Feature article

Don Wilson’s mid-century Whanganui home on the market

TV costume designer, Katrina Hodge has owned and improved this Whanganui mid-century beauty for 10 years.

An Auckland costume designer is reluctantly selling her mid-century home in Whanganui’s leafy St Johns Hill. The sale is attracting a lot of interest already because it’s a property of significant historical interest as the former family home of the modernist local architect, Don Wilson.

The Fulbright scholar went to Chicago in 1958 to study experimental building techniques, studying under renowned pioneering architect, Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. While he was there, Don designed his St Johns Hill house for his family, and he lived there for the rest of his life.

The large, two-level home, built in the shape of an H, was ahead of its time, using lots of steel and glass rather than the timber and shed style favoured by local NZ architects at the time. Drawing from commercial designs he’d seen in Chicago, he used steel-framed pavilions sitting on concrete floor slabs for his home design. 

Wilson House, as it’s known, was built on a generous gently sloping 4,982 sq m section.  A large home for its time, it has four bedrooms and three bathrooms, covering a total of 260 sq m. Throughout the house there are large, glazed, non-load bearing exterior walls, built-in cabinetry in the bedrooms, kitchen and living areas and colourful screens and partitions.

“The thought that has gone into the design of the house is mind-blowing,” says the current owner, Katrina Hodge, a costume designer who has worked on some of NZ’s top TV shows including Outrageous Fortune and One Lane Bridge. 

The property has been recognised for its design merits over the years. It was the winner of the New Zealand Institute of Architects Enduring Architecture Award in 2014, and has featured in a number of architectural publications. Its upcoming sale was featured recently in Here, the NZ architecture magazine.

Katrina bought the mid-century property from the Wilson family in 2013, and each time a TV production she’s working on ends, she goes down to spend time there. Her rental home in Auckland has come up for sale and, because their work is largely in the city, she and her partner are taking the opportunity to buy it, but this means selling her Whanganui home. 

During her decade of ownership, the designer has overseen painstaking restoration work at the property which has always been in keeping with the original design. This is a house that you’re custodian of, she adds. The owner has put in new floor coverings with beautiful green carpet from Artisan Collective which suits the mid-century style of the home.

Katrina says she’s constantly discovering different details at Wilson House. A curved plywood wall in the dining room is a feature she loves. Another favourite spot is a bedroom which is largely a glass box. This was Don Wilson’s office, she says.

“Anyone who spends time there has their own relationship and their own connection with the home,” says the costume designer. 

For music lovers, there is a built-in stereogram and the house also has a baby grand piano in the spacious lounge which is played regularly by a well-known musician. 

The property has some practical perks which will be appreciated by buyers, including an internal access garage, two en-suites and two living rooms. There’s also a guest suite on the lower level of the property which was built for Don Wilson’s mother. This would be ideal as a work from home space or an artist’s studio, says Katrina.  

St Johns Hill is one of Whanganui’s most upmarket suburbs, and Wilson House is zoned for Whanganui Collegiate, Whanganui Intermediate and St Johns Hill School. There’s plenty of parking at the property which has a long driveway to the house and there’s a large parcel of land at the rear with mature chestnut trees. 

“This would be an ideal spot for a studio,” says Katrina, who always dreamed of adding this. 

What out-of-towners may not know about Whanganui, is how reasonably-priced homes are in the city. This large landmark property of key historical and cultural interest to the city is likely to sell in the $900,000 to $1.1 million price range.

Katrina says she’s already had enquiries from Otago, Auckland and from local residents.

The vendor has asked stylist Karlya Smith to run the open homes for her. Karlya and her husband, musician, Anthonie Tonnon are big fans of the house and say it’s one of the reasons why they moved to Whanganui.   

It’s tempting to suggest that the house, which Katrina believes should be heritage-listed in time, is bought by the city and made open to the public but at the same time Katrina would like to see people living there and making the most of the home as its architect intended. 

“It needs to be lived in and lived in every day,” says the vendor.

The costume designer is selling privately and by tender, the closing date, if not sold prior, is December 14. She will select the next owner with great care, says Katrina.


Gill South
Gill South