Historical Significance or Value
Reuben Watts House (Former) has historical significance for demonstrating the commercial popularity of the Arts and Crafts movement and its practitioners in the 1920s. Its creation was driven by and for Reuben Watts, acclaimed as one of this country’s pioneers in Arts and Crafts design and technique and as a ‘genius’ of New Zealand Arts and Crafts design. Construction can be seen as an advertisement as well as product of Watts’ increasing success as an art metalworker from the early 1920s onwards. Watts helped to conceptualise and physically build the residence, as well as occupying it with his family at the height of his renown and productivity. The place is also important for its close associations with the nationally significant designer and builder James Chapman-Taylor, considered one of the most important residential architects of his generation and a similarly successful Arts and Crafts practitioner.
The place also has significance for reflecting the expansion of Takapuna as a desirable residential settlement on the North Shore in the early twentieth century, and as an early example of the North Shore’s popularity with artists from the early twentieth century onwards as a haven away from Auckland City.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
Reuben Watts House (Former) has aesthetic significance for incorporating a variety of visually striking and evocative features linked with Arts and Crafts expression. These have been recognised within both the architectural and wider community and include unusual elements providing texture, depth and other visual interest to the place, such as through the use of hand-finishing and variation in materials. Notable features of aesthetic value include built-in furniture, hand-adzed timberwork including wainscoting and partitions, beaten copper detailing and wrought iron hardware. The extensive, dark-staining of timbers and its rare Arts and Crafts mural also contribute very strongly to the place’s aesthetic significance.
Architectural Significance or Value
Reuben Watts House (Former) has high architectural value as a notable and well-preserved example of Arts and Crafts architecture in its design, plan, construction and decoration. Arts and Crafts was an important architectural movement that harked back to a pre-industrial past and, in a New Zealand context, especially reflected the strength of imperial ties with Britain in the early twentieth century. It has been regarded as perhaps the most ‘English’ of the residences that Chapman-Taylor was involved in constructing, and an early demonstration of the more romantic nature of his later designs Reuben Watts House (Former) preserves an unusually wide range of interior and exterior Arts and Craft design features, which can be linked to its creation as a rare architectural design conceived and physically built through the collaboration of two important Arts and Crafts practitioners; nationally-significant architect James Chapman-Taylor and pioneering metalworker Reuben Watts.
Reuben Watts House (Former) has technological significance for its innovative use of concrete in conjunction with trowel-stroke plaster work as a decorative feature. This distinctive decorative finish, first used at Reuben Watts House (Former), became a signature feature of Chapman-Taylors work as an architect and craftsman which was employed in many of his creations.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category 1 historic place. It was assessed against all criteria, and found to qualify under the following: a, b, and g.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
Reuben Watts House (Former) is significant for the extent to which it reflects the success of the Arts and Crafts movement and its practitioners in New Zealand in the 1920s. Having been created through the collaboration of two notable Arts and Crafts craftsmen, the place reflects the commitment of its owner – Reuben Watts – to the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement in the residence’s design, plan, construction methods and decoration,, as well as his commercial success as an Arts and Crafts craftsman providing the funding for its construction.
Reuben Watts House (Former) also reflects the strengthening of imperial ties between Britain and New Zealand that occurred in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including after the First World War – a process that has been referred to as ‘recolonisation’. Being emphatically inspired by English Arts and Crafts design and particularly manorial architectural traditions, the place visually represents the strength of these connections in the period of its construction, which was further reflected in the wider revived popularity of Arts and Crafts in New Zealand.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
Reuben Watts House (Former) is closely associated with two significant individuals in the New Zealand Arts and Crafts movement, Reuben Watts and James Chapman-Taylor. The place was created through the close collaboration of these two men and demonstrates their shared commitment and faith in Arts and Crafts philosophy. The place has an exceptionally strong association with Watts, described as a ‘genius’ of New Zealand design, as he commissioned and funded its construction, helped to physically built it, contributed rare elements to its internal decoration, and lived at the residence with his family during the period when he reached the heights of his commercial success. The place is also strongly associated with its architect-builder Chapman-Taylor, and incorporates many signature Chapman-Taylor features including the use of adzed timber, reinforced concrete construction and trowel-stroke plaster finish. Chapman-Taylor is considered to have been one of the most important architects of his generation, and was described at his death in 1958 as ‘a creative artist whose life was an inspiration to hundreds of New Zealanders in many walks of life’.
The place is additionally associated with Rex Chapman-Taylor, also a notable Arts and Crafts craftsman, representing his first collaboration with his father and being the place where he learnt the trowel-stroke plaster finish technique that he became a specialist in applying to Chapman-Taylor designs.
(g) The technical accomplishment, value, or design of the place
Reuben Watts House (Former) has special significance as a varied, extensive and high-quality expression of Arts and Crafts design, created by two renowned designers and craftsmen at the height of their powers. Retaining its original form, layout and construction, as well as its most important internal features, it has been acclaimed for representing the outer parameters of James Chapman-Taylor’s zeal as a progressive, reforming and nationally significant Arts and Crafts architect and builder. The latter is demonstrated by the extensive survival and evocative use of hand-crafted elements such as adzed timbering, wrought ironwork and built-in furniture, as well as innovative elements such as the first use of Chapman-Taylor’s signature, trowel-stroke plasterwork on a reinforced concrete building. Innovation, fullness of expression and quality is enhanced by the survival of Reuben Watts’ contributions, such as his metalwork copper hood and mouldings on the inglenook fireplace; beaten metal plates in the staircase and extensive Arts and Crafts painted mural in the main bedroom. The latter enhances the special importance of the place, forming a rare surviving New Zealand example of an international expression of Arts and Crafts design.
Summary of Significance or Values
Created by two renowned designers and craftsmen, Reuben Watts House (Former) has special significance as a high-quality expression of Arts and Crafts design. Collaboratively conceptualised and built by nationally-renowned architect James Chapman-Taylor and pioneering Arts and Crafts metalworker and artist Reuben Watts, the place incorporates an unusually wide variety of evocative, handcrafted elements that demonstrate the achievements of New Zealand Arts and Crafts design. The importance of the place is enhanced by its retention of innovative or rare elements such as Chapman-Taylor’s first use of his signature trowel-stroke plasterwork finish on a concrete building; and Watts’ extensive painted bedroom mural. In its funding, conceptualisation and creation, the place is significant for the extent to which it reflects the success of Arts and Crafts practitioners in the 1920s – a period of major flourishing of the movement in New Zealand, when connections with imperial Britain were culturally and economically strong.
The northern shores of the Waitematā Harbour are of significance to several iwi, having been explored and occupied since early human arrival in New Zealand. According to oral traditions, Te Arawa waka (canoe) under Tama Te Kapua investigated the Waitematā, ultimately transiting through and continuing on to Tauranga Moana. The Tainui canoe also landed at Te Hau Kapua (Torpedo Bay) in present-day Devonport before travelling to its eventual heartland in the Waikato. Pupuke Moana (Lake Pupuke) is said to have been formed when the gods drew down the hill that stood there formerly, and created Rangitoto after they were cursed by Matahuripo of Takapuna. Matahuripo’s children, the twins Hinerei and Matamiha, were turned to stone and still stand at the south end of Waiwharariki (Takapuna beach) as Ngā Mahanga. The area was a heavily contested landscape. A number of archaeological sites have been recorded along the Takapuna coastline including several burials and extensive midden.
The Crown acquired the North Shore area as part of the ‘Mahurangi purchase’, which consisted of a series of land transactions between 1841 and 1854. The first Crown sales at Takapuna occurred in 1844-5. After Pākehā fears of an attack on Auckland by Northern iwi increased during the 1850s, Governor George Grey invited the notable Ngāpuhi leader Eruera Maihi Patuone (? – 1872) to settle in the area. Patuone’s wife Takarangi was of Ngāti Paoa. Through this union, Patuone was gifted 110 acres across the peninsula including the land on which Reuben Watts House (Former) was later constructed. Patuone lived on his holding until his death, after which his people continued to occupy the land. The property was gradually subdivided and sold over the next decades. In 1894, solicitor William Joseph Napier and his wife Henrietta acquired land in Allotment 30 Section 1 Parish of Takapuna.
At the turn of the century, Takapuna was primarily a farming community but also developing as a fashionable beach resort and holiday destination. In 1910, the establishment of a steam tram connecting with Auckland ferries led to increased residential subdivision and a building boom. The area became attractive to writers and artists seeking to escape the city, including the successful Arts and Crafts metalworker and artist William Reuben Watts (1869-1940, known as Reuben Watts) – a highly significant New Zealand designer. Reuben Watts moved to Takapuna in circa 1914 before purchasing a corner section of the recently subdivided Allotment 30 in December 1919. As Takapuna developed into a residential outer suburban settlement on the North Shore, a number of architect-designed houses were constructed.
In 1923 Watts collaborated with his close friend, nationally renowned Arts and Crafts architect James Walter Chapman-Taylor (1878-1958), to design and build a family home on the site. The new residence was to fully embody the principles of Arts and Crafts philosophy, shared by the owner and architect, in both its exterior and interior expressions.
Arts and Crafts movement, Reuben Watts and James Chapman-Taylor
Preparations for constructing the house occurred during a major flourishing of Arts and Crafts style in New Zealand – at a time when Reuben Watts was also gaining widespread renown. The Arts and Crafts movement had originated in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century as a reaction to increased industrialisation and mass production. Concerned with ‘the integration of art into everyday life though the medium of craftsmanship’, it particularly advocated a return to hand crafting and design influenced by pre-industrial architectural styles, rural life and nature. Other promoted concepts were that materials should be locally sourced and that practitioners ought to be manually involved in their work.
In New Zealand, Arts and Crafts emerged at the vanguard of architectural trends by the turn of the century, when houses began to be constructed in this style. The ‘Englishness’ of its origins and influences gained particular currency during a period of strengthening economic and cultural ties between New Zealand and the British Empire, referred to by historian James Belich as one of ‘recolonisation’. For many, the country’s involvement in the First World War (1914-18) further reinforced imperial loyalties. During the economic boom of the 1920s the Arts and Crafts movement gained a new lease of life, especially among wealthier members of society.
Reuben Watts was a leading figure in the Auckland Arts and Crafts scene as an art metalworker, who has been acclaimed as one of this country’s pioneers in Arts and Crafts design and technique, and a ‘genius’ of New Zealand Arts and Crafts design. Like many Arts and Crafts practitioners he was multi-talented, being also a fine sculptor, ‘an acclaimed painter of romantic watercolours’ and an established illustrator and caricaturist. The son of a Manchester jeweller, Watts had joined the family business as an apprentice before emigrating to Wellington in 1900, where he met and became close friends with architect James Chapman-Taylor. The two men, who both ‘earnestly wanted to maintain the integrity of the artist and artisan in their chosen field’, collaborated to design and produce fireplace surrounds and hoods in timber and metal.
In 1909 Watts moved to Auckland where he worked for A. Kohn Limited, a nationally successful jewellery firm, and married Rita Bartley in 1913. Alongside other Arts and Crafts artists and architects in the city, Watts was a founding member of the short-lived Auckland Arts and Crafts Club in 1912, a breakaway from the ‘stuffy conservatism and mediocre standards of the Auckland Society of Arts’. He later co-founded the Quoin Club in 1916, an organisation of artists which was formed ‘to promote the graphic arts and crafts’. In 1917, he served as Acting President of the Club.
After a trip back to England in 1921, Watts established his own workshop in the central city. Creating a wide range of jewellery and other products, Watts’ reputation rapidly increased. He produced copper plaques and light fittings, which added an Arts and Crafts ambience to domestic residences, as well as jewellery and women’s fancy goods, trophies, and liturgical silver. Watts achieved the height of his business success and popularity during this period, before the Great Depression created a rapid decline in clients from which his business never recovered.
Considered to be one of the most important residential designers of his generation, James Chapman-Taylor is the New Zealand architect most widely associated with Arts and Crafts style, and has been described as ‘perhaps its most emphatically devoted disciple’. He was already a well-established domestic architect and builder in the lower North Island when he moved to Auckland with his family in 1923 to take advantage of the local building boom. Through his career, Chapman-Taylor adapted the Arts and Crafts style to New Zealand conditions and developed a recognisable stylistic aesthetic in his designs. This included the frequent use of reinforced concrete with a distinctive trowel-stroke plaster finish, hand-forged iron windows and hinges, hand adzed timber front doors and window sills, squared chimneys with side vents, and ‘cottage-like’ proportions. His signature approach both demonstrated the progressive thought behind his designs and his belief that ‘everything should be built by hand and preferably on site’. In spite of the style becoming generally unfashionable in Chapman-Taylor’s later life, the importance of his reputation led to continued commissions for him to design Arts and Crafts houses until his death in the 1950s.
Creation and early use of Reuben Watts House (1923-1938)
Erected in late 1923, Reuben Watts House (Former) forms a rare example of a residence physically fashioned and created through the collaboration of two leading Arts and Crafts practitioners. At Watts’ request the house was intended to look like an old English manor style residence inside and out, albeit smaller, and drew on the English Cottage tradition more extensively than previous Chapman-Taylor designs. It has been considered highly individual, reflecting the influence of Reuben Watts as well as that of Chapman-Taylor, particularly with regard to its interior.
As with Chapman-Taylor’s other projects, the architect physically helped build the house, as did Reuben Watts. They were assisted by Henry Brace, an English builder and architect who drew up the plans for the residence under Chapman-Taylor’s guidance, as well as George Humberstone, a carpenter, and – for the first time – Chapman-Taylor’s son Kingsbury (known as Rex), who went on to become a specialist in trowel-stroke plasterwork and a noted craftsman in his own right. In his work during the 1920s and 1930s, James Chapman-Taylor strove to achieve boldness of conception and ruggedness in handling, aspects in which the resulting building at Takapuna has been considered to represent ‘the outer parameters of his zeal’. It has also been seen as encapsulating his view at this time that a house should form ‘a marriage of the world of necessity and the world of romance’. According to art historian Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, ‘from here on Chapman-Taylor’s houses would come to mean something romantic rather than something progressive’.
The asymmetric two-storey house was centrally positioned on its corner property. Its Arts and Crafts style was directly proclaimed in numerous external elements, including a steep, hipped and gabled tile roof, prominent chimneys, and small iron multipane casement windows with handcrafted plaster hoods – the latter an idiosyncratic touch. Constructed of reinforced concrete, the building exterior was finished with Chapman-Taylor’s distinctive trowel-stroke plasterwork, with which he was still experimenting in 1923. Chapman-Taylor has been considered a pioneer of concrete residential construction, an approach he began employing in the previous decade. Use of local products included Mottle Winstone Auckland Tiles for the roof cladding, and iron strap hinges from a Takapuna blacksmith.
Internally, the building similarly reflected strong Arts and Crafts ideals although traditional in its floor plan. The ground floor was composed of an entrance hall, living room, and kitchen with small servery. Three bedrooms and bathroom were on the upper floor, accessed via a steep staircase from the hall. The upstairs ceilings followed the pitch of the roof and extended to collar height. Chapman-Taylor incorporated partitions and curtains to form smaller spaces within the larger rooms, including a study, dining alcove, and an inglenook in the living room; and a dressing room in the main bedroom.
In the Arts and Crafts tradition, interiors were emphasised ‘as a sanctuary and a work of art’. Chapman-Taylor and Watts embraced this in their detailed and handcrafted interior which ‘befitt[ed] a much grander home’ and reflected their highly skilled craftsmanship. Like many Chapman-Taylor designs, extensive use was made of hand adzed jarrah and oregon timber, which was stained to look like bog oak and other dark timbers as a means of replicating aged and smoke-affected English interiors. This staining was employed throughout the house for exposed timbers, as well as wall panelling and partitions, floors, built-in furniture and the main staircase.
The building’s inglenook, the intimate fireplace room within a room, was an explicit expression of domesticity and Englishness which harked back to medieval traditions where the fireplace was a major focus of a manorial dwelling as well as later cottage residences and invoked traditions of home and hearth. In the new house, this contained a Watts and Chapman-Taylor fireplace with a painted plaster surround, as well as a timber mantel, beaten copper hood, copper mouldings in each corner and a beaten copper sheet above. Built-in seats on either side of the fireplace completed the space. Watts’ metalwork was featured elsewhere in the house, including handmade metal plates decorating the staircase and a beaten panel for a built-in cupboard in the living room.
Another notable design feature was a ‘plein-air’ style mural, painted by Reuben Watts on all four sides of his main upstairs bedroom. This featured an Elizabethan-style brick house with topiary garden and peacock; a house with an abundantly flowering garden; and a blue sky with clouds. Its design reflects the Arts and Crafts focus on nature and revival architectural styles. As a common Arts and Crafts motif, peacocks often featured in illustrated garden scenes, while many Arts and Crafts gardens in England held living peacocks for their vividly expressed associations with elevated social status and prestige. Initially influenced by medieval and earlier craft traditions, murals had a long history in Arts and Crafts approaches, and at around the turn of the century were frequently used in British Arts and Crafts domestic interiors as well as public spaces such as tearooms.
Watts’ creation of a mural in his private bedroom both underlined his commitment to Arts and Crafts ideas and the vision he held for his own home as an expression of idealised, pre-industrial manorial design.
Although harking back to a pre-industrial past, the building was also designed with integral modern features. These included a single storey garage and laundry, connected to the main residence at the south west corner with indirect internal access via an enclosed porch. The former both reflects the relative remoteness of Takapuna from central Auckland and a wider trend of increased car use following the First World War. It was, however, unusual in an early 1920s building of this scale, being more commonly associated with wealthier residences. Particularly given its integrated design and prominent street front position, it can in this instance also be seen as projecting a sense of affluence.
Outside the house, the garden incorporated oak trees – themselves symbolic of English rural life – and other plantings. A pergola enclosed the main garden path between the street and the house’s hand-adzed, oregon front door.
Reuben Watts and his family lived in their new home from late 1923. During the ensuing years, Watts was at the height of his reputation and production, commuting to his studio in Auckland. However, in the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Watts’ business struggled as the market for luxury items disappeared. In the mid-1930s he taught at Auckland’s leading school of design, Elam Art School. Facing financial problems, he transferred the house to the mortgagee and the family moved out. Watts died two years later in December 1940.
In 1938, the property was purchased by Herbert (Bert) Golder, a tally clerk, who occupied the residence with his wife Florence and five children. While the area remained popular with artists and writers, from the mid-twentieth century, Takapuna developed as a distinctly middle class neighbourhood which was seen as a desirable place to live. This reputation was enhanced following the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge in 1959, which provided faster connection times between Takapuna and central Auckland. It also accelerated Takapuna’s expansion and intensification as a suburb.
Throughout this period, the house remained in the possession of the Golder family and largely unmodified. Minor early alterations included the addition of a meat safe and lead lined icebox in the porch between the house and laundry. The garage was used for boat building, reflecting Takapuna’s seaside location. After Bert and Florence died during the 1950s, the house was successively occupied by their children into the early 2000s.
In the early twenty-first century minor restoration was undertaken including remoulding some of the damaged plaster window hoods and repairing the original windows on the north side around the chimney. Holm oaks and a karaka were removed in 2006 and 2012 due to decay. The Golder family’s long association with the house ended in 2015.
The new owners of Reuben Watts House (Former) undertook more extensive restoration of the house. This included the conservation of original handcrafted interior features including Watts’ bedroom mural which was restored with advice from Auckland Art Gallery. Some modification was made to modernise the bathroom and convert the garage into an additional bedroom, as well as removing some internal joinery and changes made by the Golders. A number of new structures were added along the northern and western boundaries of the property, separate from the house other than by a glazed passageway connecting with the dining alcove. A more formal Arts and Crafts influenced garden was created which copied elements from the bedroom mural. In 2018, Reuben Watts House (Former) was awarded a Heritage Restoration Award by the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board, as judged by heritage experts. The house remains in use as a private residence (2020).
Reuben Watts House (Former) is located in southern Takapuna, an early twentieth century seaside suburb on Auckland’s North Shore. The suburb contains a variety of residential development spanning the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, including infill housing as larger sections were subdivided. Reuben Watts House (Former) is a surviving example from the earliest boom of residential development at Takapuna. It is located less than 200 metres from the southern end of Takapuna Beach, which can be accessed via a nearby walkway. Houses in the immediate vicinity are mostly of late twentieth and early twenty-first century construction.
Takapuna contains a number of formally recognised heritage places, including early to mid-twentieth century residences in varied architectural styles, churches, and public buildings such as the former Takapuna Library and Post Office. Formally recognised historic places in the suburb that are associated with notable artists include the 1950s Frank Sargeson House (List No. 7540, Category 1 historic place).
The site occupies a large, corner plot of rectangular plan at the junction of Rewiti Avenue and William Street. It contains a main, two-storey residence centrally placed within the lot with an original attached garage and laundry of single-storey height extending to the southern boundary on Rewiti Avenue. Connected to the garage and extending a short distance along the Rewiti Avenue boundary is a low, plastered concrete wall of 1920s date. This is trowel-finished in the same manner as external plasterwork on the main residence and garage, and contains unusual finials of abstract, acorn design. The wall incorporates two timber gates, including one accessing a garden path leading to the front door of the residence. This path is enclosed for all of its length by an original timber pergola, supported by plastered columns.
Surrounding most of the main residence is a modern Arts and Crafts-inspired formal garden with brick paths and additional pergolas of similar design to the 1920s elements. At the street corner, the property bounded by a low hedge which maintains the visual prominence of the original residence. Two modern single-storey additions have been built along the northern and western boundaries of the site; a boatshed and a pavilion. Of dark colour and relatively low height, these have been designed to recede behind the original residence and have a relatively minor impact on visual appreciation of the 1923 structure, particularly from the street. The pavilion is connected to the main residence by an unobtrusively-created, glazed passage on the latter’s west elevation. A detached outdoor fireplace has been erected between the boatshed and pavilion extension in the north-west corner of the site.
Main residence (1923)
The main residence consists of a well-preserved house of Arts and Crafts design. It is considered to retain a high proportion of the elements that represent collaboration between Reuben Watts and James Chapman-Taylor in its creation. These features extensively survive both externally and internally. The following description is informed by a conservation plan prepared in 2011, resource consent documents and other published material in the public domain.
Externally the building consists of an asymmetrically arranged two storey cottage of concrete construction with a steeply pitched clay tile roof. The roof incorporates an irregular combination of hipped and gable ends at different heights. It extends to a lower level over single-storey elements of the structure such as the porch and north end of the projecting laundry and garage. Over the latter, the roof is gabled.
The residence contains two distinctive chimneys, the northernmost of which is especially prominent, rising directly from the north elevation. All windows are of steel, multi-light casement type and are of varying sizes. Dormer windows lighting the upper storey break the lower parts of the roof and eaves. All windows other than the dormers have moulded plaster window hoods. Apertures on the north and lower west elevations retain their original 1923 Crittall’s frames. Due to metal corrosion and other reasons, others have been replaced by new Crittall’s frames.
The entire wall exterior is plastered with Chapman-Taylor’s signature trowel plaster finish. This includes each face of the building’s distinctive chimneystacks.
The main entrance to the residence is in its south elevation, fronting Rewiti Avenue. Accessed via the 1923 timber pergola from the front gate a hand adzed, oregon timber front door is enclosed by an open porch incorporating trellis screens and defined on its east and west sides by low, trowel plastered walls. To the west is an enclosed secondary porch providing shelter for indirect access between the kitchen and the attached garage and laundry. This porch incorporates an unusual triangular-headed doorway reminiscent of early medieval Saxon design on its east side, and a meat safe and ice box with louvered vents set into the southern side. The original garage extends south from the main residence to the front boundary of the property. Its south elevation includes a weatherboard gable above original garage doors.
The east or William Street elevation is the most visually impressive aspect as viewed from the road. It incorporates a projecting bay with gable end at the southern end, combined with a multi-level hipped roof to the north with deep eaves and exposed rafter ends. A wide dormer window projects from the centre of the roof at eaves level. There are projecting faceted windows on the ground floor below the dormer and towards the northern end of the elevation. The gabled bay incorporates centrally positioned windows at both ground and first floor levels.
The northern elevation, also largely visible from the street, has a dominant end chimney and features four small windows, one on each side of the chimney on both ground first floor levels. West of this gable is a small dormer window. The hipped roof extends around much of the north and west elevations, extending to a lower level over the attached garage at the south end of the latter. The west, or rear, elevation also incorporates a projecting central bay with dormer window. The 2017 pavilion is linked to the original residence by an enclosed glass passageway connected to a doorway at the foot of this bay. The latter forms the only visual modification from the 1923 design.
The residence retains much of its distinctive 1920s interior with relatively few modifications. It retains significant aspects of its original detailing including hand adzed finishes, wrought ironwork, and Reuben Watts’ beaten metalwork, as well as his distinctive mural in the main bedroom.
The initial layout and access arrangements of the house are unaltered, with the exception of a recent doorway in the main west elevation providing access from the dining area to the 2018 pavilion. Arranged around the centrally placed staircase, the ground floor is composed of several main spaces: a relatively large entrance hall; a living room incorporating an inglenook, dining area and partitioned study; a small servery and adjoining kitchen; and a laundry and former garage reached from the latter. Accessed via a staircase from the hall, the upstairs contains a bathroom and three bedrooms arranged around a small landing.
Reflecting its English manorial influences, the interior contains exposed timber ceiling beams and timber floors throughout. Doors are generally hand-adzed oregon, and ledged and braced. Almost all the timberwork is dark stained. Walls are generally plastered concrete, many with applied timber framing or timber wainscoting.
The hall is situated in the southeast corner of the house, entered via the front door. Lit by two small-pane windows, this space contains a vertical panelled door on its north side providing access to the living room, with a leadlight window containing a handpainted heraldic motif above. Another door in the west wall provides access to the kitchen. A timber staircase extends upwards from the same side of the hall. Early panelling in the hall has evidently been removed.
The large living area contains large hand adzed ceiling beams as well as exposed joists. Walls retain similarly hand adzed, vertical board wainscoting to a considerable height. At the north end of the room is a large inglenook, framed by the wainscoting on one side and a vertical board partition on the other. This contains built-in timber seating with arm rests and curved end details, on either side of a fireplace of large, manorial type which incorporates a beaten copper hood and copper mouldings at the corners, made by Reuben Watts. Small windows either side of the chimney breast light the seated area. A large, copper ceiling panel survives above the fireplace.
Plans indicate that built-in furniture survives in a separate alcove in the living room, comprising a cupboard with a central opening containing a copper cover and hinges – presumed to have been similarly created by Reuben Watts.
To the west of the inglenook is a small study defined by tall, hand adzed partitions. The dining alcove, immediately south of the study room, has been modified through the addition in west wall of a doorway to the glass passage connecting the house to the extension.
A door in the south wall of the dining alcove connects to the servery, which contains a number of built-in shelves on its side walls and above the doorframe. Another door connects the servery with the kitchen, which occupies the southwest corner of the residence. Both the servery and kitchen have painted and plastered concrete walls. The kitchen also incorporates a tiled alcove on the north wall, which retains its original ’H.E. Shacklock Ltd Orion’ coal range. Along the west wall is the kitchen bench with hand adzed timber cupboards and concrete sink. A cupboard with a handmade latch is located in the passage at the east wall of the kitchen connecting to the entrance hall.
An external door in the kitchen’s south wall enters the secondary porch through which the laundry and former garage can be accessed. Both latter rooms have concrete walls and floors, and exposed ceiling rafters. The laundry retains its early concrete tubs and copper, and has a rear door that originally provided access into the back garden. The garage has been converted for alternative use with relined walls and ceiling. A weather proof double timber door has been added internally, while maintaining the functionality of the original doors.
The staircase of hand adzed jarrah risers and treads is lined by cedar panels with battens on its south wall, which have a beaten metal plate made by Reuben Watts at each junction. It has jarrah timber board on the north side, which extends upwards to form a balustrade in the landing.
The small first floor landing has a west facing window, and provides access to the three bedrooms and bathroom. The rooms all retain their original timber doors and some rooms contain built-in cupboards. The ceilings are open to immediately above collar height with painted plasterboard attached to the top of the collars.
The main bedroom occupies the northeast part of the floor and also incorporates a partitioned dressing room alcove at its northwest corner. This bedroom retains the ‘plein air’ mural painted by Reuben Watts with its original Arts and Crafts influenced imagery. The mural encircles the room including around the chimney breast, the sloping ceiling and occupying the plastered frieze above the timber panelling. Incorporating some recent restoration, it is understood to essentially remain as originally painted.
The smaller bedrooms are located in the northwest and southeast parts of the floor, and incorporate timber panelling.
The bathroom has one wall with applied timber panelling while the remaining walls are of painted concrete. The ceiling is plastered with a small amount of exposed timber. The modernised plumbing includes a large glass shower – replacing an earlier bath.
Reuben Watts House (Former) is one of nearly 100 buildings that have been identified as designed by James Chapman-Taylor. The following comparative section is primarily based on comparing Reuben Watts House (Former) to those others he designed. A summary of the houses designed by Chapman-Taylor which have been listed is included to indicate which categories have been ascribed to individual places.
Reuben Watts House (Former) is a well-preserved example of a residential design that was created as a collaboration by two leading Arts and Crafts practitioners. Considered at his death in 1958 to have been ‘a creative artist whose life was an inspiration to hundreds of New Zealanders in many walks of life’, James Chapman-Taylor differed from other notable Arts and Crafts architects - such as Samuel Hurst Seagar, Basil Hooper and R.K. Binney - by being directly involved in the construction and crafting of his work. Of the nearly 100 buildings he created most were erected for businesspeople, professionals and government officials. A small number were built for fellow artists, whose connections may have occasionally led to additional Arts and Crafts details being added. Other than later houses erected in collaboration with his son Rex Chapman Taylor, Reuben Watts House (Former) is the only one known to have been built with the major creative input of another major Arts and Crafts designer. Due to this collaboration, it is notable for incorporating an unusually wide range of materials and techniques reflecting Arts and Crafts philosophy – encompassing beaten metalwork and mural painting as well as hand adzed timber, wrought iron hardware and decorative, trowel-stroke plasterwork.
According to design historian Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Reuben Watts House (Former) represents a high point or the ‘outermost extent’ of Chapman-Taylor’s reformist zeal in relation to Arts and Crafts design. It forms a very early and experimental example of his use of a trowel plastered exterior, occurring shortly after a similar technique was adopted on the external walls of the clay-block Spicer House (1923), which also survives on Auckland’s North Shore. Subsequently becoming an important part of Chapman-Taylor’s architectural signature, this innovation followed his pioneering promotion of concrete as a material that could be beautified and made acceptable to a wider public. Its use at Reuben Watts House (Former) represents its earliest employment on a concrete Chapman-Taylor building, and also reflects the earliest involvement of Rex Chapman-Taylor – who was to become a specialist in its application, as well as a noted craftsman in his own right. The house also contains the earliest known use by James Chapman-Taylor of Crittal windows, a very ‘English’ design type that he used extensively for subsequent buildings in the 1920s and 1930s.
Due to Reuben Watts’ input, the overall design has been seen as ‘possibly the most English of all Chapman-Taylor houses’. Watts requested that timber elements of its interior be dark-stained, and painted the extensive upstairs mural depicting an English manorial scene. Although murals are not uncommon expressions of Arts and Crafts houses overseas, they are very rare in a New Zealand context. One other mural of comparable date and context survives at Chapman-Taylor’s earliest concrete house, at Whare Ra, Havelock North (1913-16; List No. 3877, Category 1 historic place) – which features a meditation room painted as a replica of the tomb of Christian Rosenkreutz, with mystical symbols. Another mural, painted by the Havelock North artist Emily Hamilton at Chapman-Taylor’s own home at Sunbourne in 1919, no longer remains. Few other examples of this period are currently known. Later residential mural painting linked with modernism has been identified, including at Haigh House (Former), Pahi (List No. 7541, Category 2 historic place) - a relocated Vernon Brown residence which contains ‘possibly the only surviving mural by May Smith’ and is associated with the ‘development of 1940s modernist artwork’.
Other than Whare Ra, a number of houses designed by Chapman-Taylor have been formally entered on the New Zealand Heritage List. These include two of his own residences at Silverstream, Upper Hutt (1908-11; List No. 4148, Category 2 historic place) and Coles Avenue, Mt Eden, Auckland (1925; List No. 509, Category 2 historic place). They also encompass relatively early commissions on Tinakori Road, Thorndon, Wellington (1908-9; List No. 1387, Category 2 historic place); Burnell Avenue, Thorndon, Wellington (1910; List No.1376; Category 2 historic place), which introduced an L-shaped plan and ‘porthole’ windows; and Plas Mawr, New Plymouth (1913; List No. 146, Category 1 historic place), which was the first of his houses to incorporate hand-adzed timber and a sun-trap layout.
Later commissioned residences – erected after Reuben Watts House (Former) – that have been formally recognised include Valhalla, also known as Carr House (Former), Auckland (1924-5; List No. 677, Category 2 historic place); Restormel, Silverstream, Upper Hutt (1929; List No.4149, Category 2 historic place), which formed Chapman-Taylor’s second sun-trap design; Tweed House, Trentham, Upper Hutt (1930-31; List No.4152, Category 1 historic place), which combined Moderne and Arts and Crafts styles; Woodhill, (1932-3; List No. 4143, Category 1 historic place), a butterfly-plan design forming the earliest of a group of Chapman-Taylor houses beside Chatsworth Road, Silverstream, Upper Hutt; a residence for Douglas Hare at Lower Hutt (1938; List No. 4142, Category 2 historic place) and the Barr House, Chatsworth Road, Silverstream, Upper Hutt (1939-40; List No.4146, Category 2 historic place).
In relation to other identified Chapman-Taylor residences, Reuben Watts House (Former) can be seen as especially significant for exemplifying an important Arts and Crafts collaboration, design innovations that were to become important elements in Chapman-Taylor’s later work, and a very varied and full expression of Arts and Crafts ideas – which in addition to reflecting the major contribution of Reuben Watts, also demonstrates a high point or the ‘outer parameters’ of Chapman-Taylor’s reforming zeal.
Reuben Watts House (Former) can be considered the main place in New Zealand to demonstrate the ideas and activities of Reuben Watts, acclaimed as a pioneering and innovative Arts and Crafts metalworker and wider practitioner, who collaboratively conceptualised and erected the house, contributed significantly to its interior details, and occupied it for a lengthy period while achieving the height of his productivity and renown.
The aesthetic and architectural importance of the place has been broadly recognised by design specialists and members of the broader community, for example through inclusion of information about the place and its significance in publications about New Zealand’s design history and the work of Chapman-Taylor, and popular magazine publication – as well as recognition by a Devonport and Takapuna Local Board architectural conservation award and during the preparation of a conservation plan.
Lean-to on west side of garage, garden shed
Meat safe and icebox added inside secondary porch
Restoration of windows and replastering of window hoods
2016 - 2018
Roofing tile replaced with Monier clay tiling. Garage internally lined and waterproof timber door added behind original door. Bathroom modernised: concrete tile bath replaced by shower, some tiles retained. Some wainscoting and built-in furniture remvoed. Residence rewired, replumbed.
2016 - 2018
Two pergolas erected as part of a formal garden. Construction of pavilion (attached by glazed link to main residence) and Boatshed in west and north parts of property. Central heating installed.
2016 - 2018
Main bedroom mural.
Reinforced concrete with clay tile roof, plaster, hand adzed jarrah and oregon timber, copper
21st March 2021
Report Written By
Lloyd Jenkins, D., 2004
Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, At Home: A Century of New Zealand Design. Auckland: Random House, 2004
pp. 23-36, 56-58
Judy Siers, The life and time of James Walter Chapman-Taylor. Napier, New Zealand: Millwod Heritage Productions, 2007
Lloyd Jenkins, 2006
Lloyd Jenkins, Douglas, 40 Legends of New Zealand Design, Auckland, 2006
Siers, Judy. 'Chapman-Taylor, James Walter', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3c11/chapman-taylor-james-walter
Pellegrino, Nicky, ‘The love story behind this amazing arts and crafts reno’, New Zealand House & Garden, Mar 2019, URL: https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/homed/houses/110729887/the-love-story-behind-this-amazing-arts-and-crafts-reno (accessed 30 Oct 2020)
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Mid Northern Area Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.