Taking care of a large Victorian-era home, ‘Woodford’ in Papanui, for more than 30 years has been quite an adventure for the group’s convenor Trevor and his wife Jill Lord, who have devoted many years to its restoration. Extensive repairs were required after the Canterbury earthquakes.
While the challenges have been considerable, the couple’s devotion to their two-storey 1887 vintage home makes sense in the context of what they have achieved. Their 27-room residence is absolutely unique and is today one of the city’s most gracious heritage homes. ‘Part of the thrill of it is living in something that’s so very special,’ Trevor says. ‘It is a beautiful house to live in, winter or summer.’
During their early years at Woodford, the couple had the brainwave of forming a group to reach out to others in the throes of renovating and restoring their old homes. In 1989, the Canterbury Vintage Home Restorers’ Group met for the first time.
‘It was my fault, really,’ laughs Jill. ‘One night we were busy painting windows and I ended up dropping my paintbrush a couple of times and having to climb down to retrieve it. I said to Trevor, “I wonder if there might be other people as mad as us!” We put out an invitation and even though it was snowing on the night of our first meeting, people came from all over Christchurch and beyond.’
Currently, the group has around 115 members, encompassing homes from the Victorian period through to the 1960s. Not every member has a vintage home; some just have an interest in them. Members meet every few months and often gain practical information via talks or demonstrations. With scheduled visits to old houses, day trips to homes of interest, an annual dinner and an excellent library, the group provides many opportunities to delve into Canterbury’s residential heritage.
Anyone who has an older home or is moving in that direction will find plenty of encouragement in this group. Collectively, members have acquired a wealth of knowledge that is there to be tapped by others starting out on the same journey.
‘We are actively recruiting new younger members and offer them the support and resources of our group,’ Trevor says. ‘Having support gives you much more motivation and along the way you will learn so much about your home and how it all works … We have all trodden the same path and are able to look back with immense satisfaction on what we have achieved. Not to be dismissed, either, is the impressive return on investment that is its own reward in later years.’
The group doesn’t set hard and fast rules on restoration, but encourages people not to damage historic facades and to retain original features, where possible. Every old home has its own unique story. Woodford’s first owner, Albert Kaye, was a grain and seed merchant who was prominent in the Christchurch Beautifying Association. It was later sold to banker Joseph Palmer. By the time Jill and Trevor bought Woodford in 1983, it had been divided into flats that they gradually set about converting into a single unified home, with beautifully restored grounds.
At Woodford, we met fellow group member John Latham, who lives in a 1905 home in Rugby Street, once part of the original ‘Merevale’ estate. He and his wife Jill and their family, who took up residence there in 1979, love the property’s spaciousness and homely feel. They have made a few modifications over the years, such as taking advantage of the high stud to add a staircase and create an attic room. They also extended the kitchen to add a sunroom, with bi-fold doors leading into their garden. ‘The only changes have been to make it better to live in,’ John says, adding that their home also sustained some earthquake damage in 2010/11, requiring repairs to piles, flooring and plasterwork.
‘We joined the Canterbury Vintage Home Restorers’ Group about 10 years ago and particularly enjoy the outings and seeing all these different places and homes in Christchurch and Canterbury that have been beautifully restored.’
Trevor and Jill also introduced latitude to group members David and Dorothy Hinman, who have lived in their 1903 heritage home in Derby Street for almost 30 years and joined the group soon after moving in. Their house was originally built for commercial traveller Charles Gill in 1903. Since 1914, it has belonged to only three families. They already had an interest in old houses, having previously lived in a 1920s brick bungalow in St Martins. They chose Derby Street because they liked the house and it was close to town and their children’s schools at that time.
‘Our elderly parents were horrified that we were moving from an old but comfortable home to something that would require a lot of work,’ Dorothy recalls. Being part of the vintage homes’ group has proved immensely helpful, with David and Trevor virtually job-sharing tasks over the years.
‘I’ve learned so much and made some great friendships,’ David observes. The couple spent 20 years restoring their home with original materials and modifying it to include an upstairs double room, bathroom and toilet, before the earthquakes shifted it off its foundations and toppled their chimneys.
‘We were out for two and a half years. Everyone from EQC to our insurers wanted us to knock it over, but we fought to keep it and ended up with a home that’s even better than it was after the first restoration.’
Group secretary Dianne Sugrue and her husband John invited us to stop by their vintage home, Harewood House. It was built by William and Julia Nunweek in 1902 on land that had been purchased much earlier by William’s parents, Henry and Matilda who had started out living in a sod cottage in Harewood until Henry later made a fortune through the Otago Goldfields. Dianne and John purchased Harewood House as a single bay villa in 1984.
After much soul-searching, Dianne came up with the idea of adding a mirror extension to increase their living area while retaining the look of the original villa. The work was carried out in 1989/90 and included additions and renovations inside and out, with the addition of a new living room, new double-hung windows, French doors and new verandahs. In the Canterbury earthquakes their home had only moderate damage, apart from the double chimney requiring a rebuild with a replica chimney being installed. They have been members of the Canterbury Vintage Home Restorers’ Group since its inception, even though their renovations were completed prior to that.
‘When I first heard about the group, I thought “This is what we’d have liked in the beginning”, but we’ve enjoyed sharing our experiences with other people over the years and getting involved with all the group’s activities,’ Dianne says.
Ironically, it was the land – six acres in north Christchurch – that first drew John to their property, not the villa itself. A heritage house was not on their wish list. ‘It gets in your blood though and we feel proud to have saved this house for the future. We find that people love coming to an old house and hearing its story.’
The Canterbury Vintage Home Restorers’ Group operates with a mission statement: ‘To promote, publicly and through members’ activities, the preservation, appropriate restoration and minimum impact alteration of the vintage housing stock of Canterbury.’ For membership enquiries please contact Group Secretary Dianne Sugrue on firstname.lastname@example.org
WORDS Kim Newth IMAGES Charlie Jackson