Government House's $44m facelift

Last updated 19:04 24/03/2011

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The Governor-General's sprawling Government House residence has officially reopened, after a $44.7 million restoration project spanning two and half years.

Sir Anand Satyanand, Prime Minister John Key and 250 invited guests gathered at the expansive mansion this afternoon, to herald the end of the conservation programme which began in August 2008.

The house, which boasts more than 50 rooms, was first built in 1910 and is categorised as a Category 1 heritage building.

But after years of wear and tear, tiles were falling off the roof, the ceiling was full of was asbestos, walls were cracking, burst water pipes were common and the house was a major earthquake risk.

The revamped house has gone through a complete makeover both internally and externally, with the aim of keeping the historical components that made it special while modernising it, project manager Mike Hannaway said.

"This is an important building in New Zealand's history, and an important building when New Zealand shows off."

Sir Anand, who had been staying at Vogel House in Lower Hutt with wife Susan since the project began, said it was a relief to see it's completion. "It's a magnificent building, and it's good to be back in it."

He wasn't concerned that he had been allowed back into the house just months before his successor Jerry Mateparae was to move in.

"We have a very busy five months to finish the role."

The house was now more suited to the role of a 21st century Governor-General, he said. An estimated 500 events - from large gatherings to small ceremonies - are held in the house each year.

When visitors arrive, they will now find plush new carpets commissioned by New Zealand artists lining the hallways, with the wool yarn in the drawing room alone enough to stretch from Cape Reinga to the Bluff.

Photographs of the 19 previous Governor-Generals who lived in the house line the walls, with gifts from international kings, queens and diplomats displayed in ornate cabinets.

Chandeliers dangle from the ceilings in the drawing room, ballroom, dining room and even the guest bathroom, where Prince Andrew once stayed.

The house has been internally modified so the Governor-General now occupies a private, self contained apartment, which takes up one wing of the house. Sir Anand moved back in there on Valentine's Day.

It is out of bounds to staff, with only housekeepers and private guests allowed in and out.

Australian heritage expert Peter Watts, the former director of Australian historic houses trust, said the former residence was a "terrible mess."

The restoration was better than any he had seen worldwide, managing to capture a slice of history while adding a contemporary flavour that was distinctly New Zealand.

"It feels very right, and that is the very best measure of good conservation you feel as if the architects and designers have never been near it.

"This is a tangible expression of New Zealand is an exemplary project. I can tell you if we got to this point in Australia, I would be thrilled."

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- The Dominion Post

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