This Auckland character apartment celebrates art

This quirky inner-city heritage apartment has been given a throughly modern makeover to set the scene for a contemporary art collection.

Character apartments have their fine points and their foibles — that’s a given. For Daniel Varcoe, this reality hit home when he was trying to hang his larger works of art. “If you used a builder’s level, the work would be completely out of whack,” he says dryly. Better, then, to just hang them by eye.
The Carlisle building was constructed in 1912 on a prominent corner of Auckland’s CBD as a wool store and auction house. Where once the air hung heavy with dust and lanolin as bulging bales of wool awaited the call of the auctioneer, now all is calm. These days, 20 apartments are slung inside the concrete case — a conversion completed in the 1990s.

MAIN IMAGE A Bend sofa by B&B Italia is an anchor in the living area for an Alky chair by Giancarlo Piretti and Laurel side table by De La Espada. The artwork above the sofa is by Revok, the Disc Squab cushion is by Klay from Tessuti and the rug is from Nodi. TOP On the landing, a sculpture by denHolm is watched over by a Miaz Brothers artwork and a Polar light by Ross Gardam. ABOVE The balcony inches Daniel and Kat even closer to the buzz of the city.

From the entry vestibule with its burr-timber panelling, a spiral staircase circles upwards. Daniel and his partner Kat live on the third floor in a two-level, 134m2 apartment that achieves serenity and spaciousness on the doorstep of this vibrant part of the city.
Design development manager at Fisher & Paykel, Daniel was working for the company in Australia when the two-bedroom place came up for sale. Newly accustomed to apartment living  in Sydney, he saw the beauty in the capacious stud height, exposed beams and basement carpark, and the price was a steal compared to Australia. “It was too good to pass up,” he says. Of course, it wasn’t exactly what he envisioned, so he asked a friend, Melbourne-based interior designer Carole Whiting, for her input. What started out as query about a dark sarked ceiling (which he painted white) mushroomed into a much larger project. 

TOP A cushion by Klay from Tessuti brings a burst of complementary colour. On the Offset coffee table by Philippe Malouin for Resident are vases by ACV Studio (left) and Ceramics by Jodie, and a Vide Poche by Henry Wilson Studio. ABOVE A Fisher & Paykel CoolDrawer has been repurposed as furniture with Corian surface material and MadeMeasure handles. On top is a Fulcrum lamp by Nat Cheshire for Resident and items by Monmouth Glass Studio. The sculpture on the left is by Cleon Peterson.

“Dan was keen to make the apartment practical but also beautiful, with a masculine vibe,” says Carole. Their idea was to let the structure and Daniel’s significant collection of art do the talking. “We chose dark kitchen joinery and a dark bathroom, but to let Dan’s art sing, left white gallery-like spaces everywhere else,” she says.
So… a monochromatic palette and no major moves, just easy updates to finesse the fit-out. Cue a pocket-sized elevator, an awkward staircase and a maddening lack of alignment. “I didn’t factor in bringing all the materials up and down the stairs or how much straightening we’d have to do,”  says Daniel.

ABOVE Fisher & Paykel appliances blend beautifully with the kitchen’s black background, but the artworks have attitude. They include a pair of canvases by Liam Snootle, a black-and-white work by Lucy McLauchlan and a lightbox by Hiroyasu Tsuri. The ceramics are by Hayley Bridgford, the island is a Plateau Table custom-designed by IMO and the Branca stools are by Mattiazzi.

Because the rooms had been installed between the original kauri trusses, the internal walls weren’t very plumb, something that quickly became apparent when laying the engineered oak flooring. And when fitting the kitchen. And when tiling the bathroom. Although some rebuilding helped to rectify the lines, in the end, says Daniel, “I had to be okay with things being slightly off — it’s a character apartment, after all.” 

ABOVE Things might not be 100% square, but who cares about geometric precision when it’s the atmosphere and art that resonates? With its Cugina side table by Mattiazzi from Simon James, Miller sofa by Simon James and rug from Nodi, Daniel likes to use this corner of his bedroom for Zoom meetings. The Lampe de Marseille by Le Corbusier from Nemo can be adjusted to suit the light levels and the artwork by (from left) Revok, Beejoir and James Reka speaks for itself.

On the floorplan he inherited, the kitchen-to-lounge ratio seemed out of proportion, with the former encroaching on the latter, so the footprint of the new kitchen was slightly reduced, giving a metre back to the lounge without sacrificing functionality. In a sort of trans-Tasman creative challenge, Daniel and Carole designed it remotely from Australia, using measurements provided by Daniel’s father in New Zealand. 

ABOVE In winter, the low sun bounces off the windows of the adjacent office block to fill the master bedroom with beautiful light, and at night a giant ‘W’ on the Westpac bank opposite transforms the scene with a metropolitan-red glow. Above the bed with custom base by JA Design, quilt from Father Rabbit, throw from Simon James and bolsters from Tessuti is a work by Alex Face. Also pictured is a vase by Simon James, boombox sculpture by Will Coles and Reeno bench by Grazia & Co.

V-groove cabinetry disguises a gigantic integrated Fisher & Paykel fridge, and a bar-height island works for food prep and dining. “We can seat eight but usually only have drinks and nibbles here with friends before heading out to Britomart for dinner,” says Daniel.
The staircase that slices down one side of the room is also a focal point. Daniel and Kat dismantled the existing cheap pine banister, loaded the labelled pieces into the back of his work van and had them re-stained black. A stop-motion video posted on Instagram (@dgrader) shows the couple reassembling the slats — a task achieved in just one afternoon.

TOP & ABOVE For the bathroom, Carole specified tiles by Mutina in graduated tones of deep blue and charcoal. She reformatted the room to include a laundry (behind doors) where the bath once sat, a plan that allows the shower to stretch along an entire wall. The Anton light is by Volker Haug, the mirror is by Agape, the Eve basin is by United Products, and a towel by Baina sits on an Offcut stool by Tom Dixon. Astra Walker tapware was used throughout the apartment. The sculpture on the vanity is by Kaws.

The hidden storage is one of Daniel’s favourite things in this house; not so secret is the walk-in wardrobe in the spacious main bedroom. “We really went to town here,” he says. “There’s no door on it, so it needed to look nice, so no handles, and all the drawers have Blum electronic Servo-Drive installed, so they open and close automatically.”
The apartment has been set up so artworks can be rotated depending on the couple’s mood. Contemporary works from a collection with global scope, there are more than enough to choose from. Whether that’s the linear abstract piece by LA artist Jason Williams, aka Revok, above the sofa, or the large-scale monochromatic portrait painted on recycled windows by Melbourne artist Rone facing the stairs, Daniel’s passion for collecting was integral to his decision to live here.
Surprisingly, there are still a few blank spaces on the walls to fill. “I’m not in a massive rush,” he says. Good things take time.   

Words Claire McCall
Photography Jackie Meiring

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