Woodford restored

The blue-themed sitting room is papered with a distinctive peacock motif.
1 of 9Guy Frederick
The blue-themed sitting room is papered with a distinctive peacock motif.
Woodford’s roughcast exterior was first done in the 1950s.
2 of 9Guy Frederick
Woodford’s roughcast exterior was first done in the 1950s.
A kauri staircase leads to the upper floor.
3 of 9Guy Frederick
A kauri staircase leads to the upper floor.
The kitchen, with a coal range.
4 of 9Guy Frederick
The kitchen, with a coal range.
The dining room exudes Victorian character.
5 of 9Guy Frederick
The dining room exudes Victorian character.
The original ceiling roses now have additional protective outer rings.
6 of 9Guy Frederick
The original ceiling roses now have additional protective outer rings.
The 27-room residence takes some time to explore.
7 of 9Guy Frederick
The 27-room residence takes some time to explore.
The master bedroom is papered with a beautiful hydrangea design.
8 of 9Guy Frederick
The master bedroom is papered with a beautiful hydrangea design.
A claw-foot bath in an upstairs bathroom.
9 of 9Guy Frederick
A claw-foot bath in an upstairs bathroom.

A grand 1887 residence in Papanui is back to its magnificent best.

Many older quake-damaged houses have been demolished, but the owners of Woodford in Papanui were determined not to give up on their Victorian-era home. Before the earthquakes, Woodford's owners, Jill and Trevor, spent nearly three decades restoring the two-storeyed timber mansion to its original glory - and they have devoted another 22 months to fixing quake damage.

Getting through all the repairs has been a marathon effort, but demolition was never an option for this couple. Their commitment to restoration is inspiring other homeowners in the city. "We're involved in the [Christchurch] Vintage Home Restorers' Group and one of the things we did when the house was looking awful - back in June 2011, or so - was to bring the whole group through here so they could see everything," Jill says. "We wanted to show them what we had done so far and the things we were going to do."

"People don't necessarily know how to repair these old places, but at least they can ask us how we've gone about it. We've been saying 'don't be fooled into thinking your only option is to let it be pulled down; you can repair it'. We stand and look at some of the empty spaces and think 'there was no need to do that'."

Woodford's first owner was Albert Kaye, a well-known Christchurch businessman of his day and a pivotal figure in the establishment of the Christchurch Beautifying Association. A shipping, grain and seed merchant, Albert was also a prominent member of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce. The house, which was originally surrounded by 1.6 hectares of land, was subsequently sold to banker Joseph Palmer, remembered as one of Woodford's most illustrious owners.

The home has been constantly altered over the years. Jill and Trevor, both members of the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, bought it in 1983, by which time Woodford had been divided into five flats. As funds allowed, they gradually set about reclaiming the Victorian family home, flat by flat.

"When we moved in, the five flats were all completely separate, so there was five of everything and some wild stuff had been done with the plumbing," Jill says. "There's a little cloakroom downstairs that was originally a bathroom. One day, years ago, when I was bathing our daughter in there, the plug suddenly flew out and all this rice appeared. Someone upstairs had flushed some rice down the sink and it came straight through into the bath!"

Now fully restored, the 27-room residence takes some time to explore. There is nothing predictable about the layout, which includes a substantial cellar, an old kitchen pantry doubling as a kind of museum, and a tiny bathroom once used as part of the servants' quarters. The Family History Society of New Zealand meets in one of the downstairs rooms and also has its library at Woodford.

A feature entranceway leads visitors from the verandah to the ground-floor foyer, where colours have been carefully co-ordinated to unify a fairly large space (including a kauri staircase leading to the upper floor).

Several high-ceilinged rooms open off the foyer, including the blue-themed sitting room, which has dark blue cotton velvet drapes and is papered with a distinctive peacock motif. A grand piano is just one of the room's many elegant features.

With the exception of the formal dining room, most of the original floorboards on the ground floor have been replaced with new beech flooring, stained dark brown.

The dining room, which once housed a flat with a mezzanine floor, today exudes Victorian character, with traditional English drapes and an antique sideboard that looks as if it has always been there (but was found by Jill and Trevor at Willburn Antiques).

In the morning room, an inviting chaise longue rests beneath gold-coloured scalloped valance curtains enhanced by tall windows. In days gone by, ladies would have sat here to write letters. With a good stock of books and comfortable seating, it remains an inviting place to read or recline.

The kitchen, with a coal range, is found past the cloakroom and through a small passage lined with black-and-white family photos. Nearby, a sunny conservatory, originally a washhouse with a copper and tubs, has a restful view to a lawn tennis court.

The ground floor also a purpose-built billiard room, an old-fashioned pantry with various period artefacts, and a concrete-lined cellar with the remains of an old boiler. (Heating is now by way of a radiator system.)

Upstairs, a roomy guest bedroom has its own adjacent dressing room and the master bedroom is papered with a beautiful hydrangea design (sourced from Ballantynes). A covered verandah passage leads to another bedroom, with a sumptuous bathroom that features a claw-foot bath and poppy and butterfly paper.

It is difficult to keep track of the multitude of rooms on the upper floor: there is also a storage room, a substantial office, an additional bathroom and toilet - both original - and daughter Caroline's old room. This last room and the billiard room are notable for their William Morris design wallpapers.

The 1887 residence had 12 fireplaces serviced by four substantial brick chimneys that collapsed in the September 2010 quake, causing tremendous damage. One fell into an upstairs bedroom, while another toppled over the roof and through the front verandah. Internal walls cracked, bricks tumbled down and outside paving was smashed to pieces.

At the time, Jill and Trevor were overseas on holiday. "We left here in August 2010 and everything was good. We had just finished all the conservation work on the house, although Trevor did say 'I think we should replace the roof'. It turns out, of course, that it was the roof that suffered the most damage in the September earthquake, because we had chimneys coming down everywhere."

Fortunately, Caroline was staying at a neighbour's house on the night of the earthquake. "If she'd been upstairs in her room, I don't know how she would have got out."

They wasted no time getting in touch with their insurer and builder and were fortunate to get work started without too much delay. The original 120-year-old corrugated-iron roof, made in England, was soon replaced with new iron. One chimney was completely removed to ground level, while the other three were stabilised, repaired and reduced to roof level. Two replica chimneys have been installed above the roofline.

The February 2011 quake caused another round of damage. Jill was downstairs in the billiard room at the time and remembers seeing the full-size billiard table disintegrating as she tried to edge her way past it. There were people working on the house, installing a fire-protection system in the roof and also staining the floor of the upstairs bedroom where the chimney had collapsed in September. Fortunately, everyone escaped unharmed, although "a big swipe" of floor stain was left across the floor of the upstairs bedroom.

There was a lot of internal cracking and, in places, pieces of cornice broke off. One big section smashed a table in the front sitting room and Trevor and Jill were horrified to discover the cornice slab too heavy to lift. "We suddenly realised 'this stuff is lethal', so we replaced the cornices with lighter material." Plastercraft Southern Ltd made all the new cornices and also secured the original ceiling roses with additional protective outer rings.

Woodford's roughcast exterior, which was first done in the 1950s, cracked badly three times through the earthquakes and has been repeatedly repaired.

The damaged front verandah was replaced with a feature entranceway, carefully built to look the same as it did more than a century ago.

In recognition of Trevor and Jill's efforts, Woodford received a highly commended award at last year's Canterbury Heritage Awards. The judges noted that: "Because of the dedication of the owners to this restoration, Christchurch will retain one of its grand residences as a signpost to the city's past history."