Built to the boundary
According to the stereotype, the preferred trappings of the male midlife crisis (funds allowing) include a sleekly purring Porsche in the driveway. For Liz Sharek, the dream revolves around a couple of old caravans.
"Actually," says the UK-born Aucklander, "the caravan obsession might be my second mid-life crisis. The first was doing my Masters."
Spend 10 minutes with Liz, an artist and object-maker, and you quickly come to realise she isn't particularly big on convention. Her work is quirky and humorous and her latest enthusiasm - still to be realised - is loosely based on a somewhat left-of-field idea. After staying in an uber cool Berlin hotel on a recent trip to Europe, she's decided she would like to bring a Sharek-style version of it to New Zealand. Housed in a 1910 vacuum-cleaner factory, Berlin's Huttenpalast boasts "rooms" that are actually vintage caravans and wooden camping huts, set up within the factory's walls and each decorated by a different artist. "Glamping", it's called, or glamour camping.
"The Huttenpalast is a nice twist of bringing the outside in instead of the other way round," enthuses Liz. "I'd love to try to do something like that here."
The dream is to purchase a plot of land in Matakana, north of Auckland, and set up a mini-me Huttenpalast in a big barn. The space would also double as a studio. Glampers could come and go and Liz, a fan of country life, could work, develop a garden and be mein hostess.
Meanwhile, this fan of open spaces is squeezed into a pint-sized home on a tiny suburban plot in Auckland's Westmere.
Designed by architect Andrew Lister, the house is made up of three distinct conjoined boxes that separate Liz's living and entertaining areas from her workspace. It earned a citation in the 2003 NZIA awards - the judges called it "an extraordinary synthesis in which architect and client seem to have drawn more from the other than each expected, creating an engaging whole that's greater than the sum of its parts".
She shares the house with a sweet, elderly whippet named Chelsea and an even more senior 17-year-old cat named Pan. It's close to parks for Chelsea and a thriving community for Liz and its owner believes it to be as near to perfect as possible. It has one bedroom, an office/home entertainment area, a dining/living room, galley kitchen, two bathrooms, a large deck and a downstairs studio - all resolutely contemporary in design. Huge windows frame views of the abundant "borrowed landscape" (aka views of other people's gardens).
Imagination, no-nonsense practicality and a good sense of humour - that's Liz Sharek. And when Liz spoke, Andrew Lister listened. Liz loves the outdoors so Andrew gave her expansive windows and an oversized skylight (the entire ceiling of her en suite) so she can shower under the sun and stars. Liz was on a tight budget, so her architect designed built-in storage that not only keeps her minimalist home clutter-free, it also dissects a window at exactly the right point to provide her with privacy from overlooking neighbours.
To make the most of the small site, the house was built to the boundaries, but it nestles rather than dominates, mixing happily with the older-style homes in the neighbourhood. Now 11 years old, the clever, sympathetically designed home has become something of a celebrity and earned Andrew a lot of attention. Says he: "It's all about the house, not me, which is great!"
The house took about nine months to build. "It was a fantastic process," says Liz. "Very creative. It was like watching a very large sculpture going up."
Inside, different types of shiny reflective surfaces, including a built-in mirrored cabinet, give the illusion of more space and add a subtle glamour. And every room is punctuated by colour and art. Floor to ceiling shoji-style sliding doors open up to a large deck (a favourite aspect of the house) that runs around the living area. And grounding the whole structure is the studio where Liz makes her objects.
Like their maker, Liz's glass and ceramic objects can be a little unorthodox; some are influenced by cult UK street artists such as Slinkachu (known for his miniature sculptures) and Banksy (satirical graffiti). A trained physiotherapist, Liz also holds qualifications in art/design (her aforementioned Masters is from AUT) and botany. In her studio is a small group of figurines from a series called Punters. Washed with delicate colour, their heads tilted, the punters appear to be having a conversation with each other.
Art is about communication and, when those judges lauded Andrew Lister back in 2003 for his work on Liz's house, they also recognised his client's own ability to get her ideas across. The house has suited Liz and her lifestyle very well. It is more than the sum of its parts. And that's exactly what makes it a home.
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