The misfortune of New Zealand's first convicted GST fraudster delivered Annabel Langbein her current home. The fraudster went to jail. His house came up for auction. Annabel, then a young possum trapper, came out of the bush with a wad of possum pelt money in her pocket and a lanky farm boy from Gisborne in her heart. But the farm boy, being 2m tall, clearly needed space if he was going to be happy in the city.
The fraudster's house was a dump but it sat on 2020sqm of rubbish-strewn land in the middle of Auckland. Newmarket, to be precise. Perfect. Twenty-five years and two children later, the couple are still in the house, now tidied up and enlarged and with a splendid garden. It has also become the hub of Annabel Langbein Inc. The transformation has been as organic as the vege patch, taking place over years as time and money allowed, but it's finally in a state that allows Annabel to feel happy about welcoming NZ House & Garden
to her home.
It's also the first time in ages that she's felt settled there. She's travelled so much for work in recent years that it was more of a fly-in-fly-out kind of place. Now she divides her time equally between Auckland and her Wanaka getaway.
"My home has become increasingly important to me. I came from a family where my mother made the most beautiful home. She made sure everything was thoughtful, cared for and spankingly clean. I didn't get the tidy gene but as I've got older I find it calming to have things tidy. On the other hand it is home and I do have piles of stuff here and there."
The four-bedroomed 1920s bungalow is generously proportioned and in size and spirit not unlike a farmhouse. Which is about right, since Annabel calls herself a country girl at heart. She has a physical need to cook, garden and surround herself with light. "Our little cabin in Wanaka can be quite dark and I don't live well in that space. I find myself going outside looking for light."
Like a farmhouse, the Auckland bungalow is a busy working house. Annabel and her team feed the media beast here with television programmes, video links and cookbooks. Her books have sold more than two million copies and she is now watched in 83 territories around the world. Watch out, world, Annabel reckons she's only just started. Next stop, global domination!
Of course she's been putting out cookbooks since the early 90s but, now that children Rose and Sean have left home, she and husband Ted Hewetson, who is a director in the business, are able to devote all their energies to her career.
There's plenty of time, says Annabel. "Julia Child started on television when she was 46 or 47. And I often think of musician Ruben Gonzalez from the Buena Vista Social Club, who put out his first album at 77. In France I have a mentor who is 70 and it's like, so what?"
Is she ambitious? "I'm not sure about that word. It's more about the journey. I love learning, new ideas, challenges. It's less about ambition and more about going, why not? What if? I'm better at projects than everyday life. Mind you, my mother used to say I was living life too quickly and that I was in danger of using it up, that I would run out of things to do."
But, like any busy person, she needs to recharge at times. That's where her home comes in. It may well be Annabel Langbein HQ but she's keen to make sure it's also a home. She likes soft lighting (Ted lights the many candles around the house as dusk falls), fires (the house has four fireplaces, including an outdoor one she cooks on once or twice a week), soft furnishings and comfy sofas. And books. Lots of books. They're very much a reading family, says Annabel.
She and Ted have a few artworks, though not as many as she'd like. She treasures a number of collages by her artist mother Anne Langbein. Anne died eight years ago, "but I miss her every day".
Annabel is also an avid collector of china and enjoys bidding for gems on TradeMe: "I don't just like china. I covet china". Her display of Masonware (the family china she grew up with) adds a colourful country touch to the modern kitchen but most of her extensive collection is at Wanaka. She also loves festooning the house with flowers. "I'm crazy about them. Mum always had flowers out of her garden. I love country flowers like freesias, irises, sweet peas, big blowzy roses."
The house is functional but uncluttered, which is deliberate. As the children grew up, Annabel became the shortest of a very tall family who all needed room to fling their long limbs about. "When we got here the doors were short. We got them made taller and I remember the builder saying it would be cheaper to have a shorter husband."
Perhaps, but then she wouldn't have a man who lights candles and is, she says, a real romantic. Her life is rich indeed but she takes nothing for granted. "I feel very lucky to be part of my family," she says simply.For more images including web-exclusive images click on the "photo gallery" link above.