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This dated Waiheke Island 70s gem has been transformed into an island oasis

PR executive-turned-ceramacist Lauren Young and her current affairs reporter and keen gardener husband John Hudson left city life for a lush paradise by the sea.

Meet & Greet

Lauren Young (PR executive and ceramacist) and John Hudson (TVNZ current affairs reporter), Yorkshire terriers Molly and Harry, and Cornish Rex Nico

If you’re looking for Lauren Young and John Hudson during daylight hours, you probably won’t find them in their house. PR-maven-turned-ceramacist Lauren will be in her studio and TVNZ current affairs reporter John will be out on their Waiheke Island property. “Here comes John on his tractor,” says Lauren. “He’s moving stuff around because he can.” Lauren and John have created an oasis on 4.5ha bordering a little bay on the southern side of the island and life is good. “John’s the gardener and the cook, and I’m the ceramacist. We are living the dream, but it wasn’t a planned dream. It’s happened incrementally,” she explains. Last year they cut their final property tie with Auckland and sold their city apartment.

The couple already had strong links to Waiheke before settling here. As a child, John spent family holidays at Palm Beach; Lauren bought a bach at Onetangi when she was in her early 30s. Later they built a “grand home”on the island, but after Lauren visited culinary queen Annabel Langbein’s property in Wānaka, she decided she wanted gardens – big gardens – and the hunt for a new home with land began.

Finding nirvana
It was more than 11 years ago when Lauren first set eyes on the property that shimmies down to the water. John was away for work and a real estate agent was showing her available spreads.

“This was one of the first places,” she says. “He took me to the beach… Luckily he left the house until last. I remember saying [to John], ‘I’m sitting here looking at this most amazing place.’”

The deal was done and so the work began. Their first forays onto the land revealed a wetland under rubbish, plus a macadamia plantation. Lauren seemed to be pulling weeds forever. “It was great, but it was pioneering stuff. I got repetitive strain injuries and needed injections into my thumbs.”

The 1970s four-bedroom home with two living areas and library also needed lots of attention. “It was a nightmare,” recalls Lauren. “You walked in the front door and were confronted with a stained glass window, and the laundry and bathroom were on the northern side. It was dark and looked like it had been built by a committee.”

It was a radical change from what they’d come from, “a very nice villa on the northern slopes of Herne Bay”. The only cool thing about it was the spiral staircase, she adds, though she later concedes that there was another plus – the house wraps around a pool.

Despite the work that lay ahead, they decided to base themselves on the property. Lauren could work from home and John commuted to the city. “The first winter was cold. There was virtually no insulation and I was huddled up in front of a pathetic little pot-belly stove, freezing,” Lauren says. “We’ve fixed all that.”

They’ve also renovated twice, built two guest villas to provide an income, and installed a 10sqm chalet for Lauren to work on her ceramics. They’re now building Lauren a studio that’s three times the size.

This is home. “I love Waiheke – the smallness, the community here and good friends.”

Potted history
Lauren always thought the garden would be her domain, but a gift from John’s daughter, Jazz, changed all that. She was impressed with the ceramic vase Jazz had crafted and contacted the local pottery club. “I was given a wheel to use, some tips and went for it. Within a month, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

That was five years ago and she now spends seven days a week in her studio, while John tends to vegetable gardens that flourish in tunnel houses, mows the lawn (a day’s work) and maintains the property which also includes 240 olive trees, from which they make oil.

He’s also a dab hand in the kitchen. “He’s a really good cook, much more experimental than I am. A friend gave him this wonderful cookery book called The Roads to Rome, so he’s going through an Italian phase.” Lauren’s jobs include looking after the swimming pool and the goldfish.

She’s an early riser and each day starts with a cup of tea, and then she and John take turns making breakfast for each other. “John is the best omelette maker; he gets my home-made granola.” Then she heads to the studio. “I’ve done 15,000 hours and spend 60–70 hours there. I love it,” she says. “I’m getting to the point where I know my work is getting good in terms of execution and form. I just haven’t found my voice yet.” Not that she would presume to put her pieces alongside those in her ceramics collection – there are just a couple of her own works in the library.

It’s a constant learning curve, she says of her craft, and she’s currently experimenting with making her own glazes. “I didn’t do terribly well at chemistry [at school] and having to revisit all that and understand how things work in certain ways is interesting, but challenging.”

House, mouse and mid-century nous
While the house is not what they would ever have designed, “we’ve made it work,” says Lauren. They’ve renovated twice, although the second revamp wasn’t planned. “We had a mouse in the house and it ate through the wires in our dishwasher. We put the dishwasher on and went to bed. John got up to discover a couple of inches of water and the dishwasher had caught fire.” The fire and flood damage entailed another reno.

The house is full of treasures, although Lauren is finding the older she gets, “the more I want to chuck out”. Her taste tends towards mid-century modern, so she’s been decluttering.

In pride of place are pieces of furniture by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto – chairs, a coffee table and bar stools. On the walls are paintings, including one by New Zealand artist Karl Maughan, and photos by Peter Peryer, including one of Lauren. Mid-century art glass pieces are among the few items taken from the city apartment.

Lauren has always been drawn to ceramics and her collection of Crown Lynn pieces is displayed in illuminated shelving. “I sold my original collection to put my kitchen in and I have regrets. Pieces have gone that I can never replace.”

John’s aesthetic, she says, is the opposite. He likes utensils and urns, but by and large, he’s pretty easy going.

Isle of right
The couple have no pangs for the mainland. They have everything they need here. Lauren can still do PR projects and John can produce the odd story for Sunday. Family – the couple also has a daughter Holly – is not far away, and the villas and ceramics provide an income. Guests at Putaki Bay Villas also experience a true taste of the property: olive oil from their trees and a little ceramic dish made by Lauren.

The property is also big enough to keep their animals – Yorkshire terriers, Molly and Harry, and Cornish rex cat, Nico – safe, without curtailing their freedom. When the dogs are not with Lauren in the studio, they spend their days chasing rabbits.

It’s a fulfilling and busy life that offers all they want and need, even if it wasn’t entirely planned. “It’s all go here,” Lauren says, as the tractor trundles past again.
bemyguestwaiheke.co.nz, laurenyoungceramics.co.nz

Words by: Fiona Barber Photography: Helen Bankers

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