Saturday, January 26, 2013

Living in a glass house

Living in a glass house

More than a few Northlanders raised a curious eyebrow when Reg and Chrissy Price built their glass house on a hilltop in rural Oakleigh, just south of Whangarei. Its large dimensions meant it was surely some sort of shed for storing farm implements. But that theory was dashed once the glass walls were fitted, at which point a few locals even wondered, somewhat wryly, if perhaps this Auckland couple was building a supermarket and nobody thought of living in a glass house.

In fact, this is the Prices' weekender, a country retreat with a design that defies convention. Living in a glass house with its floor plan is dominated by a central 16sqm glass atrium that immediately confounds the expectations of visitors at the main door. Thinking, not unreasonably, that they are stepping inside of living in a glass house, guests are perplexed to discover they've gained access to a
sprawling garden room.

It's a somewhat disorienting experience-like entering the outdoors. Reg and Chrissy never tire of living in a glass house and reading a blend of surprise, delight and confusion on people's faces. A small internal dividing wall allows a peep through a pair of traditional arched windows into the interior garden area - a faux porch effect that only heightens the intrigue.

Four garden beds of subtropical planting are set into plain concrete flooring. Thanks to the sheltered conditions, and temperatures that reach 35°C, growth is lush and triffid-like; banana palms and fig trees have already reached the high-pitched UV-reflective glass ceiling of this beautiful glass house.

"The weather isn't a consideration for us living in a glass house," says Chrissy. "We love pottering
in the garden in the heaviest downpour, just because we can. " A long-time admirer of bold architecture, Reg relishes "the ambiguity of the structure". So, is this living in a glass house space actually indoors or out? The answer is: it can be both. All nine of the 3.6-metre-high glass doors glide back, leaving an open-sided room beneath the translucent roof. "Its like an umbrella on top," says Reg. "We like an industrial look - materials such as concrete, glass and steel."

Back in the late 1970s, Reg briefly studied architecture and, though he realised the life of a professional architect wasn't for him, he still cherished the dream of conceptualising and building a home of his own. The Prices designed the glass house themselves and commissioned a draftsman to draw up the plans. Three cabins of their glass house open into the main atrium, each with a designated function - kitchen/living zone, master retreat and guest wing.

This is the glass house that Reg built - literally. Shedding the suit, tie and briefcase of his regular job as a management consultant, he took a year off from devising customer strategies and, in conjunction with a local builder, got hammering, sawing, drilling, lifting and digging - losing eight kilograms in the intensely physical process.

"For me everything was a challenge," he says. "The experience made me realize how uncoordinated I was." Digging two-meter-deep holes for each of the eight steel support posts was especially back-breaking. "That was torture, that was awful." But living in a glass house was worth it.

Personally laboring on the site helped keep the budget lean and mean and Reg also discovered he does some of his best thinking while doing hard graft for the worth of living in a glass house. So, when the great glass barn was completed in October 2008, he returned lo consultancy work reinvigorated and brimming with ideas and fresh business plans.

Reg was born and raised on this dairy farm - and given the seven- hectare site by his parents - so he was all too familiar with the vagaries of the climate. In fact, it was the exposed, wind-swept conditions that led to the central idea on which the entire home was based. If inclement weather made outdoor areas living in a glass house largely inhospitable, then why not bring the outside in? This seemingly improbable concept of living in a glass house was nonetheless founded on an unflinching logic.

Reg and Chrissy, who initially camped on the hill to determine the best building site, aimed to disturb the landscape as little as possible in the creation of their bolt-hole. "We had to take the top off the knoll but apart from that we wanted the house to look almost as if it had iust landed from outer space," says Chrissy. The grass has been allowed to grow right up lo the house and little
exterior landscaping has been done. She is a fan of the natural, rural vista. "I love seeing the blue sky all around. fluffy clouds then a green expanse from anyone point."

Chrissy used to have her own fashion label, Chrissy R, and her design background and critical eye were invaluable when furnishing the interior. "We tried to keep it really simple for our living in a glass house- no frills. We didn't want to be too 'decor'," she says, admitting it was a challenge to strike the right balance between understated country living and the modern luxuries they both craved. Ultimately, compromise was key. So, though kitchen has no dishwasher, there is a steam room - 'very relaxing and not as masochistic as a dry sauna" - in a corner of the atrium.

It turns out that people who live in glass houses - especially glass houses with a 360 degree panorama of the countryside and a view across the mangrove flats to the upper Whangarei Harbour - end up hosting a great many visitors how wonders what its like living in a glass house. Chrissy's mother often overnights here and city friends are lining up tor a weekend in the guest cabin. Reg's
parents and sister, who is also a neighbor, are always welcome —and locals regularly drop by unannounced bearing freshly made scones.

Heeling the pressure to conform to country standards, city slicker Chrissy has become expert in making fruit salad muffins and evidently her raspberry friands are already legendary in these parts.
"I've had to spruce up my baking," she says. Reg has also had to instruct her in rural lingo and etiquette; cows graze in paddocks not fields and seven-wire fences must be climbed adjacent to a sturdy post rather than mid-wire.

To achieve optimal work-life balance for living in a glass house and the bed room curtains in the morning to find 40 "very friendly" cows, the Prices aim to spend about a third of their time at Oakleigh. Chrissy simply adores opening staring right hack at her through the window. "After a few days, though, I start to hanker after the bright city lights and feel the urge to head back to our Ponsonby villa." It is really nice experience living in a glass house.

Story: Shelley Bridgeman
Photographer: Kieran Scott

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