1 October 2020

Blank Canvas

Sitting on its own at the end of a row of ten units at the bottom of Shelley Beach Road in St Mary’s Bay is a very private and a quite extraordinary little home. Half art gallery, half inner-city sanctum, it’s owner of nine years was an escapee from the Christchurch earthquakes, who arrived in Auckland with two dogs, a cat, and a truck load of art.


Sitting on its own at the end of a row of ten units at the bottom of Shelley Beach Road in St Mary’s Bay is a very private and a quite extraordinary little home. Half art gallery, half inner-city sanctum, it’s owner of nine years was an escapee from the Christchurch earthquakes, who arrived in Auckland with two dogs, a cat, and a truck load of art.

Perched high on the escarpment above Westhaven Marina, with nothing between it and the Waitemata Harbour, this home’s magnificent view would normally be the first and possible only topic of conversation. But not here. Well before the uninterrupted panorama of Auckland’s harbour comes into view, your senses are already in overload, thanks to an eclectic collection of art and sculpture that covers every inch of wall space and every available crevice.

“This is actually empty – very de-cluttered. To me, it seems very barren,” says Elaine Ferguson, the owner and custodian of this astonishing collection. “When I bought the place it was quite different. The two things I liked about it was the view, and the fact that there were no windows along this wall – so I could have all my art.”

The predominant theme running through Elaine’s art and artefacts is portraiture. “It’s their faces that catch my eye. If you look at each figure, and you look at their faces, they immediately evoke something – and that’s what captivates me. To me, they are comforting. I look at all of them as if they are alive, which sounds really spooky – and that freaks some people out.”

A graphic artist herself in a previous life, Elaine says she has been very influenced by the Bloomsbury Group – a group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists, which was active in the first half of the 20th century and took its name from the area in London where they lived, worked or studied.

“Every year I buy something for my birthday – which is a good excuse – but I also buy stuff in between. When I travel, if I go abroad, I limit myself to just one object, because there’s no fun in buying everything you see. The fun is choosing just one thing – and so that’s what I do. They all have real memories; each one has a story, each is important because of where I was, or what I was doing when I bought it.”

Elaine says one of the most important things about collecting is organisation – and that’s something she is very good at.

“If you group things together, well, it doesn’t look cluttered. It looks like everything belongs. I’ve got so many things on this wall, but nothing jumps out at you. It’s all about grouping and colour. If you put something white on that wall, it would stand out – therefore everything is dark. I do have a lot of white stuff – pottery, sculptures and art – but I put all that in my office. I work in there, and that room has a completely different energy.

Beneath Elaine’s rich veneer of art is an immaculately renovated apartment.

“When I renovated the place, I thought everything out, considering the space as if someone else was to live here,” says Elaine. “If you take all my stuff out, it’s actually quite a stylish, minimalist space. The kitchen and bathrooms are very cool, and I put bulkheads in the ceiling to hide the automatic blinds and the LED lighting that washes the walls with light. Someone else could have this space looking very contemporary – so it’s a blank canvas for whoever buys it.”

The kitchen is deliberately dark and very monochromatic. It’s not about anything and therefore doesn’t compete, says Elaine. So, at night it just disappears. In fact, as you look around, beyond the art, everything is black… the furniture, the tables, the built-in sideboard that extends five metres along the side wall – all have been designed or placed to display art, but yet to have very little presence as objects themselves.

“I’d actually love to see what someone else would do with it. In fact, I’d like to take all my stuff out and stage it very contemporary and minimalist – and I think it would look fantastic.” The place has all the creature comforts, too, like underfloor heating and double-glazing.

With or without Elaine’s art, the outlook from the large, north-facing picture window is the quintessential Auckland view – the bridge, the harbour, the marina, Rangitoto, the city – you really can’t get any better. Unlike her art, however, the view will be staying when Elaine leaves, and that’s something she says she will certainly miss.

“I want to keep collecting, but I have run out of space,” she admits. “I’ve bought a new place close by. It’s bigger, but I’ve already worked out what’s going where – and there is space for some new pieces. To be honest, I didn’t ever think I’d leave this place, but things changes. I’ve done my piece here and I want to do something else.”

“It’s been like that since I was a student. It’s not about the house itself, it’s about the stuff that’s in it? What do they say… wherever I hang my hat is my home? For me, wherever I hang my art is my home.”

Please Note: This property was sold at Auction on the 30th September 2020 by Angela Saunders.


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