Last weekend the daughter and I went poking around four houses belonging to people we didn’t know. No, we weren’t visiting open homes looking for tragically overpriced Auckland real estate; it was, dare I say it, a more ‘cultured’ affair than that. Our slightly voyeuristic snooping was, in fact, a legitimate part of the Auckland Heritage Festival.
A delightful way to spend an afternoon, the houses we toured were 1920s or 30s bungalows which sported recent additions. These renovations managed to achieve the fine balance of incorporating the best of present day design, while preserving the integrity of the original dwelling.
Now I know this architectural style intimately: my maternal grandparents’ home was a bungalow built about 1923 for them at 40 Greenlane Road*. As a child, I have fond memories of visiting their residence most weekends and staying over during the school holidays. This was the 60s and the house still boasted the features unique to its pedigree: asymmetrical composition, shallow pitched gable roof with wide eaves, leadlights, central hallway with wooden panelling, bay windows complete with shingles, and deep porches.
It also had the original 40 year old or so kitchen complete with terrazzo bench, wooden cabinetry, and safe. The only things in this room which weren’t original were the gas stove which sat in an alcove where the coal range would have been when the dwelling was first built, and a 1948 MacDonald refrigerator**, complete with a small ice box. Everything was in superb condition.
In this kitchen, which today would be considered basic, my grandmother whipped up a storm producing meals for the multitudes, laying down preserves, and baking. All was of the highest quality. To this day, she remains one of the best cooks I have come across.
The houses the daughter and I visited last weekend all had replaced the original kitchen with a modern one positioned in the new addition. Interestingly, without exception, the new iteration was neither big or conspicuously flash; rather they were practical, almost understated affairs. This was the situation even in the home of the chef, albeit his knives were definitely of the serious, professional kind.
I am sure the food produced in these homes has not suffered for this restraint. After all, as my grandmother proved, a skilled cook can turn out wonderful fare in the most basic of kitchens.
This premise holds true, I think, for so much in life.
Note to self: Replace knackered stove with one that meets my needs. Do not be seduced by the four oven range that comes in an amazing array of colours that the consumer in me covets. It is simply not necessary!
* The house is still there. It looks the same from the front, but has been added to at the rear.
** The fridge became the beer fridge at the Auckland Harbour Board where my Dad worked. It was still going strong when he retired in 1989.