New life for 'most beautiful bookshop'

JESSY EDWARDS
Last updated 13:02 09/07/2014
Phil Saxby
CAMERON BURNELL/FAIRFAX NZ

A FEW SURPRISES: Phil Saxby, owner of Sommerfields gift store, which is moving into the old Parsons bookshop in Lambton Quay.

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The cafe at the heart of the old Parsons bookshop in Wellington is coming back to life.

New Zealand giftstore Sommerfields will move from Cable Car Lane into the architect-designed shop, and open on August 1.

The cafe will open on September 1, and will be named Parsonage, a tribute to the business that Russian composer Igor Stravinsky called "the most beautiful bookshop in the world".

Sommerfields Giftstore owner Phil Saxby said former owner Julian Parsons was "quite pleased with the idea" of the name, and that they would ask him to open it.

Refurbishments have already begun at the category 1 heritage listed site to make way for Sommerfields: a dividing wall has been demolished, new floors and wall coverings will be fitted, and new toilet facilities and kitchen installed.

Saxby said he and the property owner were sharing the cost, and "have a few little suprises up our sleeves" for it.

The defining architectural feature, a staircase that curves up to the coffee bar, will also be refurbished.

But Saxby said he was "very keen to keep the original character" of the site and its fittings, which were designed by Austrian architect Ernst Plischke. "It's got a bit worn in the last 50 years or so - it needs a bit of reconditioning. But we want to keep the same or [a] very similar appearance."

However, people had phoned Heritage New Zealand to make sure the shop's historical and cultural significance was being respected.

Heritage New Zealand spokesman David Watt said calls were mainly from people who had frequented Parsons to read books and listen to music, and who wanted it to remain the same.

While the interior of the shop has Category 1 heritage value, Heritage New Zealand can only advise the owner on how to respect the shop's architectural value.

Massey House as a whole is protected under the Wellington City District Council Plan, but the interior is not.

However, Watt said he thought the shop was being looked after.

"So far our advice is that they have been respecting of the heritage character."

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- The Dominion Post

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