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At home with Grand Designs’ Chris Moller

What's his idea of the dream home?

The item in my house that never fails to make me smile is… 

My bookshelf, full of gems and inspiration. It’s absolutely chocker and a bit chaotic. It’s largely got collections on stuff I love – sailing, architecture and books I inherited from Dad on automobiles. He was an automotive engineer; he restored cars and there were always projects going on in our garage.

My ultimate holiday destination is…

The small towns and villages of southern Europe. Norman Carver’s photographic essays had a big effect on me. He wrote several books in the late 1950s and early 60s with beautiful black and white photographs of southern European hill towns.

When I first went to Europe in the 80s I made a photocopy of a little map in the back of one of his books and went exploring for six months or so. My daily routine was to do 10 sketches a day – to use drawing as a tool to observe. Those hill towns are a fantastic model for sustainability – they are compact with all the resources you need to live, work and farm.

A perfect Saturday is spent…

Walking the bush-clad hills or the beach.”

My dream house is…

The little mountain hut we call our home. It is a basic cottage from the 1940s and we’ve added a little Click-Raft studio, using the crazy building system I’ve developed. Our home is just 100 square metres, very simple. We are immersed in the bush up a 45-degree slope. There is no drive-on access – so we have to carry in everything up 200 steps.

I feel passionate about…

Protecting what we have. John Scott was a famous Maori architect who designed Futuna Chapel in Wellington. He was a very important mentor for me. Being Maori he had a really deep feeling for the land. One of his buildings is the Aniwaniwa Visitor Centre in Waikaremoana, which was commissioned by DOC and supported by local iwi.

It was recently announced it will be demolished, which is really disturbing. To be removing any of John’s buildings is sacrilege.

My signature dish is…

A good Bolognese sauce sweated down with garlic and onions and lots of olives, mushrooms, a caper or two, seasoned with oregano, topped with parmesan cheese and served with a glass of montepulciano.

If I could invent one thing it would be…

An elegant, well-designed, low-cost building system.

The book that changed my life was…

Walden Pond by Henry David Thoreau. It’s about Thoreau’s two-year experiment with sustainable living. He was a transcendentalist, focused on being tuned into nature. He said to dwell doesn’t mean to be in a house, it means to be in tune with the place that you live. I think that is really lovely. In the old days a house was less about being disconnected from the land and more about engaging you with it.

When I’m working hard I like to unwind by listening to…

J.J.Cale or Brian Eno.

Wellington-based architect Chris Moller is the host of Grand Designs NZ, currently screening on Sundays at 8.30pm on TV3.

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