Haigh House (Former)

493 Pahi Road, Pahi

  • Haigh House (Former).
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7541 Date Entered 25th June 2004 Date of Effect 25th June 2004


Extent of List Entry

Registration (BD2004/06/15) covers the House, its fixtures and fittings, including all built-in furniture and a painted mural by May Smith. Registered chattels comprise a piano, a piano stool and a plain mirror, which were associated with the house prior to it being relocated. Registration also incorporates a rectangular area of land beneath and around the structure extending 6.8m. north of the dining room, 5m. east of Bedroom No.1, 3.2m. south of Bedroom No.3, and 4.05m west of the Kitchen (see Plan in Appendix 2 of the registration report). This encompasses the patio, the garden wall to the west, and part of the ha-ha to the east.

City/District Council

Kaipara District


Northland Region

Legal description

Part of Allot 21 Suburbs of Pahi Blk XV Matakohe SD (RT 573/2), North Auckland Land District

Location description

Located on the property known as 'Cloon Even'.


The former Haigh House was built in 1942 on a sloping site in Bell Road, Remuera, Auckland. It was designed for its original owners, Frank and Honey (Anne) Haigh by Auckland architect Vernon Brown. Considered a classic example of modernist New Zealand architecture, the building was the subject of efforts to save the structure following a decision to redevelop the original site. It was moved to its current location near Pahi in the north Kaipara in 2002 by new owners keen to preserve it for the future, and has since been extensively renovated.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The former Haigh House is historically significant as the home of Honey (Anne) and Frank Haigh, the latter being one of Auckland's most prominent lawyers and an active campaigner for progressive left wing causes in mid twentieth-century New Zealand. The house was built for the family, who occupied it for over fifty years.

The house is also closely associated with a larger group of professionals and artists of the period who similarly shared a left-leaning political philosophy. These included the architect of the house, Vernon Brown, and May Smith, who painted a mural the hallway. Regular visitors to the home encompassed well-known poets, such as A.R.D. Fairburn, R.A.K. Mason and Denis Glover, while internationally-known stage and film actors including Sir Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh are also known to have been guests.

The building can be seen to reflect the impact of the Second World War on the supply of goods, as it avoided using many of the building materials restricted by the government of the day.

The former Haigh House is a significant building in the development of New Zealand modernist architecture. It is held to have influenced large numbers of later twentieth-century professionals, many of whom visited it as students. Its designer, Vernon Brown, was a key figure in the development of New Zealand variants within the broader worldwide modernist movement. The former Haigh House is considered to be a particularly notable example of his rustic 'bite out of a coconut' approach, which was the most recognisable of his architectural styles. The simple and functional nature of this approach is connected to aspects of his personal political philosophy.

Recently moved to a different location from its original site, some of the building's importance linked to Brown's consideration of landscape context has been lost. The care with which it has been relocated and restored, however, means that much of the building's aesthetic significance - created by its external appearance and its internal interplay with surrounding light - has been retained . Sensitive restoration of the original internal colour scheme is held to have further enhanced this aspect, while the house also exhibits the aesthetic achievements of May Smith.

The former Haigh House has social significance for the efforts made to save the building when it was threatened with demolition. It is of particular consequence to members of New Zealand's architectural community as well as the extensive social circle that surrounded the Haigh family. The house was a regular meeting place for the latter group over a period of several decades. The building can be seen to reflect aspects of the distinct identity of this group, many of whom favoured modernist statements of functional elegance, progressiveness and simplicity that distinguished them from other suburban dwellers.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The former Haigh House reflects the emergence of progressive social and architectural ideas in the mid twentieth century, and - though compromised by the lack of its original context - an early reaction to suburban conformity. It reflects social and political connections between members of the professional and artistic community in Auckland, and their exploration of a distinct identity.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

As the home of Frank Haigh, the house is closely associated with one of the more prominent Auckland lawyers of the twentieth century. The house is also strongly connected with a larger group of prominent professionals and artists, including its architect Vernon Brown. The building is linked with the development of modernism in New Zealand, and through the May Smith mural the development of 1940s modernist artwork too.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

Efforts made to save the house from destruction demonstrate public esteem for the building, particularly from members of the architectural community.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

As a carefully restored Vernon Brown building, the former Haigh House can provide information to the public on the design, construction, decor and use of modernist housing in the early 1940s. Available for homestays and with owners who are sympathetic to public education, it also has potential for imparting information about Vernon Brown and aspects of New Zealand social and political history linked with Frank and Honey Haigh.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

The former Haigh House is regarded as an important and influential work in the development of modernist architecture in New Zealand. It is considered to be one of the most technically accomplished among a group of Vernon Brown houses in the Auckland region that reflect a radical departure from previous ideas on mainstream domestic architecture.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The house contains possibly the only surviving mural by May Smith. Murals are rare in twentieth-century New Zealand domestic housing.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Brown, Vernon

Vernon Brown

Vernon Akitt Brown was born in March 1905, the son of a surveyor in Liverpool, England. He studied at the Northern Polytechnic School of Architecture and qualified as an architect in 1924. Three years later he emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand with his parents and three brothers. He worked for several architectural firms including Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, for whom he detailed the lettering of the award-winning Auckland War Memorial Museum. In 1930, Brown became an associate member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

There was little work for architects during the Depression of the 1930s and Brown lost his job in the resulting retrenchment. He became a labourer under the government unemployment relief scheme before finding work with a building firm and then returning to architecture. In the mid 1930s Brown worked for architect Kenneth Aimer, who was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects gold medal for the Marina Gardens flats in Mt Eden in 1936. At the award ceremony Aimer gave credit to Brown for his work on the project and stated that it was Brown who should have received the medal.

In March 1937 Brown married Lesley Waller and the following year built a home in Bell Road Remuera for his new wife. This would be one of three houses built in Bell Road to Vernon Brown's plans. Many of Brown's other designs were constructed nearby, with the suburb of Remuera being home to sixteen of his buildings.

It was also in 1937 that Brown established his own architectural practice and that same year he began contributing a regular column on decoration and design published in the Monocle. He also contributed articles to Home and Building magazine, where he could share his radical ideas on design with a wider audience. In 1940 he was awarded the New Zealand Institute of Architects bronze medal for domestic architecture for the design of his home at 91 Arney Road, which was built to accommodate his expanding family.

In 1942 - the year that Haigh house was constructed - Brown began teaching as a studio instructor at the Auckland University School of Architecture. In the same year, he also formed a partnership with architect Robin Simpson. The pair won the New Zealand Institute of Architects bronze medal for domestic architecture in 1946, and in 1948 Brown was promoted to the position of lecturer. In his teaching roles he influenced a generation of young architects, having a reputation as an original thinker who encouraged his students to challenge accepted attitudes.

Brown's last architectural design was completed in 1957, which was the Titirangi home of Archibald Fisher, head of the Elam School of Fine Arts. He continued lecturing until late 1964.

Brown's talents were not solely confined to architecture. He was an accomplished painter and book jacket designer and was also interested in ceramics. His paintings were shown at a solo exhibition at the John Leech Gallery in 1964.

Brown died in January 1965 at the age of 59.

Harris, J.A

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Frank and Honey Haigh, and the Haigh House in Bell Road, Auckland

Frank Hadyn Haigh was born in Invercargill in May 1898. He initially worked for the Lands and Survey Department in Wellington before being trained as a lawyer. After working for Russell, Campbell and McVeagh he established his own firm in 1928. Haigh became well known for representing difficult cases and politically unpopular clients. He acted for the waterside union during the 1951 waterfront dispute, was active in the environmental movement, and was a prominent proponent of homosexual law reform and racial equality. The future Prime Minister, David Lange, was one of many law clerks who were attracted to work in his practice by the early 1960s, drawn by shared political and social perspectives.

In December 1930, Haigh married Annie Bridget (Honey) O'Connor. The Haighs became important members of the Auckland intelligentsia who were described by Eric McCormick as:

'that little group of Aucklanders, presided over by Mr A.R.D. Fairburn, whose bodily ailments are diagnosed by Mr Douglas Robb, whose literary productions are printed by Mr R.F. Lowry, whose habitations are designed by Mr Vernon Brown, whose legal affairs are disentangled by Mr F.H. Haigh, whose persons and inner lives are portrayed in the fiction of Mr Frank Sargeson'.

The Haigh house was designed by Vernon Brown and constructed by R. Savory Ltd. in 1942. At this time restrictions on the use of certain building materials had come into force under emergency regulations occasioned by the outbreak of the Second World War, which restricted the use of iron, steel and brass. The use of such materials and the construction of buildings valued at over £1500 required special permission from the government appointed building controller. In 1942 regulations were also brought in restricting the use of portland cement, electrical wiring and bitumen.

The regulations may have had an impact on the materials chosen for the house, but Brown's design philosophy was also based on vernacular architecture, including the timber houses and baches built and used by many ordinary New Zealanders. As an innovative and influential designer, Brown is credited with introducing a rustic modernist architectural style to New Zealand architecture. His strongest influence was on the members of 'The Architectural Group', also known as the Group Architects and the Group Constructing Company. They followed in Brown's footsteps by building simple, inexpensive, open plan houses, and their work in turn influenced other local architects over the coming years. Brown's design for the Haighs' house followed the style for which he is best known: the weatherboard house finished in white paint and creasote, and featuring a low pitched lean-to roof. These houses have been described by the architectural historian Peter Shaw, as being like 'a coconut with a bite taken out.'

Brown was already a friend of the Haighs at the time he designed the house, and Honey Haigh recalled that he had very definite ideas about what their house should look like. Brown carefully designed his houses to interact with their environment and he paid particular attention to the fall of natural light, the views, topography and size of the site in his design solutions. The house he designed for the Haighs was on two levels with a protruding bedroom lower than the rest of the house, making use of the sloping characteristics of the Bell Road site. The orientation of the house was evidently carefully considered, with Rangitoto Island being visible from all rooms except the kitchen and bathroom.

Brown played similar attention to the interior. When Mrs Haigh noted that she had inherited her mother's piano and wanted it in the living room, Brown's response was blunt: 'You're not having that awful thing in my lovely room!' A compromise was reached with Brown designing an alcove for the instrument, which remains in the house.

Two years after the house was constructed, the artist May Smith painted a seaside-themed mural in its hall. Active in leftist politics, Smith was a part of the Haighs' social circle and her work was admired by Vernon Brown. Brown is known to have previously used murals in his design work, having designed a shipping office in Queen Street in 1938 that included murals on its interior walls.

The house at 76 Bell Road was a gathering place for friends of the Haighs. Poets such as A.R.D. Fairburn, R.A.K. Mason and Denis Glover 'knew the Haigh home as a haven of hospitality and encouragement.' Frank and Honey Haigh were famous for their Sunday lunch parties. Numerous well-known people from here and overseas are known to have visited the Haighs in Bell Road. British actors Sir Lawrence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were amongst the Haighs' more famous guests. The Haighs were generous hosts who each year welcomed groups of architecture students who came to visit the house.

The Haighs brought up their three children at the Bell Road house and a third bedroom was added around the 1950s to accommodate the growing family. Frank Haigh retired in 1987 and was appointed an OBE in 1990 for services to the community. He died two years later at the age of 94 and was survived by his wife and two sons. During the late 1990s the Haigh house was rented out and the site was subsequently sold for redevelopment.

The Haigh family was keen to see the house preserved, and to this end it was offered to the Unitec Institute of Technology to become a exhibition and seminar space and an archive for architectural drawings. Efforts were made to raise the necessary funds for the relocation but the project eventually fell through. The house was subsequently acquired by Owen and Mary Stevens and removed from its Bell Road site in October 1999. Prior to it being moved to a temporary location, the circa 1950s bedroom addition was demolished.

The New Site

The Haigh House was further relocated in 2000 to a rural site at Pahi in the north Kaipara in three separate sections. The site had previously been used as farmland, associated with a property already owned by the new purchasers. Over the next two years the house was put back together and restored to its 1942 form, internally and externally. New structural work included placing the building on brick footings as at Bell Road, rebuilding the chimney and constructing main entrance steps modelled on the original ones in Remuera. The relocation of the house also involved cutting through the May Smith mural, which was already showing signs of deterioration. The mural was subsequently restored by professional art conservators.

During the relocation the new owners made considerable efforts to site the building in a way that was sensitive to Brown's architectural principles. Although the new setting differed from the original suburban location in aspects of its topography and character, the house was arranged to face the same orientation as it did on its original section. The owners also landscaped the new site to imitate the path and terrace layout from the original Bell Road site. A 'Bell Road' road sign was placed near the house, providing a reference to its former site and helping to identify the structure as a relocated building. Internally considerable effort has been expended to retrieve aspects such as the original paint scheme, which included a vibrant fire-engine red in the bathroom.

The house is currently used as a private residence and as a homestay.

Physical Description

The former Haigh House is a single-storey timber building, sitting on a slightly elevated spot overlooking the Kaipara Harbour. The site slopes down gently from west to east, and is approached from a lane between Pahi Road and Cloon Even farm. The house is surrounded by a terraced patio on its northern, western and eastern sides, which is bounded by a basalt retaining wall to the west and a shallow, timber ha-ha to the east. The building is set in a rural landscape, and lies a short distance to the north of the waterside settlement at Pahi.

The house is freestanding, with a monopitch roof structure concealed behind parapets, giving the house an appearance of a series of inter-related cubic forms (including two primary formal elements and various secondary elements). The house is clad mainly in timber weatherboards with dark creosote finish, but also uses some light-coloured painted timber cladding, the colour of which matches the timber cladding within 'cut out' recesses. Behind the parapets is a simple corrugated iron roof, shedding water through the side of the parapet, to an external gutter mounted directly on the external wall sheathing. The pitch of the roof is reflected in the angle of various ceilings inside the house.

A paved patio has been extended into the roofed recess adjacent to the lounge and dining area, and this steps down to two slightly lower patio levels on the northern side of the lounge. These have no roof cover over them, and allow unrestricted access of sunlight into the lounge. The paving itself consists predominantly of re-used concrete slabs and Glenburn bricks, which come from the Bell Road site.

Most of the exterior timber window joinery follows the pattern of state houses being constructed in 1942, although steel joinery is used in the larger windows on the northern side of the building. Internal materials typically consist of heart rimu framing, floors, architraves and weatherboards, while fibrous plasterboard interior walls and ceilings are also used with a simple fibrous plaster cornice. The rimu framing of the walls is typical of houses of the period.

The layout incorporates three bedrooms and a bathroom to the southern side of the main entrance hall, and a large living room to the north. Other rooms on the western side of the building, which have the less spectacular views, include the kitchen, laundry and dining room.

Most of the rooms incorporate built-in furniture, which was a feature of Vernon Brown's architectural design work. Beds, bookcases, dressing tables and wardrobes have all been created for the spaces that they inhabit, allowing the architect maximum influence over the appearance of the interior. Some movable furniture from the Haighs' occupation of the house have been acquired by the present owners, notably Honey Haigh's piano, piano stool and a simple mirror with chain. Other furniture in the house has been carefully replicated from examples known to have been used in the house during the Haighs' occupancy.

The simplicity and functionality of the building encapsulates Brown's 'bite out of a coconut' approach to rustic modernism, which accorded with aspects of his political philosophy. It displays his preferred method of designing domestic architecture, which made use of inexpensive local materials to form carefully designed open-plan structures. The interior of the house features the economical layout and uncluttered approach for which he was known. At the time, it formed a considerable contrast with the English Cottage styles used in more conventional circles.

The former Haigh House was one of a number of houses designed by Vernon Brown for sloping suburban sites, and several of these remain. They include the house that he designed for his own family at 91 Arney Road, Remuera, Auckland, which like the Haigh House is in the familiar 'coconut with a bite taken out' style. It was built in 1939, and was registered as a Category I Historic Place by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust in 1995. Another example is the Wright House in Takapuna which, like the former Haigh House, was built in 1942.

Few dwellings designed by Brown for rural settings are known, although he did create a house near Wanganui in circa 1951, Harper House, which was located in a flat, fairly rural area. While this house employed a similar external style to the Haigh House, it comprised a single-level structure in a more open, sprawling design. This contrasts with his comparatively compact suburban houses.

The importance of Brown and the Haigh House has been recognised in several surveys of twentieth century architecture. Brown was chosen by architect and lecturer Matthew Bradbury as one of the ten most influential architects of the last sixty years in a recent article in New Zealand Home & Building. In late 2000 design historian Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins and architect Bill McKay selected the Haigh house as one of the top fifty local homes of the twentieth century in an article published in New Zealand Home & Entertaining. McKay and Lloyd-Jenkins felt that in the design of the Haigh House, Brown most successfully combined both elegance and informal style, and that it was through the design process of this house that Brown clarified his relationship with modernist architecture.

The building is said to have been one of the most influential domestic houses in New Zealand, in terms of its impact on the architectural profession, and has also been included in an international register of modern movement buildings published by the Documentation and Conservation of buildings, sites and neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement (DOCOMOMO) in 2000. The former Haigh House was one of nineteen such buildings included from New Zealand.

Construction Dates

1942 -

Original Construction
1942 -
Original site in Bel Road, Remuera, Auckland.

Addition of a third bedroom

1999 -
Moved from Bell Road site, with demolition of circa 1950s addition

2000 -
Relocated to Pahi

2000 - 2002
Restoration of building (interior and exterior)

Construction Details

House: timber frame with weatherboards, a corrugated iron roof, concrete chimney and brick footings.

Surrounds: concrete and brick patio paving, basalt retaining wall and timber ha-ha.

Completion Date

31st August 2004

Report Written By

Martin Jones

Information Sources

Art New Zealand

Art New Zealand

Peter Shaw, 'May Smith: Representation and the Freedom of the Imagination', Vol. 28, 1983

Auckland University

Auckland University

Troup, Christina, 'The Vernon Brown Architectural Papers: An Inventory', Auckland University Library Bibliographical Bulletin No.10, 1978

Design Review

Design Review

'A House near Wanganui', Vol.3 No.1, May-June 1951, pp.136-138

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Linda Tyler, 'Brown, Vernon Akitt 1905-1965', Claudia Orange (ed.), Vol. 5, 1941-1960, Auckland, 2000; Bassett, Judith, and Bernard Brown, 'Haigh, Frank Haydn 1898-1992', Claudia Orange (ed.), Vol. 5, 1941-1960, Auckland, 2000

Home and Building

Home and Building

'The Home of Mr. F.H. Haigh', Vol. 6, No. 2, December 1942, p.25; Bradbury, Matthew, 'Legends of our Time', June/July 1996

New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald, 12 July 1932, p. 6; 28 September 1933, p. 6.

20 July 1992, 2 December 1998

New Zealand Home and Entertaining

New Zealand Home and Entertaining

Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins, 'Fabrics of Life', February/March 2001; Lloyd-Jenkins, Douglas, and Bill McKay, 'Top 50 Homes of the Century', December / January 2000

Sharp, 2000

Dennis Sharp and Catherine Cooke, The Modern Movement in Architecture: Selections from the DOCOMOMO Registers, Rotterdam, 2000, p.188

Shaw, 1991 (3)

Peter Shaw, New Zealand Architecture: From Polynesian Beginnings to 1990, Auckland, 1991

University of Auckland

University of Auckland

Sheppard File B881; Vernon Brown Architectural Papers.

Conservation Plan

Conservation Plan

Hillary, Sarah, and Nel Rol, 'May Smith: Haigh House Mural Conservation Report', unpublished report, March 2002

Architecture New Zealand

Architecture New Zealand

Gibb, Jonathan, 'Green Home for Brown House', No. 5, September/October 2002, pp.56-61

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office

Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.