The blue house at the beach
By Sara Goessi
Artist John Coley was looking out the kitchen window from his house at Waikuku a couple of years ago when he saw a couple standing outside looking at the house.
“Being a sociable, affable kind of a guy, I invited them in,” he says.
Ann and Brian Oldfield accepted his invitation and spent the next hour and a half chatting to John and his wife Fay, and at some point during the conversation, asked if the bach was for sale.
“As a matter of fact,” John recalls, “we’d been turning over in our minds the idea of going to Auckland.”
The property was becoming harder for them to maintain, and they had a son and grandchildren in Auckland.
The Oldfields had been visiting Waikuku when the house on Rotten Row caught Ann’s eye. They went away and considered the figure John had mentioned. Eventually, the house changed hands.
Originally from Christchurch, the Coleys had bought their first holiday house in Waikuku in 1974 with the proceeds of one of John’s exhibitions. When they sold it in 1982 John says they felt at a loss for somewhere to go in the weekend. So they bought the property on Rotten Row - a sturdy bach built in the 1940s (the name Rotten Row probably came from a street near Hyde Park, in London).
Fay designed the garden and they commissioned an architect to add a studio for John, an apartment over the garage to make room for guests and the colour scheme that distinguishes it today.
They still had a house in the city, though. “When I retired, we planned to give it a couple of years and see where we ended up,” John says. They found they were spending more time at the beach than at their townhouse so in 1997 they sold up and moved to the beach.
“We loved it to bits,” John says. They also loved being part of the Waikuku community. John helped found an artists group, and Fay was instrumental in protecting a public park from being turned into residential land. “Their love for the area flowed through in many ways,” Ann says.
Ann and Brian live in Australia, but spend several weeks in Waikuku each year.
“We have kept it very much the way they had it,” Ann says. The one major change has been converting John’s studio into the main bedroom.
They’ve also continued the Coleys’ tradition of having lots of guests. “It’s the kind of house you want to open up and invite people in,” Ann says – just as John invited them in at their first meeting.
“We have discovered many stories about John’s generosity in Waikuku with his art,” Brian says. “And we feel very privileged to own his former property.”
John Coley: a short biography
John Coley attended the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury and held his first one-man show in 1959. He later taught art, served on the boards of theatre, opera and other arts organisations, and from 1981 to 1995 was director of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, the predecessor of the Christchurch Art Gallery.
He has also written biographies of Nelson artist Jane Evans and Christchurch architect Charles Luney. John and his wife Fay now live in Auckland.