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’.

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