Nabbed having sneak peek at old home

TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:00 25/07/2012
Pip Fowler and Sir Michael Fowler
WARWICK SMITH/Fairfax NZ

FORMER OWNER: Sir Michael Fowler with his daughter-in-law Pip Fowler and a painting he completed this year of Ellerslea House in West St, Feilding, where he spent his childhood.

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A Feilding character home that once belonged to the family of architect and former Wellington mayor Sir Michael Fowler is on the market.

But potential buyers should know that it has been known to come complete with distinguished trespassers.

Built in 1904, Ellerslea House was Marton-born Sir Michael's childhood home.

Sir Michael's name is recognisable for many New Zealanders as Wellington's principal performance hall carries his name.

He also designed Wellington's overseas passenger terminal in the 1960s and was the city's mayor from 1974 to 1983.

But current owner Lisa Clinton failed to recognise a visitor to her home when she reprimanded an "old man" lurking in the tennis courts, taking photos of the house about six weeks ago.

Much to her surprise, the photographer was Sir Michael himself, returned to visit his childhood home in Feilding ahead of this month's Feilding and District Art Centre exhibition of his paintings - some featuring the house.

"He came to the house so unexpectedly," she said. "My daughter said there's an old guy in the middle of the courts with a camera taking pictures and when the lady with him said ‘Oh, it's Michael Fowler', I wanted to be in a hole in the ground."

The Clintons had hoped to fetch shy of $600,000 for the five-bedroom "idyllic homestead".

While they had fielded a great deal of interest from people, they had not yet received any offers since it went on the market in late April.

Visitors had come from as far as Auckland's North Shore to view the property but Mrs Clinton conceded the potential buyers may just have been hoping for a glimpse into the place where Sir Michael started his life.

"A lot of people didn't realise that he actually lived in Feilding and we've been trying to find a little bit more about the history of this house," she said.

The property was well-known in the area and had been given an image overhaul by the Clintons, who had renovated extensively in the year since they had bought the home.

They had also added designer Laura Ashley wallpaper and upgraded fittings that complemented the house's century-old character, she said.

Mrs Clinton said she had fallen in love with the home and made an unconditional tender to its owners before her husband had even seen the property.

"We couldn't afford it, it was a little bit tired and needed a little bit of love, but I always had my mind set on that house," she said.

The Clintons were now planning a private sale. It is currently open for public viewing and is also listed on Trade Me.

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- Manawatu Standard

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