Written by John Williams
It’s the majestic, double-storey villa on the corner of England Street, right next to that new roundabout they’re taking an age to put in.
Although this grand old dame started out life as a gracious family home for a well-to-do local councillor, she has spent the best part of the past 100 years as a boarding house, slowly losing her shine as the years have gone by. That was until late 2016, when her fortunes changed and she was purchased, lovingly restored, and modernised by long-time England Street residents Sandra and Doug Stockwell.
“It’s funny, I’d never really liked this house,” says Sandra, thinking back. “It was scary. There was always trouble here. People would shout out at you when you walked past, and when we had our B&B at 33 England Street, our guests would always say, ‘what’s with that house on the corner?’”
Doug is a little more conciliatory about the old girl. “I love villas,” he says. “If you ever wanted the ultimate villa, this is it. It’s the Holy Grail – double storey, return veranda on a great site. Back then, though, in my wildest dreams I never thought we would ever own anything like this.”
The opportunity to buy number 38 came out of left field when Sandra received a call from Paul Grace of Ray White Damerell Group, letting her know the house was on the market. The couple have a good relationship with Ray White, having bought and sold their previous two homes in England Street through the agency.
Sandra’s immediate reaction was no, never in a million years, but after she and Doug talked about it, he thought they should consider it – because it was such an iconic house in a great location and opportunities like this only come up once in a life.
“It was a big punt. Everybody thought we were mad,” admits Doug.“Having said that, from experience, and after living in the area for over 20 years, seeing the growth in values and what other people have done, it was a no brainer.”
“To be fair, the house wasn’t in too bad nick,” Doug says. “It needed gutting and completely re-piling, but we knew that. However, we were still a little bit nervous, because you just don’t know what you’re going to uncover in a house like this, especially given its history.”
Externally, the house was in a poor state, having had virtually no maintenance or improvements over its long life. The exterior paint had mostly peeled off, the verandas were roughly closed in with fibrolite, and external fire escapes were close to falling down. “It’s safe to say the house was not attractive,” laughs Sandra.
Sandra says the interior was in its original state and needed completely renovating. “Having been a boarding house for most of its life, it was initially problematic getting access to all the rooms. The tenants were an interesting bunch who, understandably, were not too happy to allow us into what was effectively their home with all of their worldly possessions.”
To help them with the sensitive transition from a 15-bedroom leasehold boarding house back to a privately owned family home, the couple again turned to Ray White Damerell Group and their property management team to help them manage the tenants.
“They were fantastic,” she says.“We were a little bit nervous about the potential reaction of the tenants being asked to move on. After all, whatever people thought of this place, it was providing a service to a whole lot of people with either social, drug or alcohol problems.
“Initially we were landlords, and provided the tenants with some food and essentials, plus gave them a few Christmas gifts. We kept up the communication with them so they knew they would be moving on, and with Ray White’s help, we tried to give them time to find new places to live.”
Conscious of the home’s chequered past, Sandra and Doug decided to have the house blessed before starting on the renovations. “We asked a local Maori Kaumātua, who grew up in the area and knew the house, to bless it,” says Sandra. “On the day, we had a train of 30 people walking through the house, room to room, burning white sage to get rid of any bad spirits. The Kaumātua said to me afterwards, ‘this house has good vibes, you will have no problem here’, which was reassuring.”
Eighteen months have now passed, and the place has been completely and utterly transformed.
The 15 bedrooms have been reduced to five luxurious suites, a stunning new kitchen has been installed, and a private pool and deck area has been added, as well as a huge underground internal-access garage with a rooftop garden. But it’s not just about what’s been added to this home that makes it so special – just as important are the original features that have been saved and restored.
On the exterior, the ugly fire escapes are gone and the glorious return verandas have been reclaimed and repaired. Inside, the couple have painstakingly restored many of the home’s original fibrous plaster mouldings and ceilings, plus brought the grand hallways and central staircase back to life.
They have cleverly interwoven the old with the new, adding modern pendant lighting that enhances the century-old ceilings, and placing modern furniture pieces in traditionally decorated rooms. The pièce de résistance, however, must be the couple’s open-plan living area at the rear of the house that opens out onto the new deck and pool – and, in particular, the spectacular contemporary kitchen.
“We’ve been brave and bold with some of the alterations, like the contrast between the old and new, and the exposed steel and modern dark-timber kitchen with traditional, moulded ceilings,” says Doug.“But almost anything goes with these villas. You can mix modern with traditional and get away with it.”
“Having said that, we exercised restraint, too,” says Sandra, who has been studying interior design part time with celebrated NZ designer Nanette Cameron. “I didn’t want to go too blingy, too brassy, too Scandi, or too on trend. That’s the thing these days; there are so many ‘trends’ out there. We’ve tried to carefully navigate through all those trends, to give it some class and character, but not be boring. In some ways we’ve been conservative, but in others, we’ve had a lot of fun,” she says.
Without blowing their own trumpet, the couple quietly admit the reaction to their work on 38 Franklin has been amazing. “Universally, people have been full of praise, appreciation and admiration for us,” grins Doug. “We’ve almost become quite famous through owning this house – through association. Wherever we go, people seem to know of the house.
“I think it’s because people know what the house was like before we bought it, and what a transformation it’s gone through to get to how it looks now. If it was just a nice, big house that’s had a bit of a tart up, it wouldn’t be such a big deal,” adds Sandra.
The future plan, now that the renovations are almost finished, is to open the home as a boutique accommodation – much like they did with the much-loved ‘Bella’s’ at number 33 England Street. “We don’t have a timeline for that at the moment – we are just enjoying living in the house,” says Doug.
Having seen what Sandra and Doug have achieved bringing this beautiful old home back to life and the detail that’s been put in to preserve its future, it’s safe to say that 38 Franklin Road will be a sought-after oasis for travellers and guests for years to come.