New Zealand’s official home away from home

| April 20, 2014 | 0 Comments
The home of New Zealand High Commissioner Simon Tucker and his wife, Penny, is a showcase of New Zealand art and culture. Photos by Dyanne Wilson  

The home of New Zealand High Commissioner Simon Tucker and his wife, Penny, is a showcase of New Zealand art and culture. Photos by Dyanne Wilson

In winter, you might notice a snowman at the front door of a new, contemporary home on a modest street in Rockcliffe Park. Next to it is an official-looking flagpole, proudly bearing the flag of New Zealand. The message: a family lives here — and so does the country’s head of mission.
The high commissioner, Simon Tucker, and his wife, Penny, admit they are the lucky residents of a wonderful home, specially designed and built by the New Zealand government. The aim of the new home’s design is to reflect the cultural and family life of their country, down to the smallest detail. The design works for formal and family living, as do the colours, furniture, carpets and art.

The contemporary furniture comes from a New Zealand-based company, including the wood dining room tables and chairs.

The contemporary furniture comes from a New Zealand-based company, including the wood dining room tables and chairs.

For 40 years, between 1959 and 1999, New Zealand owned a more typical diplomatic residence, a large Rockcliffe mansion on Crescent Road, that it sold to the Turkish embassy as part of the government’s divestment program.
“It made sense to build our own [residences] in countries where we have longstanding, stable relationships,” says High Commissioner Tucker.
With the purchase of a rundown property on Placel Road in 2011, and a policy that focuses on making an official residence a diplomatic tool, New Zealand architects, who worked with a Canadian architectural firm, envisioned an environment that, along with timeless design, highlights the country’s place in the Pacific, its bicultural and multicultural society and its artists and craftspeople.
The plan also included a provision that the new house would not only reflect New Zealand as a contemporary and progressive country, but would look different from the Canadian houses on the street.

Simon and Penny Tucker

Simon and Penny Tucker

The finished product achieves all these things, with a design that consists of a series of interconnecting and interlocking boxes. With a nod to its host, the house is clad in Canadian cedar, but stained black, a New Zealand national colour. (Recall the All Blacks, the famous New Zealand Rugby team.)
Inside, the house displays its real strengths. Its square rooms are bright, simple and elegant, with light streaming from full-length windows and reflecting off white walls that show off great splashes of colour. The reception rooms are on the street side of the house, while the family section is at the back,  facing the patio and the garden.
The main reception rooms feature grey New Zealand timber panelling with brown trim and splashes of red to reflect the pohutukawa, a coastal evergreen that produces bright red flowers. The effect recalls the sea and the sandy beaches of New Zealand.

The dining room has windows on two sides, looking out onto the pretty lot.

The dining room has windows on two sides, looking out onto the pretty lot.

A dramatic, contemporary rug by well-known New Zealand fashion designer Kate Sylvester again picks up the blacks, greys, sand and reds of the country, while a dramatic black metallic chandelier is the work of New Zealand furniture designer David Trubridge. Even the contemporary furniture comes from a New Zealand-based company, including the wood dining room tables and chairs. Several sofas and easy chairs are Canadian-made and meld well with their New Zealand counterparts.
The formal living room leads into another living room, a second official space that can be open or closed via a series of sliding doors. The dining room, with its sizable windows, will seat 16 for dinner and can be closed off or opened up to the large family room and open-concept kitchen. A delicate group of hand-blown “bubbles,” or pendants, by New Zealand  glass-blower Katie Brown light the dining table.

The home’s receiving rooms are bright, simple and elegant, with light streaming from full-length windows and reflecting off white walls that show off great splashes of colour.

The home’s receiving rooms are bright, simple and elegant, with light streaming from full-length windows and reflecting off white walls that show off great splashes of colour.

“It is like a house at home,” Mrs. Tucker says of New Zealand, where the idea of indoor-outdoor living is carried through the home, with glass doors leading onto the patio, garden and barbecue. When every wall is open, the house can accommodate more than 120 people for a stand-up reception. But the high commissioner notes that he sat 60 people in the family room recently for a wine-tasting.

In the spring, trees shade the leafy property.

In the spring, trees shade the leafy property.

With two young daughters, the casual family aspect of the house works perfectly. There is a large finished basement for the children to play in and a discreet staircase that leads from there to the four-bedroom second floor. Mr. Tucker notes that the basement also includes a good office and a wine cellar.
An eclectic art collection scattered throughout the main floor, including some aboriginal work, photography, sculpture and contemporary pieces, gives a vivid snapshot of New Zealand’s culture.
In the front hall, a painting features a Maori pattern often seen in aboriginal weaving, while the formal living room boasts a framed kete (basket) made of New Zealand flax in the traditional Maori weaving technique.
One of the Tuckers’ favourite pieces hangs in the dining room; a work called Maui Snares the Sun, based on a famous   Maori legend.
Mrs. Tucker is especially fond of New Zealand sculptor Neil Dawson’s aluminum and stainless steel wall-hanging in the formal reception room. The well-known sculptor’s Well Dome explores positive and negative space.
The high commissioner has been in Ottawa for just more than a year. His career has featured life in diplomacy and outside it. Most recently, he spent eight years working in the private sector in Washington while his wife, a lawyer, worked as a lobbyist.
“I loved it,” she says. But with two small children, the couple decided they should be brought up as New Zealanders and they returned home.
Both show great enthusiasm for the job and their official home-away-from-home.
“It’s just like a normal house,” they say. Well, almost.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor. Photos by Dyanne Wilson

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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