Mangawhai Art House

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This Mangawhai home is steeped in the arts – owners MandyThomsett-Taylor and Glen Taylor both have decades of creativity in their backgrounds, and it shows wherever you look. Glen started out in auction houses in London before arriving in New Zealand in 1981. He and a partner set up their own auction house in Devonport working in general antiques before starting a shop on Ponsonby Road called Urban Attitude. But life had other plans for Glen. He was helping a friend do some building in Auckland when he met the neighbour, artist Michael Parekowhai. They got on well, and Michael asked him to come and do some work with him. Glen ended up as one of four studio members who fabricated and installed Michael’s art for years – including those bulls on those pianos. He and Mandy went to the 2011 Venice Biennale for the launch of the Parekowhai exhibition. “It was definitely one of the highlights of my life,” Glen confirms, thoughtfully. These days he’s self employed – applying his skills part-time to gardening, both in Mangawhai and Auckland. Mandy, meanwhile, is multi-tasking. She works part-time at The Vivian Gallery in Matakana, and has just built a professionally-appointed, large art studio at their new home in Mangawhai – a long-held dream. She’s teaching painting and drawing; her classes are small and designed to build confidence and skills. The pair have also planned and executed a fabulous apartment adjoining the studio, which they’ve had fun furnishing and setting up as an Air BnB rental. Dubbed ‘Art House’, they opened in January this year and have already been very busy. “The people we’ve had have been just fantastic – we’ve really enjoyed it,” says Mandy. They both feel very settled here. They’ve moved a lot in their time together and Mandy was brought up never staying more than a year in one place. She was born in a caravan in Whangarei but the family went back to her father’s home in Brighton for eight years soon after. “Dad was an entrepreneur who was always having the next idea… and my mother was a wild and restless soul who always needed to move. Whenever there was a storm she’d wrap my sister and I up and head out; for her it was compulsory to go outside and run around in thunderstorms. She was a hugely creative person who could make a home out of a little arrangement of found objects wherever we washed up.” Mandy came back to NZ as a teenager. She’s dyslexic; she hated school and couldn’t wait to leave. She spent her longest period of work selling vintage clothes at Cook Street market in the seventies – ten years. When it was demolished (a terrible day) Mandy and her sister opened a vintage shop called Deluxe in His Majesty’s Arcade until that, too, was demolished in 1987. She had met Glen by then and had moved from Piha to Devonport and finally to Matakana, 25 years ago. They had two daughters and, once they were well into school years, Mandy began an arts degree. Since those days Mandy has gained a Masters degree with Honours. She’s been a finalist for the Wallace Awards twice and had many successful exhibitions. She has taught art at tertiary level for over 15 years. And she has survived breast cancer. But in 2014, a major restructure of the Unitec arts and design department saw Mandy’s beloved teaching job taken from her. They were back in Auckland then, in Titirangi – their two girls had moved overseas and Glen was ready for a sea change. They made the decision to move back up north. They didn’t want a mortgage, so Matakana was out. They wanted somewhere close to the water and amenities but away from hustle and bustle. Somewhere with a bit of land to garden and be self-sustaining to a degree; but not too much to be onerous. They found the perfect spot – down a bush-lined lane five minutes from Mangawhai Heads, with their own track to the estuary. It had a character-filled old cottage on it, a single big room with a high, rough-sawn ceiling. Mandy had a weird feeling that she’d seen the age-distressed paint on the walls before. They found out that the building had been moved there from Carrington – which had become Unitec – where she’d taught for all those years and which had ended so badly… she had misgivings. But the building had had a long and varied life: as a classroom, a printing studio, a laundry – and in this location, a women’s retreat. It had a good vibe. They ripped into it – added bedrooms, a cosy TV room, an industrial kitchen, decks; utilising everything they could and repurposing whatever they loved. Old stained-glass interior windows came out into the light on the deck, lush cerise velvet curtains draped rustic French doors. “I’ve dragged that velvet round with me for years! Finally, it’s home,” smiles Mandy. And there’s art, and light, everywhere. Her best design tip? “Fashion doesn’t matter,” she says. “It’s about putting together the things you love, that have meaning for you.” Mandy and Glen spend a lot of time out on the big covered deck overlooking the little pond, eating with friends or around the campfire. They’ve planted fruit trees and natives. A functional storage shed has become a beautiful, be-decked sleep-out for friends’ sleepovers. Tentative future plans include opening the studio for visiting artists to come and do weekend workshops; good friend Mark Braunias has already indicated interest. In fact, the studio could be rented out for anything really – and Mandy can do the catering. Their grown-up daughters come and go; lines of shoes outside the door expand and contract. One, a teacher, arrives with her family from Abu Dhabi, the other from Brooklyn, New York. She’s an artist and studio assistant with renowned sculptor Janine Antoni. Mandy and Glen will soon become grandparents for the third time. Life’s good. Enquiries for art classes or accommodation please contact Mandy. E: mandytt@xtra.co.nz | www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/9313298