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This heritage home has been transformed with a sensitive addition that provides for modern, practical living. Kim Dungey reports.
Taking their historic home back to the framing was like watching a close relative have open heart surgery, according to Andrew Simms and Claire Wilton.
Mr Simms says it was a "complete bombsite" with scaffolding inside, dust everywhere, holes in the floor and no apparent end in sight.
"It was completely gutted, to the point we almost thought that a decent gust and the whole lot would come down."Fortunately, Islington not only came through the "procedure"; a light-filled conservatory-style extension has given it a new lease of life.
The Mosgiel homestead with Art Nouveau flourishes was built by William and Helen Todd in 1912. But the estate was established 53 years earlier, by William’s father, Alexander — a Glaswegian banker who planted out the 3ha in Bush Rd with copper beech trees, chestnuts and elms. Since passing out of the Todd family in 1951, the property has had only four other owners.
Buying Islington in 2004 was the catalyst for Mr Simms moving back to Dunedin from Christchurch. He knew of it, mainly because you can see it when flying into Dunedin airport, and was "blown away" by the house and grounds when afforded a closer look.
"I was actually coming to Dunedin to look at another house that was for sale and it was mentioned that this one was coming on to the market," he recalls. "I was able to get an early viewing and buy it that day."
The car dealer paid more than $2million, which was double the previous record for Dunedin, and lived in the house until 2008. When the global financial crisis hit, he needed to be more hands on in his business and reluctantly moved to Auckland.
A former university student who cleaned cars while studying, he has car and property interests in Dunedin as well as Mitsubishi, Jeep and Kia dealerships in Newmarket and Botany. It was also in Auckland that he met Ms Wilton, a former teacher who was working as general manager of a telecommunications company.
By 2018, the couple had decided that Dunedin offered their family a better lifestyle.
Ms Wilton — who was "wowed" by Islington’s history but thought it dark and in need of "a bit of life" — agreed to relocate provided they renovated.
"I thought we’d splash some paint around and change the wallpaper," she says, adding with a laugh that they ended up being out of the house for two years.
The couple share the stately home with their children, Charlie (5) and Harper (3), and Mr Simms’ daughter, Millie (8), who visits as often as she can from Wanaka.
As well as meticulously restoring the house, the couple made the windows more weathertight and insulated the roof and floors.
"Previously, it had a Marseille tile roof on it and no insulation whatsoever ... You could get up in the roof and see daylight through the tiles, so any heat that we put in was going straight out through the roof," Mr Simms says.
Mindful of how brick buildings fared in the Christchurch earthquake, they replaced the heavy tiles with a double-locked, standing-seam zinc roof laid on top of 19mm plywood, which provides bracing for the entire house. Each piece of the roof was handmade to fit by a team of Czechoslovakian workers from Wakatipu Roofing who had experience with the technique in Europe.
A ceiling that had collapsed because of a leak in the header tank was replaced by fibrous plaster company Seddon’s, which still had the original mould in its archive.
Toilets were added on the ground floor with an eye to opening the house for charity, and under-utilised areas, including a laundry and a sauna, were combined into a large master suite. The internal walls are mostly brick with a skim of plaster, so making structural changes was tricky, but the doorways between these rooms had simply been bricked up by previous owners.
The couple also replaced fireplaces that had been ripped out, added more detailed architraves and skirting boards, and replaced plain windows on the landing with stained glass, to tie in with the Art Nouveau windows elsewhere.
However, the biggest change was adding a 120sq m English-style conservatory to the back of the house, taking the total footprint to about 600sq m.
The atrium roof was inspired by the Larnach Castle ballroom and the detailed cornice was made by Seddon’s to fit with the era of the house.
"We wanted to build it so people would think it was built a long time ago, rather than last year, but it had to be practical for modern living."
Removing an earlier extension, as well as the property’s converted stables, was a difficult decision but the correct one, Ms Wilton says. "You can stand here and see the roses and the dahlias, the kids in the playhouse and the big trees. In autumn, when the colours change, it’s a bit dreamy."
Planted from the late 1860s on, those trees include 13 specimens the Dunedin City Council lists as significant.
Impressive though the conservatory is, it’s the children’s bedrooms with their whimsical wallpapers that are "hands down" Ms Wilton’s favourite areas. A playroom in the attic has a secret door into the roof space above the turret; the family bathroom has a copper and nickel bath in which the youngsters enjoy seeing themselves reflected.
The sumptuous bath, which was airfreighted from London and arrived eight days after they ordered it, is only one example of them using the internet to find inspiration and specialist suppliers. Mr Simms says restoring the house would have been much harder even 15 years ago, before there were big heritage home restoration companies in the UK and US selling period hardware online.
Finally, after years of upheaval, Islington is not only in good health but a perfect fit for their family.
"It’s a situation where you know what you’re doing is a complete folly and you’ll never see the money again. But we didn’t have any view about resale."
It was humbling to have elderly people who played at Islington as children and saw it again on a recent tour congratulate them on the work. And they hope the original owners would also approve.
"You get so absorbed in a project like this that you’re never quite sure if you’ve done the right thing ... but we’d like to think that William Todd, who built the house, would be pleased with what we’ve done."