A fine Fendalton mansion is back from the brink of ruin, and all dressed up for Christmas.
A new family with four teens bring life and light to a quake-damaged Fendalton manor
For Brenchley, a Fendalton mansion, there could be no greater joy than hearing the sound of laughter and children’s voices echoing around the halls after half a decade languishing in the dark. The grande dame had celebrated more than 90 Christmases, mostly as a family home, before being wrecked by the first Canterbury earthquake in September 2010.
The home sat in a shambles and its future looked bleak until Suzanne Kitley and her husband Richard walked down the drive and fell in love with it. “It was late on a Sunday afternoon in autumn,” she remembers. “The house was boarded up but it was still so serene and bathed in golden light. I just went, ‘Oh, it’s divine.’”
Suzanne and Richard, with their blended family of four teenagers, Rose, Allessandra, Sam and Gabrielle, bought the house in November 2015 in a private sale after being interviewed by the previous owners. “They wanted the house to be saved. They wanted it go to a family and be looked after,” says Suzanne. >
They were well-qualified on all scores. Richard has won awards for restoring some of Christchurch’s finest heritage buildings and for Suzanne, who spent seven years living in the UK, Brenchley was the traditional English-style home of her dreams.
Built during World War I, the 695sqm weatherboard mansion was designed by the England brothers and built using heart kauri repurposed from the 1906 Canterbury Exhibition. Home to just a handful of families over a century, it has survived several subdivisions and three name changes, starting as Chilcombe, renamed Brenchley in the 1920s, Lyddington in the 30s and back to Brenchley in 1970.
Set in the heart of Fendalton on the banks of the Wairarapa stream, the property is currently 5600sqm after the last owners purchased neighbouring land to put in a tennis court.
That couple had just finished renovating the house when the quake struck, destroying their efforts in a few soul-destroying moments. The foundations slumped, lath and plaster walls crumbled and ceilings collapsed rendering it immediately uninhabitable. When Suzanne and Richard walked in five years later, the house was dark and derelict, home only to rats and mice.
“There was a dead pigeon in the chandelier. It was a mess,” says Suzanne. “But when we took the boards off the windows and saw the light for the first time, I went into the library and started crying. I said to Richard, ‘It’s just so beautiful seeing the sunshine coming in,’ and he said, ‘I think she’s breathing a sigh of relief that someone is loving her again.’”
Brenchley’s resurrection was a herculean task, starting with the reconstruction of the foundations before strengthening the house with steel. Friend and builder Peter Wright lived on site for six months undertaking the repairs. The fallen back-to-back fireplaces were removed, floors repaired or remilled from heritage timber and the walls double-lined and insulated. >
The bones repaired, Richard and Suzanne turned their attention to the finishing touches. “We restored the interior grandeur by putting back the traditional details like cornices and ceiling roses,” says Suzanne. They had replicas made locally, and Richard designed a coffered ceiling to enhance the modern but traditional-style kitchen. Along the way, they equipped the home for life in the 21st century, double-glazing the original multipaned windows and wiring inside and out for music.
The house has an array of living spaces with separate sitting room, dining room, library, sunroom and a more recently added family room extension. As well as five bedrooms inside, there is a guest room above the 12m indoor pool and sleepover space in the tennis pavilion.
With their combined households and a few pieces purchased with the house, Suzanne says they haven’t bought a lot of furniture and she is surprised how well it has worked. >
“We’ve managed to create some beautiful spaces with the eclectic collection of furniture and furnishings, lamps, objects and art we had acquired over time. A lot of it hadn’t been together in the same room before.”
She draws her inspiration from the colours of nature, avoiding garish reds even at Christmas. Brenchley’s halls are decked with pale golds and greens and the kauri staircase is swathed with garlands and fairy lights.
Brenchley is again brimming with life: “It’s a beautiful, gracious house, but it’s a family home,” says Suzanne. On cue, an exuberant pair of spoodle pups hurtle into the room, muddy from a foray in the stream, and leap onto the grey linen sofa. “And you wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says with a laugh.
THIS PAGE Soft golds and pewter are restful in the master bedroom which has Resene ‘Quarter Foggy Grey’ from the Karen Walker range on the walls, and cushions from Plane Tree. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top) A crystal chandelier hanging from a new ceiling rose accentuates the lightness of the upstairs landing: “Despite its size, it’s not a heavy house,” says Suzanne. The couple have their own en suites – Suzanne’s looks over native bush in the garden; it mostly survived the earthquakes with only some plastering and painting required; the green-tinted table Suzanne collected years ago picks up the tile colour perfectly. The tapestry in Allessandra’s room was created by her greatgrandmother; the chandelier is a miniature version of those in the kitchen and landing.
THIS PAGE (from top) Sam enjoys some time with spoodles Oscar and Ollie down by the Wairarapa stream; the family likes to feed the eels; a boardwalk meanders along the water’s edge through established natives and a ponga grove. The giant redwood at right is as old as the house, which was completed in 1918. OPPOSITE (clockwise from top) The sunroom leads through wide rimu French doors to the north-west patio with the tennis court beyond; the chair is by US brand Drexel. The front verandah, like the rest of the house, is wired for sound using Theophany speakers handcrafted from native timbers: “We tried to support local businesses wherever we could,” says Suzanne. Suzanne designed this part of the garden that had to be rebuilt with the help of gardener Paul Smit; before the quakes there was a water feature here; the roses are ‘Iceberg’.