[jp] The Riepers lived at 31 Gloucester St in downtown Christchurch. Their garden overlooked the grounds of Christchurch Girls' High School over the rear fence. One block to the south was Canterbury University college.
[jp,sb] In the extended Rieper family, there was Nana Parker, Bert, Honora, Wendy and Pauline. That's five family members. Although it wasn't clear from the film, 'Nana' Parker did not live at the Riepers' home in real life, though she was a frequent visitor and overnight guest. This would explain why she was present in the Christmas scenes and at some meals, but not in some other scenes.
In addition, there were boarders. It appeared that up to four could be accommodated at any time, which would bring the total number of people living in the Rieper home to eight or nine.
[jp] We see that the house had at least two floors. Walking in the front door there was a telephone on the wall to the right, a staircase leading up on the left, and a narrow hall in front leading to the small, combined sitting room/dining room. Beyond that was the kitchen and a back door.
Upstairs there were the boarders' bedrooms in the front of the house, a bathroom in the middle near the head of the stairs and family bedrooms in the rear, over the sitting room and kitchen. Honora said "The rooms are small, but they're comfortable."
We also know that there was a small bedroom with its own entrance built onto the back of the house.
[jp] Living arrangements were very crowded when we first see the interior of the Riepers' home. The boarders probably shared their small bedrooms, two to a room. Bert and Honora would have shared a room in back. Which probably only left one small room at the back, for Wendy.
The house was so crowded that Pauline had her own small, separate room built onto the back, probably built by Bert. This is an important detail, because it shows that Pauline may have actually been given special treatment in the years before those shown in the film because of her academic talents.
[jp] After John was caught in Pauline's room, Pauline was moved into the house. Later we see that her new room was upstairs, and was not shared; she had apparently switched rooms with Wendy.
Pauline's parents wanted her inside the house, across the hall from them, so they could keep an eye on her. This was very close quarters for such a tense situation. Pauline's house became a pressure cooker.
[jp,G&L] The first thing I noticed about the Riepers' home was all the signs and regulations posted on the walls. On the notice board by the telephone, by the bathroom, by the kitchen door, in the kitchen. Every 'public' space in the house was regulated. It was difficult for Pauline to find a place to call her own in that house. Tripping over 'strangers' everywhere she turned meant that she would have been unable to really relax or just be herself in her own home. It would have been necessary to continually mind her P's and Q's and for her to put on her public face.
The responsibility of running the boarding house would have been shared and it looked as if Pauline came up on the short end of that stick. We don't see Wendy doing housework or dishes; in fact we see her being waited upon by Pauline at one point. Granted, Wendy was working and bringing in a paycheck, but her hours at work wouldn't have been all that different from Pauline's hours at school.
Glamuzina and Laurie provide an interesting perspective on these close living quarters and how Pauline's home environment would have been very different from most of her classmates. They quote one contemporary (pp. 39-40) who "described the house as 'ghastly ... it didn't look like a home to me ... no decent rows [arguments] to clear the air because there would always be other people around.'"
[jp] The set dressing in the Riepers' home was brilliant and it communicated an enormous amount of information about the Riepers' station in life and about the extent of their cultural awareness (or not) and sophistication (or not). The set decoration at the Riepers' was one of my favourite 'details' in "Heavenly Creatures."
First, look at the wallpaper--busy, dark and hideous and fashionable, perhaps, when the home was last decorated, maybe thirty or more years prior. The whole home was overdecorated with sad, small, cheap, kitsch treasures. At least the 'paintings' weren't on velvet, but they were cheap reproductions in cheap frames. The next time you see "Heavenly Creatures" look around in the Riepers' home to get a good picture of Pauline's chagrin and, eventually, what she came to hold in sneering contempt.
[jp] Another nice little touch by Jackson: the bird cage on the kitchen table. Bert was a bird fancier, in real life, and his caged bird figures prominently as a dramatic device in "Daughters of Heaven" (see 6.1).
[jp] Wendy gets a little pug dog for Christmas 1953.
[jp] Jackson shows the Rieper family once in a car: Pauline is picked up at Ilam and driven home by Bert and Honora two days before the murder. The outside shots of 31 Gloucester St showed a modest car parked in front of the house.
"Heavenly Creatures" has Honora and Pauline using public transportation most of the time. They take a tram to visit Juliet and we also see the girls riding a tram. The trip to Victoria Park is made on the bus.
In real life the Riepers had a car, according to Herbert Riper's testimony. However, he may have been the only driver, and he may not have driven the car to work. It is known from her diary entries that Pauline took the bus or rode her bike everywhere she travelled in Christchurch, when she wasn't being chauffeured by the Hulmes (also mentioned in Pauline's diaries). Honora and the girls definitely took the bus to Victoria Park on the day of the murder. Bert Rieper was driven by a coworker to Victoria Park after work on the day of the murder.