Don Wilson’s mid-century Whanganui house is like a time capsule from the 1960s
An Auckland fashion designer is reluctantly selling her mid-century home in Whanganui’s leafy St John’s Hill area.
The sale is already attracting a lot of interest because it is a property of great historical interest as the former family home of local modernist architect Don Wilson.
A Fulbright scholar went to Chicago in 1958 to study experimental building techniques, studying under the famous pioneering architect Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. While there, Don designed his home on St. John’s Hill for his family, and lived there for the rest of his life.
The large two-storey, H-shaped house was ahead of its time, using much steel and glass rather than the timber-and-shed style favored by local New Zealand architects at the time. Drawing on commercial designs he saw in Chicago, he used steel-framed pavilions placed on concrete floor slabs to design his home.
Wilson House, as it is known, is built on a spacious, gently sloping section measuring 4,982 square metres. A large house for its time, it has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, with a total area of 260 square metres. Throughout the house there are large, glazed, non-load-bearing exterior walls, built-in wardrobes in the bedrooms, kitchen and living areas, and colorful screens and partitions.
“The thought that went into the design of the house is amazing,” says current owner, Katrina Hodge, a costume designer who has worked on some of New Zealand’s top TV shows, including Outrageous Fortune and One Lane Bridge.
The property has been recognized for its design merits over the years. He won the New Zealand Institute of Architects’ Permanent Architecture Award in 2014 and has been featured in a number of architectural publications.
Its upcoming sale was recently featured in Here, a New Zealand architecture magazine.
Katrina bought the mid-century property from the Wilson family in 2013, and every time a TV production wraps, she goes to spend time there. Her rented house in Auckland has been put up for sale, and since their business is largely based in the city, she and her partner jump at the opportunity to buy it, but that means selling her home in Whanganui.
During her decade of ownership, the designer oversaw painstaking restoration work on the hotel that was always true to the original design. She adds that this is the house she is taking care of. The owner put in new floor coverings with a beautiful green rug from Artisan Collective that fits the mid-century style of the home.
Katrina says she is constantly discovering different details at Wilson House. The curved plywood wall in the dining room is a feature she loves. Another favorite place is the bedroom which is pretty much a glass box. She says this was Don Wilson’s office.
“Everyone who spends time there has their own relationship and connection to the house,” says the fashion designer.
For music lovers, there is a built-in stereo and the house also has a baby grand piano in the spacious lounge which is regularly played by a well-known musician.
The property has some practical perks that will be appreciated by buyers, including an en-suite garage, two en-suites and two living rooms. There is also a guest suite in the basement of the property that was built for Don Wilson’s mother. Katrina says this would be perfect for working from home or an artist’s studio.
St Johns Hill is one of Whanganui’s most upscale suburbs and Wilson House is dedicated to Whanganui Collegiate, Whanganui Intermediate and St Johns Hill School. There is plenty of parking on the property which has a long driveway to the house and there is a large plot to the rear with mature chestnut trees.
“This would be perfect for a studio,” says Katrina, who has long dreamed of adding this space.
What out-of-towners may not know about Wanganui, is how affordable home prices are in the city. This large historic property of major historical and cultural importance to the city is likely to sell for between $900,000 and $1.1 million.
Katrina says she has already received inquiries from Otago, Auckland and local residents.
The seller asked fashion designer Carlia Smith to run open houses for her. Carlia and her husband, musician Anthony Tonon, are big fans of the house and say that’s one of the reasons they moved to Wanganui.
It’s tempting to suggest that the house, which Katerina believes should be heritage listed in time, will be bought by the city and made open to the public, but at the same time Katerina wants to see the people living there making the most of the house. As its engineer wanted.
“We have to live in it and live it every day,” says the seller.
The fashion designer is selling privately and by bid, and the closing date, if not previously sold, is December 14. Katrina says she will choose the next owner with great care.
This story was originally published on Trade Me and has been republished with permission.