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NZ Moorish opulence of a grand age

Property Here - Saturday, April 27, 2013

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A wealthy businessman, Moorish influences, an ancient fraternal society and a visiting Russian ballerina sound more like the plot for a novel than anything you'd encounter in suburban Auckland.

But they're all part of the rich tapestry of history of St Marys Bay's landmark Trentham House, a striking Edwardian villa topped with a distinctive Moorish domed turret. The uber-detailed stunner is for sale, presently in one household but with options. It's configured so it easily can be two luxury apartments, a plush B&B or an even larger estate if the neighbouring 1950s four-bedroom house is purchased in tandem.

The villa was built about 1907 for Auckland businessman, Josiah Webster, a leading Queen St fruiterer-florist who had the nous to import one of Auckland's first soda fountains. The New Zealand-representative rifle marksman became a leading light in the ancient fraternal, historically secretive society of Freemasons.

Around 1914 he built opulent Queen St picture theatre, the Grand Theatre (demolished for the Downtown Shopping Centre). Showbiz connections meant his wife reputedly entertained Russian empire ballerina Anna Pavlova in this villa.

Later, Trentham House was briefly let as a maternity home before conversion into flats, miraculously retaining much original craftsmanship. Present owners Wendy and her husband bought it 17 years ago. It was three downstairs flats and one larger upstairs residence with jaw-dropping views of the Shore, past the harbour bridge and Rangitoto.

Wendy says, "I'd always admired this house. It's just such a grand, beautiful home." They initially retained the flats to give their three then-teenage children semi-independence. Later, they reinstated it as one magnificent household with help from Archoffice's Brendan Rawson.

The estate corners Cameron St, where offstreet parking fronts an internal-access double garage. The original, pillared, cast-iron fence melds with a hedge for privacy. Front grounds (supplemented by rear service areas) feature a fountain and lawn around Webster's original paths. Purchasing next-door would bolster these 698sq m.

The Category 2 Historic Place is lavishly ornamented with fretwork, veranda and colourful leadlights with Freemason motifs. The front semi-circular bay with Moorish domed turret reflected an early architectural trend to incorporate Eastern cultural influences. "You just don't see that sort of craftsmanship anymore," Wendy says.

The front veranda's door opens into the downstairs hall, its staircase painstakingly recreated to match the surviving curvaceous upper floor stairs.

Wendy has managed to retain character while injecting eclectic drama - appropriate given this home's rich history. Tasteful contemporary chandelier and vast mirrors accompany extraordinary pressed ceilings and gleaming polished wood floors. The home has gas central heating and several fireplaces.

These owners added the northern flank's extensive veranda, flowing off the adjoining lounge, library and kauri-granite downstairs kitchen with laundry nearby. This level's two bedrooms are massive, sumptuous and en suited.

Wendy favours the second floor because of its fine harbour views, shared by a side veranda. A front office is separate but living is airily open-plan through the second gourmet kitchen-dining-living area, doglegging into another seating area.

Shelly Beach is a well-travelled road but this luxurious spread is surprisingly quiet inside.

Two big en suited bedrooms on this level match the downstairs bedrooms' gorgeousness. The rear master has a dressing room and a now-decorative original fireplace with extraordinarily pretty floral tiles. There's also another laundry. Upstairs, an en suited bedroom with neighbouring lounge hasn't been renovated lately but is still very tidy.

There's under-house storage in an area once used as a tennis club for Josiah Webster's friends when he owned a neighbouring tennis court.

Wendy still finds the villa achingly beautiful but it's now too large for the couple. "Someone may as well be getting pleasure out of the whole home."