Radical house stands test of time
He has spent more than half his 91 years living in the house he and his late wife had designed by renowned architect John Scott, and Bruce Martin has no plans to leave it anytime soon.
Bruce and Estelle, who died in 2001, raised three boys and spent decades creating their distinctive and highly acclaimed pottery on this piece of land at Bridge Pa, just west of Hastings.
Now enjoying his 47th autumn in the house, Bruce can usually be found in one of its sunny nooks, reading a newspaper while surrounded by Scott’s characteristically high vertical windows, rimu panelling and bare Masonry walls.
Even now, while sitting at the kitchen table, lying in bed, or tending to the garden, Bruce will catch himself pondering the angle of a beam, the line of a pillar or the way a window sits in a wall, and wonder at its perfect and timeless simplicity.
If ever there was a person who truly loved their house, it’s Bruce Martin. His affection for it is palpable as he walks from room to room, speaking softly as he points out each little feature.
“We always loved it. Right from the start. And nothing’s been altered, apart from adding a few more power sockets. We’ve never wanted to change a thing. That’s a pretty good sign, I think,” he said.
“He used to always bring students, clients, and other architects to the house. He’d just turn up. We’d go on working and John would show them around.”
Bruce Martin about John Scott, pictured
“There are so many wonderful details. I’ve seen it all before obviously, but it still strikes me how carefully John must have thought about things,” he said.
And it seems Scott felt similarly attached to the house.
“He used to always bring students, clients, and other architects to the house. He’d just turn up. That was fine. We got used to it. We’d go on working and John would show them around.” Bruce said.
“The way he showed it to people . . . it was obvious he thought of it as one of his best.”
The house was built in 1970. Bruce and Estelle and their three sons had lived in a little house in Hastings prior to that. The couple took up pottery as a hobby in the sixties. They were good at it and demand was so great that they left their jobs and made it their life’s work. Meaning they needed a bigger place with a bigger working area.
They found the four hectare block of what was then regarded as dry, bare and useless land at Bridge Pa, and bought it for a song: $5000.
Bruce and Estelle knew Scott and asked him to design a house and asked him to design a house and a separate building about the same size as the house to include a workshop and display room.
The couple gave Scott “a very brief brief” with the simple edict that there should be “no wall-paper, no carpet and no venetian blinds”.
“He thought that was great, so we went from there. John educated us to a large degree on housing.
“He sort of guided us through until we had this wonderful, open plan with high ceilinged rooms,” he said.
The house consists of two wings. One includes the master bedroom, living area and kitchen; the other has three small bedrooms, a bathroom and a communal living area.
The buildings, built by Ian Kepka, cost less than $30,000. “Unbelievable, isn’t it?’’ Bruce said.
“It’s not a big house, but it doesn’t need to be big.
“I see these enormous houses being built today and I wonder why. It’s just not necessary,” he said.
In 2006 the house was recognised by Historic Places with a category 1 level of importance. Bruce still has many of the pots and pieces he and Estelle created together and will occasionally open his studio by appointment.
But most often he can be found in the garden, or reading by a window, the house a constant at his side.
The building was awarded the Enduring Architecture Award for the 2017 Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne area by the NZ Institute of Architects, and is in the running for a national award later in the year. Other buildings in the region to gain awards were:
Small Project Architecture: Waimarama Surf Life Saving Club, by Paris Magdalinos Architects (Waimarama Beach)
Hospitality and Retail: Craggy Range – The Lodge, by Clarkson Architects (Havelock North)
Heritage: Central Post Office Redevelopment, by Paris Magdalinos Architects (Napier)
Housing: Robertson House, by Atelierworkshop (Te Awanga), Shoal Beach House by Gavin Cooper Architect (Aramoana) and Mangakuri Bach by Parsonson Architects (Kairakau)
Public Architecture: War Memorial Theatre, by Shand Shelton (Gisborne) and Te Wharehou o Waikaremoana by Tennent+Brown Architects (Lake Waikaremoana)
Education: Kaiti School, Wharekauri – New Classrooms, by Architects 44 (Gisborne)
Commercial Architecture: 1 Wright Street, by Architecture HDT Hawke’s Bay, (building located in Gisborne)
Photo captions –
The open-plan layout of the house was a novel idea back in the 1960s. PHOTO:PAUL MCCREDIE
Bruce Martin never gets tired of the house he has lived in for 47 years. He still catches himself admiring its simple lines and timeless quality. PHOTOS: PAUL MCCREDIE