Beautifully restored church relinquished as couple make new life in Australia
When Brooke Lawton and Viv Leigh took on the massive restoration of the St Thomas Anglican Church in Outram near Dunedin in 2004 they didn't imagine where life would take them.
Back then the couple had the vision to see how the once-beautiful church could be converted into a stunning family home, despite its run-down condition.
"It was a bit of a wreck," Lawton says. "The roof was about to cave in and the power and one hose tap were the only services working."
Research revealed that it was designed in 1893 by Mason & Wales, NZ's oldest architectural practice and Lawton's former employer – the company still had the original plans in its vault.
"Country churches were once the centre of their community, and although we could never re-create that, we sought to at least return it to a point of interest in the town," Lawton says.
Today, however, the pair have a new life in Australia and are about to put the 'church' on the market for the first time since the restoration. They both have successful careers and their Outram property is no longer required.
"When we moved here in 2010 we had every intention of coming back, but our careers have taken off, so we have sadly made the decision to sell," Lawton says. "We're proud of what we have done with St Thomas', and hope that we've shown the building the respect that it deserves while repurposing it into a home. There is ample space to extend further, and this was always our intention upon our return."
Lawton is a building information modelling (BIM) consultant and Leigh is a registered nurse specialising in cardiothoracic intensive care.
"What we didn't envisage was how much our careers would progress in Australia," Lawton says. "Viv begins a Masters degree this year, with a view to a PhD, so we won't be returning in the foreseeable future. St Thomas' has been tenanted up until now, but it's time for us to move on, albeit reluctantly, and hopefully find a similar project in Adelaide.
"It will also allow a new owner to enjoy this unique building and make it their own."
Special features of the building include the original kauri wood panelling, vaulted ceilings and nave. A stained glass window depicts St Thomas, the patron saint of construction. The couple added an extension and created a generous mezzanine bedroom and study. They took care to ensure the new was clearly differentiated from the old, and avoided partitioning off the generous space into smaller rooms.
The property will be listed next week by Bev Walker of One Agency in Dunedin, and will be auctioned on Valentine's Day, February 14, if not sold before.
"One thing's for sure," says Lawton. "If it doesn't sell, there won't be any tears, but there certainly will be if it does."