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We first met Annie Patterson three years ago, when she spoke to Capital about her Thorndon fashion boutique Viva. At the time, discussing retirement, she confided, “The thought fills me with horror!” so it’s no surprise that when we catch up again she’s just finished work for the day. Annie laughs when I remind her: “I probably am a workaholic. I still get up really early and do lots of things,” she says. “Well I used to be a workaholic. I’m quite lazy now.”
By lazy, Annie means she starts work at 10am, not 9, and on Sundays she takes a whole day off to rest. She doesn’t go out to quite as many restaurants and shows as she used to – though considering how famously social I’ve been told she was, that’s to be expected –and is more than happy to retrace familiar routes through her beloved Thorndon: to work and home again (a two minute round-trip), off to the Victoria Bridge Club where she’s been playing for 17 years, or a little further afield, to Maginnity street for the occasional Dunbar Sloane auction. Christmas will see her hop on a plane to the Cayman Islands to visit one of her daughters, who recently moved there with the grandkids, but even that is pretty straightforward – the bus service to the airport being “basically door to door”.
Annie lives in the Kate Sheppard Apartments on Molesworth Street, right next door to the Backbencher pub and across the road from Parliament. Designed by Hunt Davis Tennant Architects and built in 2004, the 10-level block houses 64 flats, most of which were initially bought as rental properties, but is these days nearly entirely filled with owner-occupiers like Annie.
Annie’s apartment is at the front of the building, the window running the length of her lounge framing a spectacular view of Parliament House, the Parliamentary Library and, off to one side the Beehive. These windows wrap around much of the building, and are one of the main reasons Annie bought the apartment off the plans, back in 2001. “I don’t think the architects appreciated how good the view from this apartment was going to be, because they priced the ones at the back more expensively,” she says, “But I knew it was going to be amazing. It’s like living on Park Lane.”
To tour Annie’s windows is to tour some of the best sights of Wellington. To the south, buildings and streets condense as Thorndon becomes CBD. Through the northern windows the eye heads up Molesworth Street past the pale pink tower of the Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul, toward the slumbering silhouette of the town belt. “I’d only been here a few weeks when we had the worst weather I’ve ever experienced in Wellington, and all the trees came down,” she recalls, “They had to helicopter them out, and it’s only the past couple of years that the growth has started to come back.”
From Annie’s bedroom window, the guest bedroom and the back corner of her lounge you can catch a glimpse the harbour – just a narrow one, but stretching all the way across to Petone. It’s a view she enjoyed for a couple of years before losing it for a decade, when Defence House, the Wellington headquarters of the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence, was built on the waterfront. Then the building was demolished in 2017/18 due to damage from the Kaikoura Earthquake, and Annie got her view back.
All this is just the daytime view. In the evening, it completely transforms. “It becomes magical. The gardens are all lit up, it’s like fairyland out those windows. I still pinch myself about how lucky am I to be here,” she says.
Annie’s apartment is filled with objects collected over a lifetime; solid, imposing wooden lamps that a single person would struggle to lift, a quail skeleton carried home with considerable care from New York, a leopard tub chair bought from Kirkcaldie & Stains about 20 years ago. Then there are the paintings on just about every wall – modern pieces, including a couple of bold cruciforms by Arrowtown artist Jenny Mehrtens, made in homage to Ralph Hotere, but mostly portraits. The eyes of these characters follow you around the apartment – French actress Sarah Bernhardt assessing (and presumedly finding you wanting) from her chaise longue, Napoleon commanding attention (“I don’t like him, ever since somebody pointed out how they exaggerated this region,” Annie confides, gesturing to a crotch so bulging I’d assumed it was purchased for that very reason), while Madame X and W Graham Robertson stand proud and tall above most heads, in a couple of well-executed Ken Hunt copies of the famous John Singer Sargent portraits. These last two used to hang in the Veuve Clicquot room at Wellington restaurant Brasserie Flipp: “They’ve become part of the family now,” says Annie.
After a leisurely tour of the the apartment, Annie asks me again to stay for a drink. Although I’m late for getting home, I find myself accepting; both she and her home have a wonderful warmth which I’m reluctant to leave. I ask how she finds living alone, to which she laughs and says, “It’s certainly better than living with somebody you don’t like!” (The rest of that conversation shall remain off the record). We talk about bridge, family, and the city that she’s watched grow up over the decades.
“It wasn’t that interesting in the 60s, I can tell you. You couldn’t really see the harbour, there were just work sheds all the way round. There were about three restaurants to go to! Wellington now is more vibrant than anywhere,” she says, adding, “Sydney in the 60s however, now that was great fun.”
“I bet you have a whole lot of untold stories from that time,” I say.
“I do,” she says with a smile, “And they shall remain untold.”