Inside Story: Jessica Barter and Charles Walker

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Charles Walker and Jessica Barter in front of their villa. 

Charles Walker and Jessica Barter in front of their villa.  Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Sculpture by Stephen Brookbanks above the piano.

Sculpture by Stephen Brookbanks above the piano. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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The couple's Grey Lynn villa.

The couple’s Grey Lynn villa. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Collected books and artwork by close friends are central features in the home. 

Collected books and artwork by close friends are central features in the home.  Image: Samuel Hartnett

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The four-poster bed was designed by the couple eight years ago and created by metalwork company Powersurge.

The four-poster bed was designed by the couple eight years ago and created by metalwork company Powersurge. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Oud lamp: this piece above the bed was designed by Nat Cheshire, a close friend of the couple and is also a favourite item in the house.

Oud lamp: this piece above the bed was designed by Nat Cheshire, a close friend of the couple and is also a favourite item in the house. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Stephen Brookbanks sculptures.“I met Stephen years ago when we were studying architecture together and he was always making these amazing sculptures from wood and glue.”

Stephen Brookbanks sculptures.“I met Stephen years ago when we were studying architecture together and he was always making these amazing sculptures from wood and glue.” Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Beth Ellery dress. “Beth is a friend who I used to flat with. We lived in an amazing house filled with artists and architecture students. Her work is very architectural in its tailoring, very complex.”

Beth Ellery dress. “Beth is a friend who I used to flat with. We lived in an amazing house filled with artists and architecture students. Her work is very architectural in its tailoring, very complex.” Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Bureaux side table. “It’s a prototype of one of the many pieces Bureaux has made. I love the opportunity we get to create bespoke furniture designs.”

Bureaux side table. “It’s a prototype of one of the many pieces Bureaux has made. I love the opportunity we get to create bespoke furniture designs.” Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Bookshelves. “This is perhaps one area where Charles doesn’t mind clutter. The shelves were made by Stephen Brookbanks and the paintings on the mantelpiece are by Charles.”

Bookshelves. “This is perhaps one area where Charles doesn’t mind clutter. The shelves were made by Stephen Brookbanks and the paintings on the mantelpiece are by Charles.” Image: Samuel Hartnett

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<em>Messenger</em> by James Ross. Purchased from the Muka exhibition, which allows children to choose from a room of prints by established artists, without a parent to guide them.

Messenger by James Ross. Purchased from the Muka exhibition, which allows children to choose from a room of prints by established artists, without a parent to guide them. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Rohan Wealleans painting: gifted to the couple by the artist, a friend, for their wedding in 2010. Its texture resembles seashells.

Rohan Wealleans painting: gifted to the couple by the artist, a friend, for their wedding in 2010. Its texture resembles seashells. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Mocca Master: “It is so great to be able to have a hot pot of coffee sitting ready on a lazy weekend morning... somehow it never burns or loses its freshness,” says Jessica.

Mocca Master: “It is so great to be able to have a hot pot of coffee sitting ready on a lazy weekend morning… somehow it never burns or loses its freshness,” says Jessica. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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Lonely lingerie: Jessica’s stack of lingerie from Lonely is kept in its original boxes. She appreciates the simplicity of the packaging and the style and ethos of the label.

Lonely lingerie: Jessica’s stack of lingerie from Lonely is kept in its original boxes. She appreciates the simplicity of the packaging and the style and ethos of the label. Image: Samuel Hartnett

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It is a feat in itself to pin down two of New Zealand’s top names in architecture for a mid-week, midday chat, but at Charles Walker and Jessica Barter’s villa in Grey Lynn, Auckland there is a sense of two comfortably busy people at the peak of their careers and loving life. On the street verge is a tree decorated with Pacific leis, an ode to Christmas created by a neighbour, and on the front steps the couple’s four-year-old son Jimmy, home from daycare for the morning, is awaiting my visit.

The four-poster bed was designed by the couple eight years ago and created by metalwork company Powersurge.  Image:  Samuel Hartnett

To be home on a weekday is clearly something of a treat for the whole family, who keep a tight schedule. Charles Walker is the creative director of the New Zealand Exhibition at the upcoming Venice Architecture Biennale, an associate professor at AUT and the founding co-director of Colab, which investigates and teaches design and creative technologies.

He has lived and worked all over the world, which gives him a clear perspective of what makes New Zealand architecture unique. In 2005, he authored and edited the highly regarded book, Exquisite Apart: 100 years of Architecture in New Zealand.

Jessica Barter is also part of the team responsible for the New Zealand Exhibition, a job she juggles alongside running her successful architecture and design practice Bureaux, which she founded with friend and fellow architect Maggie Carroll in 2010. 

Charles and Jessica moved from an inner-city apartment when Jimmy was 18 months old, says Jessica.

“Bringing up a child in the city seemed a wonderful idea to pursue, but the reality was different. We love it here though; you can open the house right up and move easily from room to room. We also spend a lot of time on the verandah, overlooking the street.” 

Bookshelves. “This is perhaps one area where Charles doesn’t mind clutter. The shelves were made by Stephen Brookbanks and the paintings on the mantelpiece are by Charles.”  Image:  Samuel Hartnett

The space the villa affords them suits Jessica, who appreciates having all her favourite things on display, something Charles, more a fan of clear surfaces, has graciously accommodated. Jessica once lived in a flat filled with artists and architecture students and a lot of the artwork and sculptural pieces that colour the home have been created by these talented friends.

Several Bureaux-designed furniture pieces also take pride of place in the villa. After completing her architecture degree at Auckland University, where she met Maggie, Jessica undertook a Masters on the topic of domesticity. “It was about all the ‘things’ that are contained within the walls of a home. So the subject of this article is close to my heart,” she says.

Future Islands, the concept for the New Zealand Exhibition, was the brainchild of Charles and Jessica. They came up with the idea while dining at a Dominion Road restaurant. This is just the second time New Zealand will exhibit at Venice, so it is an important opportunity to showcase our architectural talent, style and technologies – and the couple does not take this responsibility lightly. 

Future Islands will consist of 20 floating islands, each populated with architectural models, says Charles.

Bureaux side table. “It’s a prototype of one of the many pieces Bureaux has made. I love the opportunity we get to create bespoke furniture designs.”  Image:  Samuel Hartnett

“Some of these models represent existing buildings and some are speculative or imagined, but together they signify the current and future states of New Zealand architecture. Visitors will be able to move around the islands at their own pace and view the exhibition from their personal standpoint. This concept was derived from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, in which the Venetian explorer recounts tales of 55 cities, which turn out to all be Venice seen from different perspectives. The islands also reference the location of the Biennale, on Venice’s islands.” 

While a long way from Venice, there is a sense that this Grey Lynn villa is an island of refuge for the family, ensconced in comfort, leisure and self-expression.

Future Islands, New Zealand’s national exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale, takes place from May 28–November 27 2016. labiennale.org


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