Tucked away in Titirangi is the humble modernist home of celebrated New Zealand photographer Simon Devitt. His old friend Derek Henderson documents the recently renovated space
Inside the modernist Titirangi home of photographer Simon Devitt
Simon Devitt doesn’t know who designed his house, which sits in a secluded valley in Titirangi, Auckland. The records of the local area are patchy, and no one can tell him if it was a builder with architectural influence or an architect’s design. Though, to an extent, it has never really mattered: the late 60s house has a decidedly modernist influence, with beautifully proportioned windows and a long, lean line. It’s positioned thoughtfully on the steep section, with big windows taking a view of established trees and, in the distance, the lights of downtown Auckland and even Great Barrier Island on a good day.
Devitt photographs some of the country’s best architecture, both old and new, for a living, and his work features frequently in the pages of HOME magazine. After buying the house 12 years ago, he changed it very little. A decade on, though, it needed an update – so he called on his old friend Jessica Barter of Bureaux Architects. “For me it was about the pleasure of living in the house, because it was already beautiful, and it was always a lovely house to live in,” he says.
Barter’s design took out a back bedroom and turned it into a walk-in wardrobe, and then connected that to a new, bigger bathroom, and opened up the kitchen to the dining area. They replaced the 1970s aluminium joinery with new, cedar windows. Throughout, there’s a sophisticated, understated palette of materials – brass, walnut, steel and off-white, almost buttery walls along with cork floors and mid-blue carpet. The key is consistency: built-in walnut cabinetry throughout – “built-in furniture makes a house feel more deliberate”, says Devitt – includes a bedhead, and a bench seat in the kitchen that’s a continuation of the long galley kitchen bench. “I didn’t want to create a new language because it was already a great modernist house. I just felt it needed the love and attention it deserves,” he says.
What’s most pleasing about the redesign is how the collection of New Zealand art fits the scale of the house. In the living room there’s a work by John Pule from his first show, a small John Drawbridge, and a sequinned taxidermy rabbit head by Angela Singer in a cabinet bought from Agnes Curran years ago. In the hall there’s a small piece by Michael Parekowhai. In Devitt’s bedroom, a long work by Mary McIntyre above the bed sits with prints by the late New Zealand photographers Robin Morrison and Glenn Jowitt.
The collection sits comfortably with a mix of classic modernist pieces and vintage finds. “It’s almost like a visual diary,” says Devitt. “It’s all happened over a reasonably long period of time and it’s continually curated, in a way. After 12 years you understand the spirit of a place, and the things you’ve put in it become a really strong part of it.”
Q&A with Simon Devitt
What do you love most about your collection?
My photo-book collection is small but well-formed. I love the possibility and potential it contains. Some books I return to regularly, others not a lot. They’re all magical in their own way, an imprint of a photographer’s soul exacted in a book.
What do you love about the light in your home?
I love how the carpet, the paint, the walnut, the brass, the oiled steel, the cork floor, all absorb more light than they reflect. It creates a softness and a richness.
What do you enjoy most about where you live?
We have a view back to the city that allows us to feel away from it but close enough to be connected. I love how rested the house makes me feel, it feels really relaxed, it has a spirit.
If you could do anything to your home right now what would you do?
I’ve always thought about the back yard we have and how many of Auckland’s back yards have been filled in. We have a sloping section, like most Titirangi properties, so I’ve always thought about building a secondary dwelling with a turf roof so that the back yard is still in play and reads like it’s still a back yard.
What do people say about your home when they visit?
The prevalent comments are: ‘It’s so relaxing and settled here,’ and ‘I love that you have so many interesting objects and amazing books.’
What do you love most about returning home?
My absolute love is the welcome I get from my partner Hannah and our dogs. I can hear their wagging tails tapping on the wall from outside the house (Hannah doesn’t have a tail)… makes me smile and laugh.
Words by: Simon Farrell-Green. Photography by: Derek Henderson.