With its portal door, chrome detail, and terrazzo steps, the apartment at 4/21A Manchester Terrace, Melrose, could easily make you think you’ve taken a drastically wrong turn and wound up in Napier.
You haven’t, you’re in Wellington and this art deco stunner is part of a complex of buildings built in the 1920s by Sir Frederic Truby King, founder of the Plunket and Karitane societies.
The word Karitane is there above the entrance, in bold, round art deco lettering. But these days, the “office” is a stylish loft-style apartment conversion, home to four families.
It’s the uniqueness of this building – and the slice of social history it represents – that drew apartment owner Tim Steeneken to it 20 years ago.
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“It’s so close to the city, and yet you’re in this little garden oasis,” he says. “The only noise you really get is from the zoo.”
Looking out the windows, there’s nothing but tree tops and blue skies.
Turn around, however, and it’s all about the playful period panache.
From the defunct walk-in safe/wardrobe/wine cellar with its 20cm thick iron door in the front bedroom, to the steel-framed industrial windows set high in the walls, from the industrial drop lights with period glass and tin shades, to the Sleek, art deco detailing in the hall, people pay through the nose for reproductions of features like these. But these are all original.
Built in 1923, the building was once part of the 20s equivalent of a health and wellness centre. Up the hill was a hospital – since demolished – and King’s personal home and gardens – now Truby King Park, which is open to the public.
The factory building housed the Karitane offices, and machines King designed himself for his infant formula process. It was converted into apartments about 30 years ago.
The complex was linked by snacking brick pathways. In the spaces between the bricks, King planted French strawberries. The bricks would soak up the sun by day and keep the berries fruiting longer. Workers from the factory would them for use in the baby food harvest.
“Truby King did a lot of the brickwork around here. I think he fancied himself as a bit of a bricklayer,” says Steeneken, a builder.
He restored some of King’s handy work in the apartment building’s garden – a brick and timber glass house, one of a pair that was in disrepair when Steeneken bought the property.
Also in the shared garden is an iron drum, used during the war to render oil from fish caught in Island Bay, as an alternative to the European cod liver oil King advocated for babies’ health and wellbeing.
For a second floor apartment, it has a wealth of outdoor options. There’s the shared private garden, as well as Truby King Park, which links to a mountain bike park, and other walking tracks through the green belt.
“[Around the top of the hill] in the spring, it’s all cherry blossom. On the Kilbirnie side, it’s all rhododendron gardens. He brought a whole lot of them in from the Himalayas.”
In terms of historic importance and unique style, there is nothing else like the property in the city, possibly in the whole country.
“We were adamant that we wanted to keep it that way,” says Steeneken, who with the other owners of the building, worked to get it a category 1 Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga historic places listing, protecting it from being demolished.
“That’s part of the community feel that we have.”
A builder by trade, Steeneken is now retiring to the beach and says it’s time to let someone else become the caretaker of this slice of Kiwi social history.
The 163sqm property is for sale by tender. The RV is $1,180,000. The average sale price in Melrose is $1.39m. According to homes.co.nz, a property near-by sold recently for $1.2m.
The listing is with Erin Rush and Nigel Solomon for Harcourts. Tender closes on Thursday, May 5.