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Nancy Martin House

By Frederick Ost, Wellington

So much passion and painstaking research and attention to detail has been poured into choosing just the right colours and placing them ever so carefully in the right places.

In 1957 Nancy Martin staked out a humble claim to fame: she was purportedly the first single woman in Wellington to receive a mortgage to build her own home (in her case from a large insurance company as was common at the time). Martin didn't have a husband and is listed on her mortgage as a spinster.

A colourful kitchen

A blue, red, and yellow kitchen

Armed with the independence, privacy and self-determination that her own home would allow, Martin claimed an autonomous space for her single and alternatively constituted feminine self; her home was critical to this end. It wasn't a typical New Zealand home either – Martin commissioned Jewish emigré architect Frederick Ost to design her whare, and this house remains one of a handful of examples of a domestic home designed by him (he designed many commercial buildings and apartments in Wellington and Lower Hutt).

A bold kitchen colourn scheme

Blue kitchen entryway

Ost was Czechoslovakian and trained and worked in Vienna before escaping Europe in 1940 with his wife, eventually arriving as refugees in New Zealand. In her review of Leonard Bell's book Strangers Arrive Sally Blundell describes how “a cohort of new architects, including Plischke, Helmut Einhorn, Henry Kulka, Frederick Newman, Imi Porsolt and Vladimir Čačala, introduced a Bauhaus-informed modernism that was simple, sophisticated and functional, and aesthetic in its use of space and light.” Blundell notes, "many new arrivals found a receptive audience, but there was also a prevailing sense of wartime suspicion.” It's impossible to know how much this affected Ost's career.

Orange and blue kitchen

Orange, red, and blue kitchen

Martin lived in the house until her death in 2006; Ann and Duncan purchased it in 2013 and it is almost entirely unaltered from the day it was built. There's been a few minor changes, mostly in the seven years between her death and them taking ownership – the exterior had been repainted, the shagpile carpets had been removed, black roller blinds replaced some curtains and some details painted in the lounge to match these – but mostly the interior was untouched; light fittings, tapware, built-in speakers, lino flooring, pegboard walls all as they would have been when new. At some point however, the kitchen, bathroom, hall and toilet had been repainted to a patchy mix of off-whites.

Red and blue kitchen doors

A blue and yellow bathroom

The first major task the house required was rewiring to get rid of the now dangerous old wiring material. As part of this work the switch and outlet covers were all removed and through this the original colour scheme was discovered lying hidden behind the off-whites. Further clues were found on the kitchen's chipped cupboards and drawers. What was eventually revealed was an extensive and quite radical palette of more than half a dozen different colours.

Wooden home entry

Timber home entryway

We resolved to return these rooms to their original colours and contracted AAA Painters to do the work. Initially they were a little hesitant – ‘you sure you want to do this?' and ‘most people have some sort off-white' being some early responses however the crew very quickly embraced the project. The number of colours and finishes made the work demanding and technical but they really committed to it and produced an amazing result.

Red kitchen ceiling

Yellow bathroom

It took a long time (and a lot of testpots) to get the colours right. They had got very very close but things still felt slightly off when, at the last minute, an Instagram post of our progress received a comment saying that in 1957 there was only one colour chart to choose from – BS2660. On the Saturday before the painters arrived, they found that BS2660 was still on Resene's database and armed with this new information, were able to confidently and precisely specify the required paint colours.

The entrance sets the scene with Resene Mist Grey and Resene Rose, painted using Resene Room Velvet. The kitchen is finished in Resene Mexican Red, Resene Sea Mist, Resene Burning Sand, Resene Shadow Green, Resene Primrose and Resene Pearl Lusta, using Resene SpaceCote Flat and Resene Lusta-Glo semi-gloss. Many of these hues continue into the bathroom which is finished in Resene Primrose, Resene Sea Mist, Resene Neptune and Resene Pearl Lusta in Resene SpaceCote Kitchen & Bathroom and Resene Lusta-Glo. Resene Neptune and Resene Pearl Lusta are repeated in the toilet teamed with Resene Burning Sand.

Ann and Duncan were motivated by a desire to retain and restore the original qualities of Nancy Martin's house but now have the added benefit and joy of living in this unexpectedly playful and energising colour scheme.

The house has also been the subject of an artwork and a book by Ann Shelton.

This project won the Resene Total Colour Master Nightingale Colour Award and the Resene Total Colour Heritage Residential Award. The judges said "colour selections have been ever so faithfully chosen to honour and respect the original. It reminds us all to make the most of what is already there – sometimes all that is needed are fresh coats of paint colour to make old new again. So much passion and painstaking research and attention to detail has been poured into choosing just the right colours and placing them ever so carefully in the right places. This home is loved by colour."

Architectural specifier: Frederick Ost (deceased – house build in 1957)
Client: Nancy Martin (deceased) was the original commissioner of the house in 1957. She died in the house in 2006 and it was purchased by the current owners in 2013.
Colour selection: Frederick Ost, Nancy Martin, Ann Shelton and Duncan Munro. Ann Shelton (b. 1967, New Zealand) is an artist who received her MFA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand and exhibits internationally. Her most recent museum survey, Dark Matter, was curated by Zara Stanhope (now at the Gallery of Modern Art, QAGOMA) for Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in November 2016 and toured to Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū in December 2017.
Painting contractor: AAA Painters
Photographer: Bonny Beattie
Winner: Resene Total Colour Master Nightingale Colour Award and the Resene Total Colour Heritage Residential Award
Project: Resene Total Colour Awards 2020

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