Views make you resilient, reckons Sally Ansley. It’s been a handy thing to discover about the home that she and her writer and journalist husband Bruce share on Panorama Road, in Christchurch’s shattered eastern suburbs.
“We’ve been here after an earthquake with no water, no sewerage, with all the glass blown out in the front and it’s freezing cold, but you look out and see all that beauty and somehow you’re resilient. It’s that sense of there being a larger world.”
Much larger. From their living room, which is cantilevered out of the side of Clifton Hill and glazed from floor to ceiling, you look over Sumner estuary, Redcliffs and New Brighton – where the Ansleys swim – past the cordoned-off CBD all the way to Mt Hutt. On a fine day, visible to the north are the Kaikouras and a favourite peak that Bruce calls Magic Mountain.
It’s a view Sally has known since she was a girl. She grew up across the street, the daughter of English immigrants who considered Sumner “the most beautiful place on Earth”.
In fact, she remembers playing in this very house, designed in the early 60s by George Fenton, the city architect and a member of the Group, and solidly built for the ages in double concrete block clad in cedar by a Mr de Bouter. When it came on the market, she says, “I knew how sunny and light and quiet it was. It had a lovely feeling to it.”
Both agree that the Panorama Road house is the happiest of all their houses, which have included a Hurst Seager place at the base of Clifton Hill and a six-bedroom colonial farmhouse at Port Levy. “I like everything about it,” says Bruce. “It’s warm, I love its peace and quiet and I especially love the view. It feels so free living up here.”
It was always going to take something special to prise them away from their last house, a Sumner landmark designed by Fenton’s contemporary Paul Pascoe. It was long and light-filled and exceptionally narrow. “I loved it,” says Sally, who made a film about the house for the Historic Places Trust, “but it was small and when my boys, who are both very tall, came in, all the air went.”
The Panorama Road house, too, was originally modestly proportioned. In the mid 80s, two new bedrooms and a bathroom were added below the house, plus a new bedroom upstairs and a glazed and cantilevered stairway, all designed by Sumner architect Bruce Banbury.
By the time the Ansleys arrived, however, it was in “bad nick”, according to Sally. “The rain had come through the soffits, so they had to be taken out and replaced. The roof was replaced. The place hadn’t been stained for 18 years and it just drank stain – Bruce put masses on. We replastered the walls, redid the floors, repainted everything and put in a new bathroom and kitchen.”
Both those alterations were by Ingrid Geldof. “The kitchen is very simple and I like simplicity,” says Sally. “The best thing about it are these huge drawers – they come out in an earthquake and then go back in again, so nothing breaks.”
Earthquakes are never long out of the conversation. The Ansleys, like most of their immediate neighbours, have been left relatively unscathed. There are the inevitable cracks, and the living room glazing has blown out during all three big shakes. Sally, a former head of Food, Fashion, Art and Design at CPIT, saw her much-loved collection of John Parker and Keith Murray vases atomised. But, though it has “leapt” around during the worst moments, the house hasn’t broken.
Their three favourite Christchurch “playgrounds” – Sumner, Lyttelton and New Brighton – have fared far worse. Sumner is particularly dear to their hearts. They’ve had plenty of time away over the years: stints in Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland and the UK. But Sumner has always had the pull of home. Now it’s damaged, bulwarked by shipping containers to prevent rocks falling on heads. Do they ever think of leaving?
“Everything hinges on the new design of Christchurch,” says Bruce, who has just finished a book about the loss of the city’s built heritage. “If it’s going to be a knocked-up, sprawling kind of place, I don’t think it would be worth living here, but the whole emphasis seems to be heading in the opposite direction.”
“Funnily enough, I love this place even more,” says Sally, who is liaising on the design and rebuild of Christchurch as part of a community forum established by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA). “I love the way people have behaved. I love the resilience.”
They say the same of their house. For two of the big shakes and during aftershocks they’ve taken shelter in their bedroom, which hasn’t suffered a skerrick of damage.
Sally points to a beam in the kitchen that Bruce is in the habit of kissing after a big shake. “We love this house even more now, because it’s kept us safe.”
Best time of the week: Sunset on the deck with a wine glass. (Sally)
And the worst time: Early-morning earthquakes. (Sally)
I love this part of New Zealand because: It makes the whole wonderful South Island your playground. (Bruce)
Our happiest day in this house: Our first Christmas here with all our family. (Sally)
And the worst day: The February 22 earthquake. But the house survived and we’ve learned to trust it. (Bruce)
A well-kept secret about this area: The way we can walk and be alone in the wonderful hills of Banks Peninsula, surrounded by sea. (Bruce)
Best time of year to visit here: Spring. The daffodils are out, the city is alive with blossom and the soft winds blow. (Bruce)
Sally and Bruce Ansley
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|Story: Matt Philp|
Photographer: Jane Ussher