Mike & Vicki's Place


Fourteen years ago, artist and designer Mike Petre bought what seemed to be a terminally run-down council house on five acres down Ward Rd, Matakana. It was actually the original farmhouse, thought to be built in the late 1800s. The little block had been carved off the huge farm that ran between Matakana Valley Rd and Omaha Flats, with Mt Tamahunga looming benignly in the background. The place was rather interestingly marketed as a “Handyman's Wife's Nightmare.” But the agent hadn't reckoned on the remarkable skill-set and sheer determination of Mike.

“It had been two stories high, but somebody along the way had 'bungalised' it," Mike says ruefully. “The kitchen was so tiny, I could touch all the walls without moving. All the windows had been shot out and there was cow poo in the lounge. It was unloved – but underneath it all it was in really good nick.”

He slogged 80-90 hour weeks for five months, with help from friends. The best bits were kept; tongue-in-groove panelling and original mortise and tenon lintels were lovingly conserved for their craftsmanship. Although some walls were taken out, Mike reckons, "It's nice to have hidden nooks – and an L-shaped lounge gives you more room to hang art!"

Space for Mike’s rather large art collection was factioned into the renovation. This was lucky in hindsight: Vicki’s collection was soon to double it. The pair have done a lot of bartering over the years with many of their artist friends. Mike would build a shed or a fence for someone and get a piece of art in return. In this way they’ve built up a formidable collection of NZ art across a wide range of media.

Mike hails from Piopio in the King Country and comes from solid farming stock. Part of his design degree at Carrington Tech was a dissertation on rural architecture, particularly the relationships between buildings and outdoor spaces. He believes firmly that "interior design should begin at your letterbox" and began setting out the property on these principles.

A couple of years down the track, Vicki Fanning was over her film catering job in Wellington and wanting to get back home to Matakana and make art. Vicki had studied ceramics at Carrington, followed by glass at Wanganui. She's born and raised in Rodney; went to Kaipara Flats Primary and Mahurangi College.

Mike and Vicki had been good friends at art school in the nineties, so when Mike heard she was coming home, he offered her a flat-share in his new house. As Mike's cattle beast canvases took off, so did Vicki's witty glassworks, all produced in their shared studio close to the house.

Recently, Vicki's been spending more time with small son Sam, and putting a lot of energy into creative programmes at the local school. So although she’s still fitting in her beautiful glasswork whenever she can, she has utilised her original training and started a new ceramics business. The rustic domestic flatware she's producing now under the brand ‘Frolic’ is quicker and easier than glass for these busy parenting years – and it's proving almost too popular. Customers at local homewares store Green With Envy are clamouring for it; Brick Bay’s Glass House restaurant and soon the new Sawmill Brewery will feature her platters, bowls, plates and cups.

Vicki has also created a special ceramic container for the organic microgreens she loves. “I got really over having a plastic tub on my windowsill that dripped everywhere, so thought I’d just make something to fix it,” she shrugs. Mandy and Craig of Organic Herbs and Seedlings now sell the deep, square bowls alongside their microgreens on their stall at the Matakana Farmers' Markets.

Meanwhile, Mike's art is fending off an attempted takeover from his architecture. Since he designed a well-known local house, as well as Matakana's Vivian Gallery a couple of years ago, clients have been lining up for his highly-crafted take on 'the elegant shed’. He’s finding it a little hard to keep up, but thinks it’d be worse if he had a mobile phone. Yep – Mike doesn't own a cellphone, and never uses computers. Ever.

All his design work is done the old-fashioned way – draughted by hand – and he firmly believes in face-to-face meetings as the best way to conduct business. Mike smiles and shrugs. “It drives everyone nuts, but somehow it seems to work. And it keeps me focused and grounded.” He's currently working hard on the soon-to-open Sawmill Brewery, and also has a couple of houses on the back-burner.

The two are both very handy and have done all the work around the block themselves. The majority is recycled; Mike is a demo-yard addict. He also has an abiding love for native timbers, holding forth on the special characters of totara and rimu. When he heard of a huge amount of storm-felled beech going for a great price down on the West Coast, he jumped at it. He’s turned it into an extraordinary sarked feature wall at the new Sawmill Brewery.

In any tiny amount of spare time, they garden – Mike and Vicki share a deep need to connect with the soil. There are overflowing vege beds, banks of lush hydrangeas and orchard trees, both very old and new. Vicki's extraordinary dahlia garden pays its way, with cut flowers being sold at Charlie's Gelato Garden in Sharp Road, Matakana.

“Art, gardening, building – it all crosses over,” observes Vicki. “It's a natural evolution that's all based on scale and textures and spaces.” There’s virtually nothing this couple does that isn’t creative, in a no-nonsense kind of way. There’s not a scrap of arty-fartiness about them, but they’ve made a home that’s a showcase for art and their many artist friends – and a harmonious outdoor haven.

*Note to readers: if anyone out there has any information on the history of the house, please get in touch with Vicki, on 09 422 7180.

Vicki will have new glassworks in a shared show with Elizabeth McClure at the Vivian Gallery later this year.

Mike's work can be seen in various shows at the Vivian Gallery throughout the year. He also has a solo show at the Milford Galleries in Queenstown in October.

www.thevivian.co.nz  |  www.milfordgalleries.co.nz