Monday, February 09, 2009

Absence and Home-making

Kindly forwarded to me, and akin to visiting the well-appointed house of your overbearing perfume-smelling Tory auntie only to find that everyone inside has suddenly been vaporised - a real-estate tour of an abandoned 1960 house in Lower Hutt, New Zealand. Note also Span-esque weatherboarding, overstuffed furniture in main room and 'contemporary' in kitchen and dining room - and, most desolate of all, a ghostly games room. One presumes some kind of financial disaster must have caused this, debt, share collapse or something - it certainly evokes contemporary footage of subprime emptiness.


Blogger Giovanni said...

I'd like to think not - the financial disaster part, I mean. If the realtor's narrative is true, the house has only had one owner and I'm hoping that they moved on of their own volition. Updating themselves to a different era, perhaps?

And taking the tour is a somewhat Ballardian experience, granted, but I find the place interesting in the context of your thoughts on legislated nostalgia and of the many other contemporary means of plugging into a past that doesn't belong to us. Because this, is seems to me, is past preserved, with a meticolous eye and some honesty, by the people who actually inhabited it.

3:44 am  
Blogger Paul said...

Hey Giovanni, fancy meeting you here.

I suspect the Grim Reaper is responsible. If you look at the pictures carefully, you can learn something about the owners. They were Jewish: there is a Mizrah sign on the wall behind the entrance stair way in photo 26; on the sideboard in the dining room is a Menorah, in photo 11. He was a lawyer: notice the Statute Books in the office in photo 22; their children followed him to the Bar: notice the photos on the wall.

Probably he died some years ago. The children had long since left home but she kept it going, until she died or went into a nursing home.

They seem to have maintained their affluence but made no attempt to modernise a home which they lived in since the Sixties. The house was unchanged, except for a few more recent objects like the phone in the office, because they liked it that way.

8:09 am  
Blogger Paul said...

As for the architecture, we need not bring Eric Lyons into this. Weatherboarding is typical of New Zealand colonial houses. It became melded with Modernism in the work of post-War architects who wished to create a vernacular Modernism. The contast of creosoted and white-painted boards is characteristic of the style, which seeped into the mainstream of builder-designed suburban houses in the 50s and 60s

8:46 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if you read German, but it reminded me a bit of this recent story from Leipzig (send me a mail at mckenna at ackerstrasse dot com if you'd like a translation)

9:25 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and here with link ;-),1518,605716,00.html


9:26 am  
Blogger Giovanni said...

Paul, that's some tremendous detective work right there, except now I feel sad and kind of sorry I brought the whole thing up. As I wrote elsewhere, my partner and I have had the experience of visiting open homes where time seemed to have come to a halt in 1945 or thereabouts, and found it a little perturbing, in part because it was so clearly poverty rather than choice that had made it so. There's a whole different assertiveness at work here but you're right, in the end the house probably hit the market for the same reasons.

9:47 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Thanks for the extra information, gentlemen. I sort of imagined the owners disappearing in a puff of smoke in 1960, but never mind. Re: the weatherboarding - I didn't really think it resembled Lyons, but more the copies of Lyons that you find on the edges of cities everywhere in this country.

this, it seems to me, is past preserved, with a meticulous eye and some honesty, by the people who actually inhabited it.

Which is a fascinating puzzle in itself - that anyone would resist so assiduously for several decades the imperative to buy new stuff...

1:33 pm  
Blogger Charles Holland said...

Fascinating. I like the quilted bar opening onto the huge hallway - quite odd spatially, a bit Beaux Arts on the inside.

Years ago I stayed in a B+B in Sussex somewhere which was owned by an Austrian couple who had built it themselves in about 1973. It was in a '70's chalet style and utterly unchanged since that decade. Even the TV which had been state of the art then was unchanged and I remember it had this huge brick like wooden clad remote control. I was quite struck by that, that you would furnish your house once, and be happy with that for the rest of your life. Particularly if you furnished it in 1973. For them it obviously represented a peak of good taste never to be repeated.

3:58 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the Spiegel's translation of the piece about the abandoned flat in Leipzig (with thanks to Giovanni for prodding me into finding it),1518,603515,00.html


6:39 pm  
Blogger Pisces Iscariot said...

p.s. Open2View are notorious for using absurdly wide-angle lenses to misrepresent the size of the rooms in the hovels they peddle.

8:56 pm  
Blogger Pisces Iscariot said...

I can reveal that this is, in fact, a typical contemporary New Zealand home whose occupants cower in the cold and damp conditions caused by lack of heating and double glazing.

8:59 pm  
Blogger Giovanni said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:08 pm  
Blogger Giovanni said...

Yes. It's a 400 sq metres house, but the wide angles make it look at least 405. Buyers beware.

Years ago I stayed in a B+B in Sussex somewhere which was owned by an Austrian couple who had built it themselves in about 1973

Ah, you have to come to New Zealand then. Half our motels are stuck somewhere in the seventies. And again, without buying for a second into a snobby appreciation of the inferior taste of others, we always look out for those in our wanderings, partly because they're generally in our price range, and partly because they are so much less aseptic than the more recent models. Also, the owner/operators generally put an emphasis on service to make up for the lack of investment in new hardware. The only drawback: at 2am you wake up to what sounds like the rumblings of a catastrophic earthquake, but it's just the wall heater kicking into gear.

Which is a fascinating puzzle in itself - that anyone would resist so assiduously for several decades the imperative to buy new stuff...

Yes, although I suspect the realtors shipped some of the furniture to a temporary storage, as it their way. I was more impressed by the curtains, wallpapers, quilted bar, linoleum - they're in seriously good nick.

9:09 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Yes, and the cabinets in the kitchen are fabulous. I do love a good bit of linoleum. If I could ever afford to furnish my own flat I would get the lino out and carpet the whole place in it. Have a bit of a roll around. It's also especially good for those of us with utterly fucked immune systems, for whom it is usefully sterile.

Interesting how dystopian the Leipzig one looks by comparison, all the dust and rot that the NZ house is conspicuously and eerily lacking. The latter does remind me a bit of a more upscale version of houses I recall as a child, usually those of the relatives I had in the Isle of Wight, which is itself somewhere which, last time I checked, was still in 1954.

11:30 pm  
OpenID ivan007 said...

I remember a long time back, probably in the eighties, the flats that are in the smaller building adjacent to Centre Point in London came up for sale. Seems that when Centre Point was built in the sixties the residential block attached was built and fully kitted out, but the flats were never sold for various financial engineering reasons. So the agents were selling a bunch of immaculate period pieces from the sixties. I never went to visit them, but I still wish I had done.

2:07 am  
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