REVIEW: Mid-Century Living: The Butterfly House Collection.

Mid Century Living

Mid Century LivingBoth enthusiastic op-shoppers and those interested in the history of design in New Zealand will love this book by well-known philanthropist Christine Fernyhough.

When she decided to extend her iconic fibrolite clad kiwi bach she wanted to pay homage to its character and to decorate it in fifties style, a golden era in our design history.

This started her on an insatiable quest to collect mid-century pieces at garage sales, op shops and hospice shops where she could pick them up for next to nothing. Of late she has widened her search to auctions and the internet which is costlier. She paid a whopping $400 for a fine hand-blown beer drinking glass.

Christine Fernyhough’s beach house (much too large now to be called a bach) is filled to the brim with her collection which she started twenty- five years ago.

It could have turned into a hoarder’s nightmare as every nook and cranny is filled with her finds. But thanks to her interior decorating skills she has arranged them very artistically. Her Butterfly House (as she named it) looks amazing and is a feast for the eyes as well as the intellect.

Her house is well-loved and used by her multigenerational family who somehow manage to weave their way around all her treasures and have loads of fun together. Although there was one unfortunate incident when one of the grandchildren tested their octogenarian great-grandfather’s assertion that he could field a rugby ball coming at him from any angle and at any speed.

In her book Christine Fernyhough takes us on a photographic tour through different parts of her house. In different chapters we visit The Living Room, The Posh Room, The Library, The Kitchen, The Bedrooms, The Laundry and the Outside. In each room she describes and traces the history of pieces of furniture, ceramics, tableware, utensils, lamps, naïve art, Royal family memorabilia, hand coloured scenic posters and Crown Lynn ware.

She has a very special affection for homemade objects and it is still her favourite pastime to collect those.

If you grew up in the fifties or sixties you may well remember having some of these items in your family home. And more than likely donated most of them to op shops or school fairs after your parents died because you thought them too quaint and old fashioned.

But Christine Fernyhough loves them because they are one-offs. They speak to her of an earlier age before there were disruptions like TV and social media. People had time for hobbies, women crocheted and knitted, men worked with wood and people made use of our natural environment to create objects from our native woods, clay, shells and flax. Their creations may be humble, but they were carefully and lovingly crafted.

What I found fascinating is how carefully she has researched the stories behind them and provides detailed descriptions

For instance, about a piece of shell art she writes:

‘A rugby lover has cut from the Weekly News a team photo of the South African Rugby Team (Springboks)  from their 1965 tour of New Zealand, complete with the names of each player, and placed it in a frame decorated with assorted New Zealand shells like cats’ eyes, limpets, trumpets, pieces of paua , small scallop shells  and the most common shell of all -the fan shell in yellow, orange and purple.’

Her handmade oven cloth shows how careful people were after the Depression and the world wars to recycle; nothing went to waste.

‘It was made from a jute sack- recycling a sugar bag or a potato sack. A treadle Singer sewing machine would have been used to sew the strip of cotton to the edge before the brightly coloured flowers were hand-embroidered in such a charming naïve way. What’s best about this oven cloth is the use of the suspender belt clip to hang it onto a cup hook.’

Mid-Century Living: The Butterfly House Collection is more than just another gorgeous coffee table book full of photographs to browse through. It is a treasure trove of information about mid-century decorative and applied arts. And the fact that we too might be able to hunt some of these down in our local op shop or hospice shop adds to the pleasure.

Mid-Century Living: The Butterfly House Collection is by Christine Fernyhough. Publisher: Penguin Random House NZ. RRP $60.

Reviews by Lyn Potter

Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook

Read more by Lyn here.