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Return to splendour

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From its grand entry hall to the former servants quarters, this homestead proves history and modern living can go hand in hand

Return to splendour


Restoring a grand homestead to its former glory is not just a labour of love – it's also a challenge requiring an innovative approach to problem-solving.

As well as sourcing replacement materials for items no longer manufactured, there is also a need to incorporate modern amenities without detracting from the heritage elements. And, for many homeowners looking to operate their home as a lodge or bed-and-breakfast, city by-laws also need to be accommodated – including the installation of fire safety systems.

For Greg and Julie Leniston, the owners of Otahuna Lodge in Canterbury, there was no question of a compromise. When planning the conversion of their historic 1895 homestead into a lodge, maintaining the heritage elements was a priority.

"The house was built for Sir Heaton Rhodes, one of the pioneers of early Canterbury, and is an excellent example of the arts-and-crafts style," says Greg Leniston. "Fortunately, the house has survived the years reasonably intact, thanks to earlier restorations."

Leniston says that apart from some painting and replacing slate tiles on the roof, most of the latest restoration work involved the interior. Underfloor heating and sprinkler systems were already in place, but the house also needed internal fire walls to enable the owners to operate a lodge. Sandwiching insulating materials between existing walls was a way to provide this protection.


More decorative restoration work was undertaken on the extensive kauri and rimu wood panelling and mouldings in the grand entrance hall. Leniston says matching some of the interior woodwork was a major challenge.

"We relied on the work of several craftsmen skilled in working with kauri and rimu," says Leniston. "We also worked very closely with the Historic Places Trust to ensure the restoration wouldn't compromise the heritage elements."

The large scale of the grand hall enabled the owners to incorporate a casual seating area beside a fireplace and a 1905 Steinway grand piano. The hall also introduces the arts-and-crafts theme that is repeated throughout the house. High beamed ceilings, panelled walls, decorative, carved wooden arches, turned pillars and an elaborate staircase all enhance the sense of grandeur.

The drawing room continues the traditional look and features a dramatic carved mantelpiece and an inglenook – two small seats on either side of the fireplace, a common arts-and-crafts feature. A hexagonal corner of the room provides an alcove that is used for private dining and afternoon teas.

"The asymmetrical design of the house is also typical of this style," says Leniston.

The formal dining room features a pressed tin ceiling and the original wallpaper, which was professionally restored.

Another intimate room is the red-walled study. Here, carved wooden shelving accommodates an extensive book collection.

Leniston says much of the furniture in the house is antique and includes original pieces that have "found their way back to the property".

To cater to the needs of large parties, the lodge features two kitchens. The main kitchen replaces a former pantry and servants' dining room. Painted a buttery yellow, it is designed in a traditional style, but accommodates modern convenience. A separate prep kitchen is where most of the food preparation takes place, says Leniston.

Upstairs, considerable restoration was undertaken to create a series of guest suites. Rather than reduce the size of the existing bedrooms to create ensuite bathrooms, the owners transformed former bedrooms into bathrooms.

"This means the bathrooms are large – one is even larger than the bedroom in the suite – but they enhance the sense of a luxurious retreat," says Leniston.

The original architect's attention to detail is evident in many of these areas – as is the relative importance of the people using the rooms. Doors in the former master bedroom feature ivory handles, while doors in the main living areas have finely carved handles. In the servants areas, the handles are painted steel.

As in many historic homes, every detail paints a picture of a different way of life – but one that can still be appreciated today, thanks to a sympathetic restoration.

First published date: 07 May 2004

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