Sutton House and Garden

20 Templar Street, Richmond, Christchurch

  • Sutton House and Garden, Christchurch.
    Copyright: Christchurch City Council Newsline. Taken By: Image courtesy of Ian Lochhead. Date: 3/09/2020.
  • Sutton House and Garden, Christchurch.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga. Taken By: R Burgess. Date: 19/09/2021.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 9845 Date Entered 17th February 2022 Date of Effect 9th March 2022


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt RS 33 (RT 958751), Canterbury Land District and the building known as Sutton House and Garden, including street-fronting concrete block fence thereon, and the following chattels: Easel and Portrait Chair.

City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt RS 33 (RT 958751), Canterbury Land District


The Sutton House and Garden at 20 Templar Street, Christchurch, comprises a home studio designed and built in a local modernist style in 1963 for nationally renowned New Zealand artist, William (Bill) Alexander Sutton, and its integrally connected ‘modern garden’. Situated close to the looping Ōtākaro/Avon River, the general area has always been a seasonal food gathering space by Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu. The Sutton House and Garden has aesthetic, architectural, cultural and historical significance as his purpose-built combined house and studio designed by sculptor Tom Taylor, with the garden designed, planted and maintained by Sutton himself. The interior and exterior of the dwelling and the integrated garden have high integrity and authenticity and convey with immediacy the way of life of one of New Zealand’s most important landscape artists, providing valuable context and insight into his work. The place has become a rare survivor within the Christchurch residential ‘red zone’ where almost all buildings have now been demolished. It is held in high community esteem and has social significance accordingly.

Born in Christchurch in 1917, Sutton was educated at the Canterbury College School of Art in the 1930s. He returned to teach at the School of Fine Arts in 1939 and remained there for 40 years. As a practising artist and teacher, Sutton was influential in promoting a nationalist style of painting combining local responses to landscape with international method. In 1963 Sutton’s colleague at the School of Fine Arts, Tom Taylor, a sculptor with architectural training, designed Sutton a combined home and studio at 20 Templar Street.

The location, orientation and light-filled design of the house enables access to and views of the established lush garden. Containing more than 30 specimen trees, a large brick courtyard, rock features and edging and paths laid by Sutton, the garden is integrally connected to the house. Stylistically the modernist house is a one and two storeyed timber structure with a mono-pitched roof. Its main façade fronts north, at right angles to the street, and has a two-storeyed living block at the east end and a spacious single storied studio/living room with projecting glasshouse at the west end. The form, spaces, materials, structural elements, ceilings, walls, joinery, doors, fittings, hardware, stairs, balustrades and steps, built-in furniture, finishes, flooring and design elements, including in-built tapa cloth and plaster cast inset in the studio, retain a high degree of authenticity. The design and layout of the Sutton House and Garden is largely intact and is little changed since its early design and development.

Sutton created many of his mid to late career works in the studio at the house, including his landscape painting of the 1960s to 1980s in which he employed a greater level of abstraction on large canvases, facilitated by the open interior space of the studio. He remained at the house until his death in 2000. In 2002, Neil Roberts, at that time senior curator at the Christchurch Art Gallery, purchased the house from Sutton’s estate and in around 2006 updated the upstairs bathroom and made other minor changes at the south rear of the house. Although the building suffered minimal damage in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, the surrounding riverside neighbourhood sustained significant land damage and the property was included within the residential ‘red zone’. While other such ‘red zoned’ buildings were acquired by the Crown and demolished the Sutton House was, through pressure by heritage advocates and the existence of a heritage covenant on the place, retained by the vested owner, Land Information New Zealand. In 2019-2020, repaired and restored, its ownership was transferred to the Christchurch City Council and it is leased to the Sutton Heritage House and Garden Charitable Trust.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Sutton House and Garden has historical value in its direct association with nationally renowned artist, Bill Sutton, described as one of Christchurch’s most significant modernist artists and a key figure in twentieth century landscape painting in New Zealand. Sutton’s landscapes, many created in the Templar Street studio, have a firm place in New Zealand’s history of art and fits into our maturity in understanding of the land as part of our national identity. Along with fellow Canterbury artists, such as Rita Angus, he developed a distinctive interpretation of the landscape. His vision became more abstract as he gave a new identity to the imagery within the Canterbury landscape. Works like his Plantation series provided social commentary, confronting how large pine plantations were drastically affecting the landscape. His works fit into the wider development of post-impressionism, regionalism, internationalism, abstraction and post-modernism. The survival and retention of Sutton House and Garden is part of the story of the drastic events and unprecedented rapid change due to the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-2011, notably in the immediate surrounds of Richmond and Avonside.

Aesthetic Significance or Value

Sutton House and Garden has aesthetic qualities that are considered especially pleasing, both in the modernist design of the home studio and in its relationship with the tranquil garden filled with exotic plantings and dappled light. The visual contrasts, use of colour, the modest scale of the house and the surrounding enclosed lush garden, in what is now the edge of open park-like space close to Ōtākaro /Avon River, appeals to the senses. There is a strong sense of place associated with the life of artist, Bill Sutton. This is demonstrably valued, as evidenced when there was community outcry when the house was threatened with demolition. Its retention elicits an emotional response in the context of it being a rare symbolic survivor within an area hit especially hard by the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010-2011.

Architectural Significance or Value

Sutton House and Garden has architectural significance. Designed by an artist with architectural training, Tom Taylor, for fellow artist and close colleague, Bill Sutton, the compact house was created specifically for Sutton to reside, make his art and host social gatherings. Its integrated purpose-designed studio/living room is particularly notable. Its natural lighting, space and high ceiling were designed for the purpose of painting, which no doubt enabled Sutton to produce the larger canvasses that he became known for.

Whereas houses typically would have their main façade fronting the street, Taylor designed the house at Templar Street so that the main façade faced north (side-on to the street), opening onto a patio which bordered what became Sutton’s garden, filled with native and exotic plantings. The architectural style successfully combines conventions of the traditional with the modern, reflecting Sutton’s own art practice. It blends elements akin to a colonial cottage with the functional requirements of an artist’s studio. While its vertical tongue and groove timber features reference earlier traditional forms, the building consciously employs modernist features such as (de Stihl-like) vertical and horizontal lines, mono-pitch roofs, plain east elevation and box-like rear. The interior contributes to the architectural significance, evidencing the period of construction through its design and materials. The form, spaces, materials, structural elements, ceilings, walls, joinery, doors, fittings, hardware, stairs, balustrades and steps, built-in furniture, finishes, flooring and design elements retain a high degree of authenticity. The architecture has achieved recognition by architectural experts, including in Jeremy Hansen’s edited Modern: New Zealand Homes from 1938 to 1977 (2013).

Cultural Significance or Value

Sutton House and Garden has cultural significance, in its reflection of artistic achievements created in and associated with the place. From the outset, this association has been valued by many in arts circles, including all its owners – the late Bill Sutton, the renowned Canterbury artist for whom the house was designed, subsequent owner Neil Roberts, himself a former fine arts student of Sutton’s and art gallery curator, and now the Sutton House and Garden Charitable Trust who operate the place for artists in residence. Little changed since the time when Sutton lived there and created so much of his art, the house is intimately connected with most of Sutton’s celebrated works – both landscapes and portraiture.

Social Significance or Value

Sutton House and Garden has social significance in that it brings people together and matters to existing communities because of its special characteristics and associations. Sutton is well known for welcoming students, colleagues and other artist friends to this place, and regularly and generously hosting social gatherings. Still today, in the twenty first century, many have fond memories of visiting Bill Sutton at his house, with its in-progress art works and exotic lush garden. When the house was at risk of demolition as part of the programme of clearing residential ‘red zone’ properties following the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the house was saved due to strong community and councillor advocacy, backed by an existing conservation covenant in place. The Sutton House and Garden has been restored and passed on to the Christchurch City Council and is run by the Sutton House and Garden Charitable Trust in a way that allows the place to continue as a space and opportunity for people to form bonds with each other. The trust operates an Artist in Residence programme, holds open days at the property and periodically makes it available as a community meeting place.

In addition, the Burgundian Romanesque plaster cast built into the wall of the studio forms a memorial to a connection with Bill’s involvement at the Art School, both as a student and a teacher.

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

Sutton House and Garden relates to aspects of New Zealand art history, being the purpose-built home, studio and garden of one of New Zealand’s important twentieth century artists, Bill Sutton. This place is particularly able to reflect those aspects of New Zealand’s history because it is easily readable as the place designed for Sutton by fellow artist and colleague, Tom Taylor. It is well documented that Sutton produced most of his celebrated work – both landscapes and portraiture – during his 37 years there. He recorded the landscape in all its diversity, exploring equally diverse styles and techniques. Works such as the Plantation series of 1986-1987, created in his studio, are strong, richly textured and coloured landscapes, painted on an epic scale, capturing the geographic essence of Canterbury, changed by people and the forces of nature. His paintings of the Canterbury landscape have come to be seen as expressing regional, if not national, characteristics. The fact that Sutton House and Garden has been retained – a solitary survivor in what was otherwise a cleared swathe of formerly occupied residential suburban Richmond - is a tangible reflection of the trauma and tensions of the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, a major natural disaster in what is New Zealand’s second largest city, and response. As with other areas of post-quake clearance, including in the Christchurch Central Business District and around the Ōtākaro /Avon River corridor, there is an opportunity to better understand the earlier Māori and colonial history of the area and interaction with the land and river.

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

The place is directly associated with artist, calligrapher, teacher and social commentator, Bill Sutton. In later decades, from his home studio at Templar Street, Sutton’s landscapes became more abstract as he gave a new identity for the imagery of Canterbury. Sutton was a key figure in twentieth century landscape painting in New Zealand. Sutton’s connection with Canterbury and its landscape led him to produce iconic paintings such as Dry September (1949), Nor’wester in the Cemetery (1950), and the Four Seasons series (the latter being produced in the studio at his house at Templar Street, 1968-1969/70). Taylor’s achievement was to design a home for Sutton that embodied the artist’s needs and personality, his strengths and contradictions. It was designed very much for Bill Sutton – for an artist by an artist - a bachelor’s house with the studio taking up the main space. As a long-time teacher of sculpting at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury, Tom Taylor inspired numerous other New Zealand sculptors, including Bing Dawe, Neil Dawson, Grahame Bennett, Chris Booth, Pauline Rhodes and Phil Price.

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

The Sutton House and Garden is associated with community public esteem. The arts community has special association with the place, many artists and those who appreciated Sutton’s works visited and socialised at the house for the 37 years that he lived there. Appreciation continued after his death, with the place being maintained by owner, Christchurch Art Gallery curator Neil Roberts. After the place was threatened with demolition following the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, action by the community to retain the place led to it being restored and retained.

Summary of Significance or Values

As the home studio and garden of one of New Zealand’s most important twentieth century landscape artists, the Sutton House and Garden has special significance. Designed for an artist by an artist, it is easily readable as the purpose-built combined house and studio designed for the artist by sculptor Tom Taylor, Sutton’s colleague at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. The natural lighting, space and high ceiling of the purpose- designed studio/living room allowed Sutton to produce the larger landscape canvasses that he is so well-known for. The lush ‘modern garden’ designed and planted by Sutton was an extension of his living space and its evolving design reflected his personality and connection to nature in a way that reflects his approach to making art. Most of Sutton’s celebrated works – both landscapes and portraiture – were produced during his 37 years at 20 Templar Street. The interior and exterior of the dwelling and the integrated garden have high integrity and authenticity and convey with immediacy the way of life of one of New Zealand’s most important artists, providing valuable context with insight into his work. The place has become a rare survivor within the Christchurch residential ‘red zone’ where almost all buildings have now been demolished.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Thomas (Tom) John Taylor (b.1925-d.1994)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Early History

Tuahiwi is the home of Ngāi Tūāhuriri and has played a vital role in Ngāi Tahu history. The takiwā (district) of Te Ngāi Tūāhuriri Rūnanga centres on Tuahiwi and extends from the Hurunui to the Hakatere River and inland to the Main Divide. Nearby the famous Kaiapoi Pā was established by the first Ngāi Tahu ancestors when they settled Te Wai Pounamu. Kaiapoi Pā was the major capital, trading centre and point from which further penetration of the South Island occurred so the area is a genealogical centre for all Ngāi Tahu whānui (descendants). Kaiapoi Pā was established by Moki’s elder brother Tūrākautahi who was the second son of Tūāhuriri, hence ‘Ngai Tūāhuriri’ is the name of the hapū of this area.

Ōtautahi/Christchurch and the wider area have a long history of Māori occupation. The vast network of wetlands and plains of Kā Pakihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha/Canterbury Plains is inherently important to the history of its early occupation. The area was rich in food from the forest and waterways. Major awa (river) such as the Rakahuri (Ashley), Waimakariri, Pūharakekenui (Styx) and Rakaia were supplied from the mountain fed aquifers of Kā Tiritiri o te Moana (Southern Alps). Other spring-fed waterways such as the Ōtākaro (Avon) meandered throughout the landscape. The rivers teemed with tuna, kōkopu, kanakana and īnanga; the wetlands were a good supply of wading birds and fibres for weaving, food and medicine; with the forest supplying kererū, kokopa, tūī and other fauna as well as building materials. In 1879 at Kaiapoi, Wiremu Te Uki, stood before the Smith-Nairn Commission and declared: ‘We used to get food from all over our Island; it was all mahinga kai. And we considered our island as in a far superior position to any other, because it is called Waipounamu, the greenstone island; the fame thereof reaches all lands’. Ara tawhito (travelling routes) crossed over the landscape providing annual and seasonal pathways up and down and across the plains and in some cases skirting or traversing the swamps. Permanent pā sites and temporary kainga were located within and around the Plains as Ngāi Tahu established and used the mahinga kai sites where they gathered and utilised natural resources from the network of springs, waterways, wetlands, grasslands and lowland podocarp forests that abounded along the rivers and estuaries.

The area now occupied by Christchurch city has always been a food gathering space for Ngāi Tahu. Its water and rich soils meant an abundance of birds and fish gathered in seasonal rounds by Waitaha, Ngāti Māmoe and Ngāi Tahu’. The Ōtākaro/Avon River is named after the tipuna, ‘Tākaro’. It is the iconic spring-fed river that flows through Christchurch into Te Ihutai (the Avon-Heathcote Estuary) and was an important part of the interconnected network of traditional travel routes, particularly as an access route through the swampy marshlands of Christchurch. The mouth of the Ōtākaro was a permanent mahinga kai, and the river supported numerous kāinga mahinga kai, with foods gathered including tuna (eel), inaka (whitebait), kōkopu (native trout), kanakana (lamprey), waikōura (freshwater crayfish), waikākahi (freshwater mussel), tuere (blind eel), and pātiki (flounders). A variety of birds were also harvested on the river, including pūtakitaki (paradise ducks), pārera (grey duck), raipo (New Zealand scaup), tataa (brown duck), and pāteke (teal). On the banks of the rivers, plant-based foods such as aruhe (bracken fernroot) and kāuru (root of the tī kōuka) were also gathered.

From 1849-1850 the Canterbury Association oversaw the systematic European settlement of Canterbury and surveyed the town of Christchurch and rural sections outside of the town boundary. What is now 20 Templar Street was formed from Rural Section 33, which had been conveyed in 1851 to George Bowron, and he subdivided from 1864. An eight-acre section of Rural Section 33 was sold to Campbell in 1874, who took a mortgage out in the same year but who does not appear to have occupied the section. In 1878 the property was sold to Harman and others, as part of a subdivision called 'Ellengowan' or the 'Daisy Paddock' (so-named due to the terraced paddock, full of daisies, sloping down to the river). Lots 4 and 5 (later defined as Lots 5 and 6) of D.R.P. 2963 were subdivided with part fronting Templar Street selling in 1884 to Sarah Ann Griffin, wife of soda water manufacturer, William Griffin.

A mortgage taken out in March 1895 suggests that a building may have been constructed or added to on the property at that time. Aerial images show a building on the site in the 1940s but by the early 1960s the section was clear, with neither house nor garden (except for one holly tree) showing in an aerial photograph of 1960-1964. The property changed hands a small number of times before artist William Alexander Sutton purchased it in July 1963. Christchurch builder, Reginald Charles Millar, had purchased the property in 1961, demolished the existing house and then sold to Sutton. Sutton engaged his friend and teaching colleague, Tom Taylor to design a house with studio and this was built at 20 Templar Street in 1963.

Taylor’s design reflected the bachelor artist Sutton perfectly – it had a large studio/living room downstairs, taking up a third of the entire house plan, and a small private upstairs area, with two bedrooms and a shower-room. The purpose-built studio gave space for Sutton to continue with his evolving style of realism to capture what he saw as the elemental nature of the land, as seen, for example, in his Grasses Series (1970-76) and Four Seasons (1968-1969/70). These were monumental works that distilled the essence of the region. After further travels in the United Kingdom and Europe in 1981, Sutton returned to work further on his efforts to combine realism with abstraction, as seen in his Landscape Synthesis series, produced at his Templar Street property.

The house at 20 Templar Street was Sutton’s home and workplace for 37 years. Most of his celebrated works from this period were created here, both modernist and traditional, landscapes and portraiture alike. Dozens of formal portraits of some of the most eminent figures in law, education, medicine, and the military were painted in Sutton’s studio, with the subjects usually seated on in his Baroque style portrait chair which Sutton had purchased in Italy in 1974.

At his house, Sutton was able to store his paintings and explore other aspects of art, including printing. With the aid of an Albion press, which he installed in a room east of the garage, he was able to set up what he called Templar Press, experimenting with differing typefaces to produce invitations and simple catalogues for his exhibitions.

The modern garden was an extension of Sutton’s living space. Its evolving design reflected Sutton’s personality and supported his connection to nature in a way that was reflective of his approach to making art. He did the plantings himself and followed the philosophy that ‘nature knows best’, even if nature doesn’t necessarily behave. Plantings included 30 specimen trees, both natives and exotic, many of which still survive today, as well as numerous succulents that have not survived. The glasshouse protruding from his studio/living room was part of the original house design of 1963 and, plumbed in for watering, it contained Sutton’s orchids and other sub-tropical plants. Sutton’s intention was that house and garden would be a continuation of each other and a place where he could connect with his plants.

The modern design and positioning of the house, with its main elevation facing north to its lush garden rather than to the street, would have been in marked contrast with the typical gardens and workers cottages and villas of the area. With its brick courtyard and pathways, sculptures created by Sutton’s colleagues (Tom Taylor’s Moraine from 1967 and Roy Cowan’s Cellular Form Sculpture from 1981), feature rocks and succulents set within rocks, the garden made an interesting space for both contemplation and socialisation. Sutton enjoyed both. He was well known for hosting many social gatherings, especially for colleagues and former students, at his property.

W.A. (Bill) Sutton (1917-2000) - Artist

Born in Christchurch in 1917, Sutton grew up and was educated there, attending art classes at the Canterbury College School of Art in the 1930s. He went on to teach junior classes from 1939 to 1941 at the School of Art before a period with the army travelling around New Zealand. In 1945, after the Second World War, Sutton joined the staff of the School of Art. In 1947 he travelled to the United Kingdom, studying Anglo-French art in London and visiting Europe, but the experience made him realise he wanted to paint with more emphasis on local reality. On his return to New Zealand in 1949, he took up a full-time lectureship at the School of Art (which later became the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury), where he remained until his retirement in 1979.

As a practising artist and as a teacher, Sutton promoted a nationalist style of painting, combining local responses to landscape (in particular) with international method. In the 1940s and 1950s, Sutton and other fellow Canterbury artists such as Rita Angus, Colin and Rata Lovell-Smith and Louise Henderson, developed a distinctive interpretation of the region’s landscape – they are known as the ‘Canterbury School’. Sutton is recognised for his four-decade long masterful reinterpretation of the Canterbury landscape in his numerous paintings, ranging from Dry September and Bone and Shadow (1949) and Nor’wester in the Cemetery (1950) through to later his Grasses Series (1970-76), Four Seasons (1968-1969/70) and Plantation Series (1980s). His landscapes gave Sutton national recognition, but while his works were esteemed by the public and ‘art afficionados’, in his time they were not always well received by academics and critics. Over time, Sutton’s works have been acclaimed and he features in a range of national publications, including Gordon H Brown and Hamish Keith’s New Zealand Painting, an introduction (1969) and Elizabeth Caughey and John Gow’s Contemporary New Zealand Art II (1999). Warwick Brown’s 1995 book, 100 New Zealand Paintings, featured Sutton’s Plantation Series XVII (1988), with the commentary that the Plantations ‘still have impact as near abstractions … we are reminded of the original cubists … [and their] manipulation’. It is the high degree of regional identity that places Sutton as a key figure in twentieth century landscape painting in New Zealand. A retrospective of Sutton’s art was held at the Christchurch Art Gallery in 2003, showcasing not only his landscapes but also his skill with portraiture, watercolours and calligraphy.

As a teacher, Sutton actively supported innovation, encouraging students to learn through experimentation. Sutton felt that the experience of teaching improved both his art and his life, noting that over more than three decades of teaching at the Art School, he treated his students like apprentices and encouraged debate. He was especially well known for his affability and hospitality, and many of his students, including the painter Pat Hanly (1932-2004), became his lifelong friends.

Sutton was made a Companion of the British Empire in 1980 and awarded the Governor General’s award in 1984 for his services to art. He died on 23 January 2000 in Christchurch. In March 2009, Sutton was commemorated as one of the Twelve Local Heroes, and a bronze bust of him was unveiled outside the Christchurch Arts Centre.

After Sutton’s death in 2000, his estate sold the property to Christchurch Art Gallery senior curator, Neil Roberts. In 2002, Roberts, with the support of the Sutton estate trustees, successfully arranged with Christchurch City Council for a protective covenant on both the house and garden. Roberts’ took great care to maintain the integrity of the property and his intention was that, in the future, he would gift the house to the city for an Artist in Residence programme. Minor changes were made at the property during Roberts’ time, including replacement of carpet in the dining room, covering over of original honey coloured brick panels on the south interior wall of the studio, changing slightly the position of the walls of the service rooms on the south side of the house and altering the bathroom on the first floor. He also put pavers on the previous lawned area to the east of the house, created a concrete path behind the house and replaced Sutton’s vegetable garden at the north-east corner with lawn.

Canterbury Earthquakes 2010-2011

The situation with the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010-2011 was summarised by the Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha as follows:

‘On 4 September 2010, at 4:35am, an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 struck Christchurch and the surrounding Canterbury region. The earthquake had an epicentre near Darfield, a small town about 40km west of the Christchurch Central Business District. An aftershock sequence began, which at the time of writing is ongoing. All of the earthquakes were the result of ruptures on faults not known to be active prior to the September event. … However, many unreinforced masonry buildings were damaged and there was extensive damage to infrastructure. The eastern suburbs of Christchurch and Kaiapoi were seriously affected by liquefaction and lateral spreading of the ground. The September earthquake was followed by four other major earthquakes occurring on Boxing Day 2010, and 22 February, 13 June and 23 December 2011. Of these, the event on 22 February was by far the most serious, resulting in 185 deaths. …’

The wider area of Richmond and Avonside suffered particularly badly in the earthquakes and ultimately much of that residential area was deemed to be ‘red zoned’ and large parts of housing within those suburbs were demolished. Situated within the western part of this residential ‘red zone’, the house at 20 Templar Street had robust foundations and was not seriously damaged by these earthquakes. Thanks to this and strong advocacy from many quarters, including the 2002 protective covenant, a decision was made that the house would not be demolished. Despite the demolition of swathes of houses all around, Sutton House and Garden, was retained. Although Neil Roberts had reluctantly sold to the Crown (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority) following the declaration of the residential ‘red zone’, and had moved out in 2014, he was permitted access to maintain the garden and was one of the most vocal advocates for retention and conservation of the property. Nevertheless, the building lay empty for several years and suffered several burglaries, including the theft of the original entrance gates and the building’s original copper spouting.

In 2017 a decision was made that the government’s transitional owner of all ‘red zone’ property, Land Information New Zealand (LINZ), would repair and restore the house at 20 Templar Street, then transfer it to the Christchurch City Council to lease to a suitable entity. Under the ownership of LINZ, the house underwent significant work whereby the exterior was virtually pulled apart to remove non-compliant foil insulation and then the original timbers were reinstated. An exception is at the upper level of the west elevation which has new timbers. The main internal modification was at the south-west side in the former garage area, to accommodate a ramp for wheelchair access, truncating the wall of the former workshop.

Sutton Heritage House and Garden Charitable Trust

The Christchurch City Council took over ownership of the Sutton House and Garden in 2020, and it is now managed by the Sutton Heritage House and Garden Charitable Trust (formed in late 2018), who operate an Artist in Residence programme whereby artists for a time live in the home studio.

Recent changes (2019-2020) associated with the property include a new timber fence along the original north boundary line, two gates in the fence at the north-east corner of the property, a poured concrete path behind the house along the south boundary, and replacement of part of the concrete block boundary wall following removal of a paulownia tree.

Physical Description

Current Description

Sutton House and Garden, within its carefully maintained fenced setting, is located approximately 100 metres to the north of the looping Ōtākaro/Avon River. It sits on the east side of Templar Street, now part of the large open green space that has appeared as a result of cleared ‘red zoned’ land following the 2010-2011 earthquakes. Now that all the surrounding houses are demolished, the property can be viewed easily from a distance from the riverside path beside the Ōtākaro/Avon River.

Fenced on all sides, the house sits towards the southeast corner of the rectangular shaped land parcel. An oval shaped commemorative plaque, affixed to the recessed pedestrian entrance part of the street-facing concrete block boundary fence, states this was the residence and studio of W. A. Sutton. Here inset concrete blocks, located beside an off-set pedestrian gate, provide a pattern of voids to allow a glimpse into the property. From the pedestrian gate is a brick pathway, flanked by garden beds and two small brick pedestals, which leads to a brick courtyard in front of the north side of the house. Between the courtyard and house is a narrow ‘rock garden’, to the east of which three tiled steps lead from the courtyard up to the tiled patio and main entrance door.

The house is a one and two-storeyed modernist building with a mono-pitch roof. Its main façade fronts north, at right angles to the street, and has a two-storeyed living block at the east end and a large single storied studio and projecting glasshouse at the west end. The exterior has shiplap vertical weatherboard cladding and some tongue and groove feature panels. The exterior is, for the most part, painted dark brown, with some features such as the north elevation first floor and bays on the south elevation being painted yellow ochre, and other features such as window trims and balcony spindle style balusters painted white. Parts of the east and south elevation have a rural flavour. For example, at the top of the east elevation is a small, hinged door which provides entry to a header tank, and on the south side are three yellow ochre painted doors reminiscent of a stable. The western elevation is comparatively plain, with tall windows looking into the studio at the north side and a tilting garage door at the south half of the elevation.

Entering the house through the main entrance door on the north elevation, one faces a staircase which bisects the living part of the house, following typical cottage tradition. To the east is the kitchen, which retains many authentic built-in features, as designed by Taylor, including lined drawers and food bins. Both the kitchen and dining room to the west of the staircase have a recessed floor, two steps below the tiled entrance vestibule.

Separating the recessed dining room and the studio to its west is a wall made up largely of shelving and a central hatch with a sliding door designed by Taylor to allow viewing from one space to the other. On the studio side, the shelving-wall incorporates a tapa cloth backing, something Sutton had obtained in Fiji in 1954 and which was included as a decorative feature in the house design from the outset. Within the studio side of the shelving-wall is also a writing desk that opens out. The window arrangement of the studio reflects the balanced lighting required for the artist’s workspace and living room. On its south wall are clerestorey windows, while on the north and west sides are floor to ceiling windows and French doors that open onto the patio. The glasshouse projecting from the north-west corner of the north elevation is accessed from the studio down two concrete steps to a sunken concrete floor. Artificial lighting in the studio includes original uplights and later ceiling lights and spotlights. A Kent wood burner in the south-west corner was installed in circa 1984, in place of an original Visor wood burner. Built into the south wall of the studio is a Burgundian Romanesque plaster cast that had been surplus to the requirements of the School of Art.

The original (slightly widened) doorway on the studio south wall leads to the former garage which now contains ramping for wheelchair access. This south side of the house – former garage at west end, storeroom at centre and laundry at the east end – is the most altered part of the house, although from the exterior it appears largely as it was originally. The former storeroom previously held some of Sutton’s type and his printing press and later the room was slightly truncated and used as an office. The laundry is the eastern most room on the south side of the house – this was extended and altered slightly in circa 2006.

On the first floor, there are two bedrooms, one either side of the stairwell, both of which access the north-facing balcony through stable style doors, the bottom half of each being solid timber and a glazed upper half. Both bedrooms retain original built-in drawers and cupboards and there is another built-in cupboard outside the main, western bedroom. The bathroom beside the eastern bedroom contains a shower and toilet (a circa 2006 replacement of an original plastic shower box that Sutton had cast at the School of Fine Arts).

The garden was created by Sutton as an extension of the house. The garden’s layout, as it evolved, is still readable, and includes planted trees, brick courtyard (laid by Sutton using acquired second-hand bricks), connecting pathways, pedestals, and walls. Many of the trees and shrubs that were planted by Sutton remain on the property and have matured. These include tī kōuka, kōwhai, karaka, lancewood, white pine, fig, bottle brush, camelia, citrus (grapefruit and lemon), peach, loquat, feijoa amongst others. The holly tree is from the original cottage garden. The concrete block front fence is largely original, a chain link gate is temporarily in place where the stolen double entry driveway gates were located and a timber board temporarily in place of the stolen offset pedestrian gate, awaiting replacement with replicas of the original.

Fabric and features in the garden include some distinct areas with their own characteristics, even though the garden is one landscape. The area between the west of the house and the street-fronting fence contains exotic and nature trees and shrubs as well as drifts of flowers. Immediately in front of the north side of the house is the brick courtyard and rock garden, and beyond are native trees and shrubs. At the north-eastern corner of the section, new timber access gates have been added on the north and eastern fence. In this area are some native and exotic trees and shrubs as well as brick and concrete paving (which was laid in circa 2020 on the site that was originally Sutton’s vegetable garden). At the south-eastern corner of the section are fruit trees and utilities (including brick and concrete paving by a washing line).

Thomas (Tom) John Taylor (b.1925-d.1994)

Born in 1925, Tom Taylor spent most of his 69 years in Christchurch. He had attended boarding school at St Kevin’s Catholic College in Oamaru, where he matriculated at the very early age of 14 and a half. During the Second World War, he undertook wartime service as a radio operator and possibly also surveying in the Royal New Zealand Navy, having exaggerated his age in 1941 in order to be admitted. At the end of the war, Tom returned to Christchurch and, after a time, gained on-the-job training with Cecil Wood’s architectural firm. As was common for other architecture students, including Taylor’s friend and contemporary, Miles Warren, Taylor studied architecture in the evenings at the Christchurch Atelier – part of a distance learning programme for architectural students unable to study at the University of Auckland's School of Architecture. Academic records show Taylor studied aspects of professional architecture in 1941/2, 1946 and 1947 but did not complete the course, gravitating instead towards fine arts. For three years from 1950, he studied fine arts at Canterbury College of Art (later University of Canterbury), specialising in sculpture. From 1961 until 1990 he was employed as a lecturer in sculpture at the University of Canterbury School of Fine Arts. For a while, Taylor specialised in architectural sculpture, combining both aspects of his training. Like Bill Sutton, Taylor was a member of The Group (Christchurch artists interested in modern movements in art). While Taylor’s sculptures were mainly concerned with architectonics (suggesting architectural forms), he also produced a number of portraits at various times during his career, including a bronze bust of Bill Sutton which is in the Christchurch Art Gallery Collection. Taylor introduced industrial sculpting methods to his own practice and to his teaching, influencing a generation of sculptors including Bing Dawe, Neil Dawson, Grahame Bennett, Chris Booth, Pauline Rhodes, Phil Price and many others. Over the years, Sutton and Taylor each posed for one another’s art.

Tom Taylor architectural works

When working for the architect Cecil Wood, Taylor, like many others, helped build Wood’s retirement house constructed in 1946 at 16 Helmores Lane. Although he did not become a registered architect, Taylor was able to design houses, and there are a number of practical and stylish dwellings he designed in Canterbury. These include a modern concrete house at 6 Sherwood Lane in Cashmere Valley, Christchurch (1950); 30 Vernon Terrace, Hillsborough, Christchurch; a house for photographer and adventurer, Guy Mannering, on Wairarapa Terrace, Christchurch (1959); likely Taylor’s own at Governors Bay; and 23 Merlincote Crescent at Governors Bay designed specifically for Margaret Mahy (built in stages from the late 1960s). This house was described, by Mahy herself, in Deborah Shepard’s ‘Her Life’s Work: Conversations with Five New Zealand Women’, 2013. Taylor also designed a mono-pitch roofed house and studio for another artist and colleague, Doris Lusk/Holland, which still stands at 530 Gloucester Street, Linwood, Christchurch – this appears to have been built in stages in the 1960s and first half of the 1970s. Later, in circa 1989, Taylor designed a long single storeyed house with turret-like polygonal tower for Shona and Ross Smith at Kirwee. Renovations included additions at 76 Puriri Street, Riccarton (circa 1985) as well as interior design for the Gingko Gallery at The Arts Centre of Christchurch (1980-1981). In addition, Taylor had a significant involvement in the theatre and opera and completed several stage-set designs, working with Ngaio Marsh and the early years of the Court Theatre.

The house at 20 Templar Street that Taylor designed for Sutton is thought to be the least altered of the houses built to his design. It is an amalgam of colonial vernacular architecture combined with the Modern. It is relatively small scale, has a layout with stairs rising up opposite the front door, and tongue and groove cladding features on the exterior. The multi-coloured lines and details on the ground floor of the north elevation are reminiscent of De Stihl, an art and design movement recognisable for its pure abstraction using strong vertical and horizontal lines and bold primary colours. Stylistically the modernist house is similar to local adaptations of International Modernism explored by architects working in Canterbury, such as Paul Pascoe, Don Donnithorne and Miles Warren. The Sutton House and Garden’s combination of conventions of the traditional with the modern has been described as reflecting Sutton’s own art practice, which also has a similar tension between the modern and conventional.

Comparative Information – artists’ houses/studios

The Sutton House and Garden can be compared to the home studios of other well-known New Zealand artists. Of interest locally, Tom Taylor, the designer of Bill Sutton’s house studio, also designed a house and studio for another of their artist colleagues, Doris Lusk/Holland and her family, at 530 Gloucester Street, Christchurch – still standing with its mono-pitch roof, this appears to have been built in stages in the 1960s and first half of the 1970s. It appears in Rodney Wells’ publication, Christchurch Heritage Houses II, published in 2017.

Rita Angus’s cottage, Colin McCahon’s cottage and Brian Brake’s house have recognised heritage value through entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero. The Rita Angus Cottage (List No. 2291, Category 1 historic place) was the artist’s Wellington home from 1955 but had been built in the nineteenth century and the McCahon Cottage (List No. 5259, Category 2 historic place) was an existing small dwelling in Titirangi, Auckland, that McCahon worked from, added to and altered over time to accommodate his growing family. Brian Brake House (Former) (List No. 9649, Category 1 historic place), also in Titirangi, Auckland, is an acclaimed Modern Movement pavilion-style design by architect Ron Sang, commissioned by the international photojournalist and photographer as a home and photographic studio for himself in 1976 and built in 1976-1977. In addition, both Ralph Hotere’s home and studio in Dunedin and Gottfried Lindauer’s house and studio in Woodville are being considered for entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero in 2021-2022. Lindauer designed and supervised the building of his house and studio in the late nineteenth century and he worked from there for 37 years, just like Bill Sutton in his own purpose-built home-studio in Christchurch. In comparison, the Rita Angus, Colin McCahon and Ralph Hotere houses were already in existence when each moved into the respective properties.

The inclusion of the Sutton House and Garden in the Artist in Residence scheme fills a need within Christchurch as, unlike other major cities, it has not previously included an artist’s former home. For example, Auckland has the McCahon Artist’s Residence and Wellington has the Rita Angus Residency in her former home.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1963 -

2006 -
Upstairs bathroom modified; south-easternmost room with washhouse extended; storeroom converted to an office.

2019 - 2020
Replacement garage door; installation of internal wheelchair ramp within former garage space; removal of foil insulation; insertion of two gates in the north-east corner of the boundary fence; insertion of dropped ceiling in kitchen; replacement of rotten timbers, repair of fibrous plaster wall and ceiling linings, installation of structural bracing; removal of damaged northern section of concrete block street-fronting wall.

Construction Details

Timber, concrete, glass, corrugated steel, brick.

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

18th February 2022

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

Hansen, 2013

Hansen, Jeremy (ed.), Modern: New Zealand Homes from 1938-1977, Auckland, 2013

Blundell, 2021

Blundell, Sally, ‘Last House Standing: The living legacy of W. A. Sutton’, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū, Bulletin B.204

Hoddinott, 2021

Hoddinott, Wendy, Sutton House Garden and Setting Conservation Plan, Christchurch City Council, 2021

Roberts, Coley, Fusco, Hearnshaw and Unger, 2003

Neil Roberts, John Coley, Cassandra Fusco, Vickie Hearnshaw and Pat Unger, W.A. Sutton: A Retrospective, Christchurch Art Gallery, 2003

Spoonley, 1973

Spoonley, P. (Ed.), View From a Painter’s Studio. In Practical Guide to Home Landscaping, Reader’s Digest Services Pty Ltd: Australia, (2nd ed., 1973, pp. 30–31)

Tau, 2016

Te Maire Tau, Grand Narratives, Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, 2016

Unger, 2008

Unger, Pat, Bill’s Story: A Portrait of W.A. Sutton, Canterbury University Press, 2008

Unger, 1994

Unger, Pat, W.A. Sutton, Painter, Hazard Press, 1994

Other Information


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 Pouhere Taonga office for archaeological advice.

A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero report is available on request from the Canterbury/West Coast Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.