporters of up-and-coming talent. There are works by Pat Hanly (Brian’s art tutor once upon a time), Martin Pickering (the foyer’s hall table creator), Ian Chapman (Sue’s favorite), a very early David Trubridge piece (a treasure box, not a light shade) and Naga Tsutsumi (who teaches locally).
One of their best pieces, Brian believes, is an early work by Daniel Campion. Part of his Love Song series, it’s a complex piece of work featuring a range of architectural lines and is studded with bullet holes.
An early family interest in pottery prompted Brian and Sue’s love of ceramics and sculpture in general. Some pieces have been made by their children – graphic designer Justine, and art and technology teacher Mason. Justine designed a special dated mosaic tile, constructed by Di Kemp, that graces the entry floor. Also eye-catching is the 1.8m-long depiction of Marilyn Monroe. Once forming a double privacy screen in a shop, it’s now the front to a bed that folds down from the wall in the library.
The Elliotts’ home also embraces technology. Ahead of its time, it includes features such as sensors that trigger some of the clerestory windows to open and close to maintain a pre-set heat. Those windows, and the louvres over the outdoor seating area, automatically close when it rains. The floor slab is hot water heated, with a thermostat recognising when the desired heat has been reached, prompting the boiler to switch off.
Bells and whistles… and plenty of visual delight.
Q&A with Brian & Sue Elliott
Best decorating tip: Use only one color palette throughout the house. (Brian)
A favorite design detail: The bathroom upstairs features a shower with light blue and green-hued mosaic tiles made to a design I put together. They slowly change color from top to bottom like a waterfall. (Brian)
Favorite eating places: Beyond Coffee in central Feilding is great after a nice morning walk with friends. (Sue)
Our favorite restaurant is Neros in Palmerston North with its top-quality food and brilliant service. (Brian)
Big wins: Finding Darryl Judd at Guardian Tree Services, who came up with a great landscaping plan and then did all the planting. And, after many rejections, finding Tony McMellon of Window Cleaning Plus to clean our main windows, which are 9m off the ground. (Sue)
A brave move in your building project: Purchasing a section that had not sold in 40 years as it was “too hard to build on” was certainly like that. (Brian)