The Good life
Today’s building code would never stretch to accommodate the ideas of renowned architect Claude Megson. Some might say that’s a blessing but others would argue it is genius lost. He had a propensity for designing homes that slotted together like a slice of Legoland – all roof angles and jutting balconies – and the result was a visual enticement that had its flaws. Megson’s clients tended to enjoy a love/hate relationship with him and Roy and Sue Good were no exception.
They were barely into their 20s when they inherited a hillside section in Waiatarua on the west coast of Auckland. South Island-born Roy, a graduate of Christchurch’s Ilam School of Fine Arts, was working as a production designer at NZBC television. Sue, a young mum, loved her part-time job assisting a local plantsman. The pair fell in love with the bush backdrop of West Auckland where Roy found himself among a like-minded crowd.
“When we moved in,” says Sue, originally a Devonport, Auckland girl, “the only people who lived here were potters and painters.” Up the hill was a guest house where city folk would come to take the mountain air.
It was 1969 and, as astronaut Neil Armstrong planted his boot on a lunar landscape, the Goods were to embark on their own journey of discovery in a quiet corner of the Waitakere ranges. “Sue saw some of Claude’s work at the building centre in town,” says Roy. “I instantly related to its sculptural originality.”
Looking back, it may seem a brave move to have hired Megson, with his reputation as the enfant terrible at the Auckland School of Architecture. “But we were naive,” explains Roy. The architect’s passion for his subject, a mutual friendship with iconic artist Milan Mrkusich and a shared love of modernism were enough to seal the deal.
“Claude was such an enthusiast,” recalls Roy. “You couldn’t ignore him. He was full-on and getting a word in was a challenge. You just got carried along really.”
Megson’s skill lay in cleverly relating living areas to each other. He created his own version of open-plan with intimately scaled multilevel spaces connected by a glimpse of another room. In the Good home, each area is one or two stairs removed from the next; a sunken conversation pit with built-in banquettes and bricked fire-place connects to a living room on a higher plane that in turn flows out to a deck. Beyond a half wall is the hint of a dropped-down dining area. The ceilings slope at rakish angles like the ups and downs of the floor plan.
One could never accuse Megson of taking the easy architectural route.
“He was a feverish sketcher,” remembers Roy. “He aimed to have all the spaces well oriented but sometimes he set too much store by the visual aspect rather than the functional.”
In reality there were ideas that simply did not work. “The serving hatch that linked the kitchen to the dining room required too long a reach, especially for someone as short as me,” says Sue.
All that complexity caused some leaks. A builder friend, on looking at the tapestry of roof joists, commented that in theory it should never hold. But Megson knew how to interlock the forms in a tensile dance that has played itself out for four decades.
Heart rimu ceilings and floors make the home warm and hospitable. The exterior is clad in vertical board-and-batten cedar and there’s a long-run steel roof. It ticked all the boxes for family living, with a separate cubby hole for the couple’s three children to play in and a world outside the windows to explore.
Tucked into a lush landscape, the home enjoys supreme privacy, with no need for fences between the neighbouring properties. The kids roamed the bush as if it was one big park, their only complaint that there was no dairy handy. A basement studio down a vertiginous set of stairs allowed Roy to pursue his career as an abstract artist. “At 18 months old, our son Damon tumbled down the stairs,” recalls Sue. “His brother had left the gate open.”
Roy’s graphic and colourful paintings keep good company on the home’s white walls. “It’s a gallery really, not a home,” says the artist wryly. Megson’s design was altered later on to allow even more hanging space and a plethora of visual art now reflects a creative era. Every centimetre of wall has been commandeered to display the legendary line-up.
“We swapped work,” says Roy. “It was a much less competitive environment in those days. With only three or four dealer galleries, we all knew each other directly or indirectly.”
Monsoon Girl, a Brian Brake photograph, hangs in one stairwell near prints by Barry Cleavin and Gordon Walters. There’s a large work by former neighbour Geoff Thornley, a slender tower sculpture by friend Logan Brewer and a maquette by Marte Szirmay, all inspiring delight in the conversation pit. A sideboard in the dining room displays a greenstone sculpture by John Edgar, glass work by Garry Nash and a small painting by John Parker.
The interiors are Roy’s domain but the gardens, where a painterly palette of planting challenges the colourful glory inside, belong to Sue. “I used to work for the late Hugh Redgrove who was a pioneer of the idea of integrating an English garden into the bush,” says Sue.
When the last of the couple’s children left home 11 years ago, she set to work with gusto. “I had no plan for the garden, it just grew.” A manicured patch of flat lawn, where a central circle is awash with campanulas, leads off the upstairs master bedroom. Beneath a trellised archway a stone cat sleeps in a secret garden that segues into the bush.
In another area a pond comes complete with plump goldfish and rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas flourish on a hillside above a path hewn through the undergrowth.
Once, quite without warning, wild pigs began digging metre-wide holes at the back of the garden, turfing out a few azaleas. “We thought the pigs were a myth until then,” says Sue. “We had to get the rangers in.” Roy is pleased these rampant visitors were dispatched before they had much chance to wreak havoc.
“Just one circuit of the garden is so palliative,” he says. “I come back to this home and this view and relax immediately.”
Story: Claire McCall
Photographs: Patrick Reynolds