Jan McCready says she was a goth before the word had been invented. And she’s still drawn to the moody and mysterious. Her 1920s stucco house in Parnell, Auckland is a Gothic dream. The interior is filled floor to ceiling with dramatic sculptures and artefacts (some look like escapees from a Gothic cathedral), distinctive paintings (a few are frankly alarming), as well as an altar’s worth of candles.
But Jan is not of a religious bent, nor has she a religious background. She just buys what she likes and what she likes must speak to her. The list has Marilyn Monroe near the top for style, hence the two large Andy Warhol-esque graphic images of the 1950s movie star, plus a photo poster.
Next on the list are Chinese horses, partly because Jan was once a keen rider but also because she likes their form. She likes starburst mirrors (there are three above her bed) and gilt, which explains the massive gold pelmet above the bed and the golden frames and decorations around the house. She also loves whimsy, marble busts and marble generally, as well as French furniture, though she doesn’t follow French style.
* A Cosy Arrowtown cottage
* A Mid-century Christchurch home
* A beachfront at Mt Maunganui
There are many more things Jan likes; some she didn’t even know she had a penchant for until she clapped eyes on them. The new-found objects of desire are often uncovered at the many auctions she attends. In fact, Jan was such a regular at Webb’s auction house she befriended the staff and now works there on contract.
Auctions offer great value, she says, and prices have fallen massively in recent years. Items that once cost thousands in antiques shops can now be bought for hundreds at auction.
“I tell young people you can buy a good Georgian chest of drawers for $300 to $400 and then you can paint it and make it your own. But young people don’t go to auctions. They spend that kind of money on mass-produced furniture, but why do that when you can buy something unusual and different? You do have to be patient though.”
She doesn’t care about buying from prestigious makers or as an investment. Indeed, she often can’t remember who made a piece or its provenance.
She cares about a work resonating with energy and how it will balance with other pieces and enhance a particular room.
“It’s too easy to follow what people perceive to be fashion trends and not create anything distinctive. You know, those old villas in magazines with the back pushed out and the kitchen with high stools and everything looking same, same, same.”
Jan, husband John and their 23-year-old son Jordan have lived in the house for nine years and in that time the couple have, slowly, room by room, upgraded the place, a huge task that involved extensive rewiring and replumbing.
Remodelling the garden involved four years of thought and planning, 10 months to execute, several diggers, a lot of mud and dust, and the staff at Mace Landscape Group who, she says, did a brilliant job. Jan knew exactly what she wanted. “When I was young I went to Versailles and fell in love with the structured garden and topiaries there. As much as I love the look of English country gardens, I’m happy with green and scent. For me, they are the two things a garden must have. Green is wonderful; it gives such depth and texture.”
Cosmo the Irish terrier loves a good scratch on the fake lawn while Jax the Bengal cat favours the sunny spots indoors.
John thankfully is an agreeable man and appreciates his wife’s taste. Every now and then he’ll raise a questioning eyebrow but then seems to happily live with whatever she chooses, says Jan.
Both of them though are especially fond of the large landscape mural across the bedroom cupboards painted by Rita Vovna.
“The painting is covered in shellac so when the sun comes in in the morning the whole thing glows like an orange dawn.”
Working at an auction house is a risky occupation for a collector with a good eye, although Jan believes there’s no such thing as “enough” when you can sell pieces on.
Jan’s treasures might come and go, but this house is a keeper. The double brick exterior is warm in winter and cool in summer. It’s also well located, built to the sun and close to the city with views of trees as well as the Sky Tower. But, best of all, the Parnell home has got Jan McCready’s signature style all over it.