There's a sense of transition in the leafy tunnel that leads from the main road into
Hathaway House on the edge of Stratford.
During the moments of dim green peace that span its length, you leave the bustle
of the outer world behind. You emerge into a spacious, gracious villa property that
embraces you with its own world of character and comfort.
It was a welcome that appealed to Judith Gilmer when she and husband Wayne visited
the property four years ago.
Both felt a connection to the historic house - Stratford is Judith's home town and
she had driven past the property countless times; Wayne's great aunt had lived in the
house for almost 40 years from the mid-1930s.
The property was on the market and Judith decided it was time to have a look at it. "It
wasn't what I expected," she recalls.
The interior of the old villa had a different feel in terms of decor than she thought it
would have - but it had a presence that Judith responded to and she wanted to buy it.
"Wayne said 'No, no, no' and I said 'Yes, yes, yes' ... and it was all over," she says
with a smile.
It was a momentous decision that hit home the first day there when Judith and
daughter Lisa stood in the kitchen and looked around. "I said 'Oh, my god, what have
we done?'," Judith remembers.
They had moved from a modern home with up-to-the-minute appointments into a
large two-storey villa built in 1896 and set up as a bed-and-breakfast business with
six bedrooms and four bathrooms. More than two hectares of gardens and pasture
wrapped around the house with a feature lake and a stage built at its edge.
You can understand how daunting it seemed all of a sudden. But that rush of doubt
was momentary and now long gone.
Judith and Wayne settled in quickly and took on the task of refining the presentation
to their own taste. With the help of consultant Megan Thom, Judith chose a simple
colour scheme in three colours - two shades of white and 'Stonewall' green.
"We worked through the house and we've done every room ... with passion and
love," says Judith. "This is the most special house we have ever lived in."
It's a remarkably easy home to live in, she adds - even though it has 'rooms' rather
than the open-plan layout of a modern home. "It works well and is very comfortable."
Upstairs, there are four bedrooms - two have ensuites, while the other two share a
large well-appointed and rimu-trimmed bathroom with a feature clawfoot bath. Each
room has an open fireplace, although these are decorative now rather than functional,
and all four enjoy views out over the gardens and peaceful rural surroundings.
Downstairs, a visit starts with the welcoming foyer entry and an appreciation of the
rich detail in here - the leadlight side panels in the door frame, the intricate woodwork
of the carved rimu archways over staircase and hallway, and the white-painted
battened ceiling with its feature chandelier.
Ceilings throughout the house are high by today's standards, but just right for the era
of this home. They add to the feel of space in each room.
At right in the foyer is a formal lounge and to the left is the main dining room - both
boasting fine rimu-framed fireplaces and big windows that let light flood in. In these
rooms, it's easy to feel the 'presence' that Judith first noticed.
Behind the dining room is the classic rimu kitchen, with tongue-and-groove walls and
panelled cabinetry and the red Stanley wood-burning cooker that also heats the water
for the home's efficient radiator system.
Down the hallway is a double bedroom, a bathroom, library and office space, separate
laundry and access to the double garaging.
The home has offered bed-and-breakfast accommodation for many years - an option
that Judith and Wayne carried on with considerable pleasure. "We'd never had a B&B
before, and it has been a real learning experience ... to have visitors to this country
come and stay as part of their travel and to hear about their lives ... to share this
property and be told that there's nothing else like this."
McDonald Real Estate consultant Brian Jeffares is marketing the property for Judith
and Wayne and knows how good the accommodation is here. "I've been in England
and stayed in a lot of B&Bs and they are not like this. They often have small rooms,
are cramped and lack the home feel here ... they were just somewhere to put your
head down and go on the next day."
There are plenty of comments left in the visitors' book to verify that view - as well as
thankyou cards mailed later to further express guests' gratitude for their experience
As well as the decor changes, Judith has enhanced the B&B presentation of Hathaway
House. "We make the extra effort with breakfast ... I've even bought old china to
help give it its own flavour."
Changes flowed from the house to the gardens. "Once we got the house sorted and the
B&B up and running, we put our energy into the gardens," says Judith.
"Everyone says they have a real English feel, and we have tried to keep to old-
fashioned plantings. It's an early summer garden with a bit of everything."
The refreshed gardens are anchored by established trees - both native and exotic - that
give this property a real maturity and interest.
Judith and Wayne enjoy the immediate gardens from a sheltered deck they built off
the back of the house. "We live out here," she says.
It's a handy space for larger gatherings as well. This year, the couple opened up
the property for the Taranaki Fringe Garden Festival and it proved an attraction for
around 800 visitors, many of them enjoying a cup of tea on that rear deck.
From the lawn off the deck, you can stroll through a gate to another lawn that then
slopes down to the property's lake. A bridge leads across the water to a versatile stage
structure. This was set up by previous owner Bert van Veen and has been used well
for functions such as weddings and jazz-in-the-garden events.
As well as the B&B business, Judith and Wayne have also used Hathaway House and
its grounds as a function centre. "The wedding market is definitely one option for the
property and one we've enjoyed."
As part of their work around the gardens, they opened up lawn areas to create more
space for good-sized marquees. And with the lake-side stage, the deck off the house,
and choice of lawn areas, people have plenty of options where they can celebrate their
Brian Jeffares agrees with the attraction of the property for various events. "It's
always enjoyable marketing a quality home ... one that's different," he says.
"What I liked about Hathaway House from the start is the opportunity here to develop
the B&B business while enjoying its lifestyle. There's also tremendous potential as a
wedding venue ... anyone could buy this home and do something with it.
"A modern three-bedroom house is what it is and not much else. This is a lifestyle and
a really, really nice living."
Proximity to Stratford also has its advantages, Brian says. "In Taranaki, a lot of
husbands and wives travel north and south for work ... Stratford is a central point that
avoids one having to do more travel than necessary."
WHERE: 3500 Mountain Rd, Stratford.
HOW BIG: 2.37 hectares in land; about 300 sqm in home.
HOW MUCH: Price by negotiation.
WHAT YOU GET: Finely detailed historic home on the edge of Stratford. Beautiful
gardens wrap around the gracious two-storey villa, which is set up as a bed-and-
breakfast establishment with options as a venue for functions such as weddings and
other family gatherings.
MARKETED BY: Brian Jeffares at McDonald Real Estate - 06 765 7567 or 027 446
ON THE WEB: www.eieio.co.nz - ref STL00750
SEE IT: By appointment.
- © Fairfax NZ News
How much would you pay for a seat on the coastal walkway?