Futuro House – Guinea Pigs in a Flying Saucer

he_was_there_too_cover_smallI found a book at my local library—He Was There Too: Reminiscences of a Christian Journalist—an autobiography about a local journalist Rosaline Redwood. The interesting part to me was the chapter about buying the first Futuro House built in the Christchurch factory.  The house is still there, now with a second house also on site.

Have a look at thefuturohouse.com for more on this house.


Excerpt from Chapter 2 – Guinea Pigs In A Flying Saucer

“This is the House of Tomorrow”, a voice was saying.

I stared, disbelieving, at the fantastic shape and shining beauty of the ‘thing’ which flitted across the television screen. Like a half-risen moon, encircled with slanted eyes of light. A ‘flying saucer’ had landed from outer space in a factory backyard of this grubby old world! It didn’t look possible.

The gleaming creation was credited with being burglar-proof, noise-proof, rust-proof, hurricane-Proof and any other proof you could think up. Constructed from the latest type of fibreglass reinforced plastic, it was light, yet exceptionally strong, fatigue resistant, and the built-in colour required no maintenance.

Then the picture changed. But the fantasy lingered to unsettle my mind. Could this be the miracle that would solve the problem of our advancing years? The time was coming when we could no longer cope with a garden covering two large sections. Already I’d drawn up plans for a retirement house on the crest of the rocky area. Now the blueprints looked so ordinary. Utterly square.

I dreamed of a shining spheroid with lights aglow, that had hovered and settled on the top of my rock garden.

We’d been brainwashed. So full of enthusiasm for the new venture in living that we didn’t pause to contemplate the snags that could loom before the ‘House of Tomorrow’ became the house of today.

The construction company had found the landing pad for their first permanent flying saucer. They had found their guinea-pigs too, offering themselves on the altar of experimentation without a qualm. We put our house on the market.

“A house in three days”, I boasted to my friends, and they all wanted to come in three days and bring all their friends and relatives to witness the miracle of  promised instant erection.

Since the ‘saucer’ on exhibition sat on spidery legs, already partly launched into space, how was I to know about the endless months before the thing would even get off the ground? So many knots in official red tape to untie that the project was threatened with strangulation at birth.

Ordinary building regulations were not applicable to this totally new concept of domestic architecture. Plumbing, building and electrical inspectors, had to make new rules to fit the fibreglass house of the future.

‘There were specific regulations about sewer pipes sited along walls and under floors, but no inspector had coped with sewer pipes that ran up the leg of a house. There was nothing in the book about that!

The City Council demanded extensive stress tests, until they proved the structure could stand ten times the pressure of an ordinary house. This took time. Weeks ran into months.

Engineers made a faulty foundation siting for one of the legs, and when the ‘saucer’ wouldn’t sit on top, the workmen went on strike.

The three-day construction job had extended to nearly seven months. It was still far from finished. But there was a roof, a floor and a bed. After the hut, it seemed spacious.

Moving in should have been an occasion to celebrate. But living in a revolutionary space-age house, unmasked problems beyond belief. With the blissful ignorance of average guinea-pigs, we were launched into the most gruelling aspect of the trial.

The hydraulic door operated with an element of magic. Richard merely put his hand on a knob, shouted ‘Open Sesame’ and the door glided smoothly out of its fibreglass shell, converting into a streamline staircase as it touched down on the landing pad below.

Inside, I pressed a lever and the contraption flew shut with a clang that would have discouraged the most optimistic burglar. I felt utterly safe. No one could get in.

No one. Not even me, I discovered later. The first time it happened was during a thunderstorm. Rain was pelting down, I was weary from shopping, laden with parcels and exhausted. As I reached up to turn the key, water sprayed over the gutterless roof and hit me with the force of a waterfall. A nasty little torrent gushed down my sleeve as I pressed the knob. Nothing happened. The harder I pushed, the more sodden I got.

I stood on a box and tried to lift the door to ease the lock. Nothing budged—except a vertebrae at the base of my spine. I felt the stab of pain and staggered for help to the nearest telephone. That was the first of many occasions when the factory engineer was called, in desperation, to my aid.

The next time it happened, I was locked out attired in nothing more than a flimsy négligé. It was the incredible sort of situation that had only happened to me in dreams—finding I’d forgotten to dress.

Special guests were coming for lunch, and I’d only popped out for a sprig of mint. The door flew shut behind me. And stayed shut. As tight-lipped as an oyster.

Panic soared as I looked down at my gauzy garment, with bare toes peeping out. I like the feel of grass on my feet—but how could I go for help bare-footed? Looking as if I’d just got out of bed? With my hair brushed loose and hanging long without a hairpin to hold it on top?

The visitors! And the dinner! I could have wept in humiliation. There wasn’t even a place to hide.

The morning lasted forever. Everyone came to witness my dilemma. Richard  arrived for lunch with my guests. And a neighbour came with a tall ladder and used a screwdriver on the one window that opened, high up. The engineer came too. Someone climbed in and opened up the floor area to get at the jammed hydraulic gear from inside.

Eventually I got in too, with my dumbfounded guests. Then one of them started to laugh, and it ended like an attack of laughing gas.

Everyone laughed. Uproarously! Living in a ‘flying saucer’ must be such fun! So I laughed too—just to prove I still had a sense of humour.

“It could have been worse,” Richard consoled me after they’d gone. “At least the door is working perfectly now.”

The door must have heard. The words were barely out of his mouth, when the house reverberated to an almighty bang, loud as a bomb-blast. We stared disbelievingly at the gap where our door had been. The cable had broken, and the door lay flat on its back on the concrete pad below.

Living with a hole instead of a door, was almost as bad as the shut-out period. Only it lasted longer. The company informed me with deep regret there were no cables available. My regret was deeper than theirs—by that time we’d spent three days and nights with a chilling wind whipping right inside. When it started to snow. the flakes whirled in, and I gave up showering because the bathroom opened off the entrance, and I was exposed to all elements, both weather and human. Anyone could come in. Anytime, day or night. Eventually we found a rug large enough to drape over the hole to keep out the snow. Surviving in an igloo in the Arctic might have been easier.

Later, after two more cables had broken, we learned there was a technical flaw in the design of a fitting, and this was modified.

We thought our troubles were over, but the door took to ‘creeping’ manoeuvres for a change. We’d shut it at night, and in the morning discover it had opened all by itself. Remembering to lock it, put a stop to this nonsense.

Then it started to make queer noises in the night in another bid for attention. I first thought it was a donkey braying in the neighbourhood. In the end I didn’t know which was the donkey, and which was the door.

The door was ruling our lives—at least our ‘going out’ and ‘coming in’. It had a mean streak, and the tactics of a militant union. When the lock-outs stopped, the lock-ins started. It seemed worse being shut-in than shut-out. I’d never known the fears of claustrophobia until I was a prisoner in my own ‘flying saucer’. Periodic detention became a distressing recurrence, only endurable when Richard was shut in too.

“But how would you escape in a fire?” a friend exclaimed in horror. Remembering the rope ladders and the way I’d slithered down the sides of small ships years ago, I came up with the solution of a nylon rope with knots. Richard fixed it securely inside the floor grating, near the high window that opened. We had our fire escape! We could drop to safety in an emergency.

Finally, someone discovered that the hydraulic shaft had been put in upside down. And someone mentioned that the innards had to be regularly oiled.

By the time the carpet had been flipped up and down dozens of times to get at the floor boards, which had to be lifted to get at the works that had to be oiled, a local genius devised a system of remote control oiling. A wick from a tin of oil fixed at the right spot! The door responded with perfect behaviour. It’s teething troubles were over.

There was a gremlin hiding in every gadget. The one in the refrigerator made a chug-chug noise like the ancient chaff-cutter I’d heard on our farm as a child. Unlike the chaff-cutter it never stopped at night. In the sleepless hours, the sound echoed round the dome, turning the place into a torture-chamber. I staggered out of bed and turned it off. Grudgingly the contractor took it away, and I bought a silent model.

The sprites in my washing machine mangled my woollies and turned on spin-dry tantrums. The entire house shuddered and reeled when the dial reached the spin stage. One alarmed visitor thought we were in the throes of an earthquake and rushed outside, while I shouted above the din that it was only our washing machine.

It had been installed as a substitute because the good ones were not available. I put my name at the bottom of a nine month waiting list. And while I soap-sodded sheets and shirts in the kitchen sink, trying in vain to wring them dry, I thought about how my great-grandmother, in the pioneer days, had done her washing in a stream beside their sod hut. Perhaps her back ached too! She didn’t even have piped water. I looked at my steaming taps with gratitude. Such beautiful taps with blue glass tops! Except that the coloured centres had fallen out because the plumber had fitted a set of wrong sized tops to the bottoms.

The eye-level range gleamed with chrome and mod looking dials. But when I turned on the switch, there wasn’t enough heat to boil a kettle. I tried the plate but the steak stayed red. I couldn’t even burn a dinner on this elegant stove. My recipe for deep-freezing parsnips stipulated four minutes for blanching. At the end of four hours it was I who looked blanched—not the parsnips! In the oven my cake rose fast, then wobbled and sank like a punctured tyre. And my microwave stopped cooking in sympathy.

The range company took a long time to send their electrician to investigate my complaints.  He discovered faulty fittings. Some lagging was missing from the oven door. The plate elements happened to be duds. I was told these models were in short supply and I’d have to wait for a new one to come off the line.

The live stretched so long that by the time the range came off, I’d forgotten the way elements were supposed to heat. They glowed red in seconds. Within a week I’d burned the bottom out of the kettle, and blown the safety valves of my three pressure cookers. There were no spare parts available either. But that mattered little, in my joy of a cooker that turned out mouth-watering concoctions like the ones on T.V. A new microwave oven came too.

Because it was a ‘first’ and a funny, shape, the plumbers could hardly be expected to know they’d fitted the bathroom floor inside out—or was it upside down? Toilet, shower and washroom seemed a natty combination until we discovered the floor didn’t drain after showering. When Richard had splashed slippered feet unsuspectingly into inches of water, he took to bailing out the flood every time I showered. He didn’t like wading to the toilet. And the floor moved when you walked on it, so you had the impression of a rolling deck at sea.

After prolonged complaints the floor was tiled, so our feet were above water-level. But it had not been stabilised, and the surface buckled like a lifeboat at sea, while tiles cracked in all directions. We went back to bailing out again.

We bailed for nearly a year when the Managing Director came to visit, and was shocked to see the floor. He ordered that it be fixed at once. The job was done in beautiful tiles. And I was excited at the gurgle as the water drained. Wading to the toilet was over!

The wallpaper was allergic to the fibreglass wall. One warm day I heard an the ominous shriek as wallpaper literally peeled itself off the wall. A second later another strip hung limply above the door. The heat was probably the last straw that broke the wallpaper’s back. By the time the paper-hanger had pasted it back four times, it had shrunk between strips and he gave up. I did the job myself, using a glues, guaranteed to stick anything from wood to metal. And I cut strips of matching pattern to overlay the shrinkage gaps. The allergy was cured.

The air-conditioning unit was supposed to be the best in the world. It had mammoth proportions. When I saw the conglomeration of metal beneath the shining belly of our ‘saucer’, I wondered if the eye-sore was worth the button-pushing comfort of a superbly air-conditioned house.

When the big moment came to switch on, everyone expected hot air to flow through the vents inside. But it stayed icy-cold. a breath of even luke-warm air filtered in. The experts blamed the electricians. And the electricians accused the experts. The atmosphere did seem to heat up though when they shouted about confrontation, and walked off the site.

It was the coldest winter I’d ever remembered. But then I’d never spent a winter inside such a beautifully insulated refrigerator. When the sun shone, the hot came in fast and stayed for hours. But in the wee small hours, I’d awake to discover the insulation was acting in reverse, holding the cold night vapours that came in the vents, as effectually as the cooling chambers at the freezing works.

I would frantically switch on my electric mattress to combat the cold. The bed became a steaming island, surrounded by refrigerated space, and as we sweltered uncomfortably beneath the blankets, I had odd dreams about being in a sauna bath somewhere in Siberia.

The confrontation lingered on. No one came. When we could stand it no longer, we packed our bags and took flight over the blue of tropical seas to isles where the sand was gold and the air was warm all about us. We thawed out, and forgot what it was like to winter in a fridge.

But we had to come back. The company had promised to install a new air-conditioner while we were away, and I unlatched the gate with eagerness. After all I was home!

And then I saw it was still there. The old demon, not even modified, crouched beneath the ‘saucer’, tail stretched out like fossilised dragon, with the damp air still gushing in through a big round hole in its stomach. This peculiar hole was responsible for some of our problems. As an expert explained later, the warm air would rise towards the outlet vent in the high dome, and an air pocket formed, trapping moisture-laden air inside the shell.

While we were away, the moisture had been building up to dampen our welcome home. Clothes in drawers, and sheets in the drying closet, were wet. Soaking wet! But our laundry drier worked! Praise!

The mystery of why the expensive imported air-conditioner didn’t heat the air, was never solved. It had to go.

Getting the monster out if its lair caused more fuss than getting it in. Who would pay for putting it in, and for pulling it out? And by the time it was out, it would be second-hand. Who would meet the loss? Not the experts. Not the electricians. Not the company. Certainly not me, I decided, and went into battle.

I won. A new system was installed. It worked. How it worked!

At the touch of a button, warm air flowed in. As the place dried out, water streamed clown the windows and walls and trickled away in tiny fibreglass drains below the windows.

The curious hole where the first air-conditioner had been was modified with an outside lid so it could be opened or closed as temperatures demanded.

I wallowed in a feeling of luxurious living at last. Our space house had all the answers. So comfortable! Draught-proof—dust proof. Did I say dust-proof? It might have been, if a careless carpenter hadn’t left a bank of sawdust hidden beneath the chipboard floor, in line with the air vents. The sawdust had consolidated into a sodden mass, no doubt half frozen like ourselves during that first ghastly winter. Once the new heater was installed, the sawdust dried out.

We didn’t even know it was there till a cloud of dust came whirling out of the floor vents like a sandstorm in the heat of the desert. Sawdust and more sawdust, coating everything, including our lungs. For a few days we coughed and spluttered. Then we tried vacuuming the vents. But unreachable stuff still kept coming and coming. However, even as a dust storm must blow itself out, so at last, the clouds of sawdust cleared.
Clean air flowed in, fresh and warm as a tropical breeze. At the touch of a dial, we heated and cooled to any temperature we fancied.

We discovered some exciting new facets of living in a round house. Because the saucer swung out into space, high up, I had the illusion at times of being part of the universe itself. Especially during a storm. Like floating in orbit along with the thunder, the clouds and the rain. The first time it happened, lightning seared the sky with jagged tongues of fire. The magnificence of the elements came in close all around, every way I looked through the amazing circle of windows. A curtain of rain hid the earth below, and I felt as isolated as Mrs Noah in her ark, floating above a watery world. But Mrs Noah had all the animals to keep her company. There wasn’t even a pair of house-flies in this immaculate insect-proof ark of tomorrow.

We did the landscape work ourselves. This proved hard on my body, but mentally stimulating because my brain was bubbling over with a million ideas I was eager to try out without opposition from workmen who would argue it couldn’t be done, or didn’t turn up to do anything at all.

Since the ‘flying saucer’ looked as if it had just landed from outer space, the landscaping had to be imaginative to capture the mood of the venture, with a background effect that was rugged and naturally right for a ‘mysterious planet’.

We mounded large stones and boulders about the base of the legs for dramatic effect, interplanting with contrasting clumps of grasses, tussocks and flax to give the impression of a wild garden. Richard did the rock-rolling, and I directed operations. And we fixed a hidden underlay of black plastic to minimise upkeep.

A tumbling waterfall introduced an element of enchantment in a ferny area beyond the boulder garden. And a glassed in solar dome looked down from a sunny nook above. For extra outdoor living areas, I designed two spacious terraces, set on different levels, and linked by steps of round timber slabs, with a covered in spa pool at one end as a bonus in luxury. The terrace floors we paved with coloured tiles, broken to form a jigsaw pattern, pointed in black. I’d once seen this smashing effect in a French landscaped garden in New Caledonia, and I was itching to try out the idea myself.

While Richard mixed cement and carried tiles, I did the actual plastering, lying on my stomach on a cushion to ease the ache in my spine. It is amazing what one can achieve when the urge to create is a relentless master that drives one on.

The final results astonished even ourselves. ‘Before’ and ‘after’ pictures I’d taken for magazines I worked for, were hailed with flattering enthusiasm by editors. Colour illustrations were first featured lavishly in the Australian Women’s Weekly, where it was awarded the ‘House of the Week’ title. The Australian ‘Good Gardening’ published the exclusive ‘before’ and ‘after’ landscaping section, picturing us at work, step by step, in an entirely different but equally extravagant colour coverage. I soon found myself answering editorial calls from New York and London, requesting more articles, with follow-up queries about interviews from the press and television. The ‘House of Tomorrow’ had become the success story of today. It was more—much more than I’d bargained for.

The world and all his wives were so curious to see what a down-to-earth space house looked like, that gate-crashers began to ignore the ‘private’ notice. I’m not all that keen on publicity. So we locked the gate and escaped in our mobile caravan to the Wild West Coast.

But we had to come back. As we unlatched the gate and paused at the top of the steps, it was like looking down on another world. Our world!

I thought I detected a welcoming gleam in the slanted eyes of the flighty creation that had settled so gracefully on the sun warmed heart of our rock, with the garden spilling colour around like a patchwork quilt, covering the rawness of the new landscape, and drawing them together in cosy oneness.

Absurdly enough, the rock and the ‘flying saucer’ seemed to have matured and looked definitely right for each other—if you believe in the attraction of opposites. Like a happy marriage, uniting the stone-age body of the rock with a fantasy from the age of space.

When the door glided open, the interior somehow seemed more expansive after living in a caravan. The comparison had magnified the dimensions. So high! So wide! So wide! So very comfortable! It was home.

And there was gratitude in my heart as I remembered the promise: “In this place will I give peace.”

We had adapted to space-age living.


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