Lalique in Gisborne
High on Gisborne
Gisborne’s a gutsy town, says Professor Jack Richards. As a teenager growing up there, he was in a hurry to get away to the big city. But now he’s drawn back every summer to the spectacular coastal holiday home he shares with partner Won Gyu Moon. For six weeks, the pair host a stream of house guests and Jack renews his links with the local arts scene.
“When you’ve been around the world and come back, you realise there’s a real dynamism in these small towns. There’s a core of creative people. That’s why I like to invest in Gisborne…to keep that going.”
So Jack is pouring funds into a new wing at the local Tairawhiti Museum and on summer evenings you’ll find him hosting fundraising classical concerts in his living room.
Funding his philanthropy is a string of best-selling books for students and teachers of English as a second language – his last series sold 40 million copies. An academic and author, Jack has travelled and lived all over the world, but is now based in Sydney.
Every year he comes home to Gisborne. On one of those visits, in the early 1990s, Jack and Won Gyu bought 2ha of bare, steep land at Okitu, high above the coastline that stretches from Gisborne to East Cape. The following summer they engaged local architect Graeme Nicoll, asking him for an Asian-influenced pavilion-style design, with a hint of Frank Lloyd Wright.
The result is an airy home he calls Tiromoana – ocean view in Maori – with wide windows facing the sea. The open-plan living area, with its glossy black piano, is big enough for a concert for 70. The acoustics are excellent, though “that’s just luck,” says Jack. “We never dreamed of having house concerts when it was built.”
Looking out to the surf is a tiled deck, where meals are served and guests gather night and day. “If you turn off the lights at night, it’s fabulous to go out and look at the stars.”
Jack stipulated plenty of timber. “The floors are matai, which is not too good with stilettos, but it’s not a fussy kind of house. It can put up with a few scratches. It wears nicely and suits this kind of environment.
“I wanted a house that had a warm feeling. I know a lot of people go for all white in these kinds of houses, but I love strong colours. They work well when you have a lot of light and sun.” Adding to the rich colours are Jack’s artworks and snippets from his collections of Asian and South American textiles, most of which are stored in Sydney.
The design of the home has lasted well, with just a few tweaks over the years, including a new entranceway, a gym and a deep red kitchen. The addition that draws visitors though is the new, beautifully lit gallery where Jack displays his 130 René Lalique vases – his collection is the subject of a new book.
Jack bought his first Lalique vase in Cairo in 1975, not realising what it was. “I just thought it was a gorgeous object.” When his books took off, Jack went on a buying spree, acquiring dozens of vases he likens to “big jewels”. His expanding collection couldn’t fit in his Sydney apartment, so it came to Gisborne.
“Not many beach houses have a million-dollar Lalique collection. They’re not much use for holding flowers though – I’ve got this whole collection of Lalique vases but I often find I’ve got nothing to put a bunch of flowers in.”
However, flowers don’t play a leading role in the garden Jack’s sister Gillian Armstrong has designed (NZ House & Garden, May 2002). Gillian and her husband Colin live next door and care for the property when Jack and Won Gyu are away. Every summer, Gillian and Jack plot the course of the garden over the coming year – what’s coming out, what’s going in. The garden is mostly natives – broad-leafed pukas thrive and mounds of hebes line the boardwalks that zigzag down, taming the sloping site. “There’s no water, so plants have to be able to survive,” says Jack.
Among the natives are other plants that attract birds – flowering cherries, banksias and Australian spear lilies (Doryanthes palmeri). Tui and pigeons come to feed and Jack was summoned recently by Gillian to admire a large cappucino-coloured morepork snoozing in a tree.
Every corner of the garden is filled with sculptures, some lit at night. Striking Maori artworks have been installed in the garden with traditional ceremonies. Aucklander Phillip Luxton’s tall, other-wordly pottery structures are some of Jack’s favourites.
“I saw some of his work, went to his property and bought a whole lot of pieces which he came down and installed.”
Ponds filled with frogs, fish and turtles dot the garden close to the house and the boardwalk leads to Jack and Won Gyu’s “Monet moment” – a large pond halfway down the property with a bridge that had to be lifted into the awkward spot by helicopter.
Sitting in the trees, part-way down the slope, is a guest house – an elegant pavilion surrounded by decking and topped off with an Asian-style roof. In the main house there are also two guest bedrooms, filled during the summer by visiting musicians and the many friends Jack and Won Gyu have collected while living and working in Asia, Australia and South America.
This interesting bunch (on one day in early February, guests included a creative writing teacher, a playwright and a Swedish woman who drives trains) enjoy the spectacular ocean views and what Jack calls “the Gisborne experience”.
The previous day a boat trip ended with an invitation to dinner at the home of a man they’d just met – Jack and friends saw how he smoked his own fish and were treated to a peach dessert cooked by his wife. “That’s Gisborne generosity,” he says.
“There are always people coming and going. I’d probably have 20 house guests during the summer. It would be silly to be sitting here not sharing it with other people.”
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|Story: Rosemary Barraclough|
Photographer: Tessa Chrisp