Billionaire revives old villa


A Japanese billionaire, a Kiwi interior designer and a British builder are behind one of Queenstown’s biggest restoration projects.

Having been restored to its Victorian-era heyday, Hulbert House, overlooking the CBD, reopens as a six-suite boutique lodge on May 1.

Originally built in 1888, the grandiose weatherboard villa - on the corner of Ballarat, Hallenstein and Malaghan Streets - was last restored in the 1980s by previous owner Ted Sturt, who then ran it as a guesthouse till he died in 2009.

Subject to decay again in recent years, it was bought three years ago by the Auckland-based Fukutake family, from Japan, who committed to bringing it back to its former glory.

Billionaire Soichiro Fukutake is no stranger to restoration - he’s famous for turning Japan’s former industrial island of Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea, into a major world art destination.

The Fukutakes, who moved to New Zealand in 2009, employed Auckland-based Neil McLachlan - the designer on TV’s Changing Rooms and Hot Property - as their Hulbert House project manager.

McLachlan’s also restored three Auckland homes for the family, including one on Waiheke Island, and also their holiday home in Henry St, near the Queenstown CBD, where an original 1800s cottage was lifted and another storey was built below.

McLachlan says Hulbert House has been a big project.

“We have been able to save the house only because of the level of investment that the Fukutake family has put into restoring the house.

“It’s a fantastic, prestigious property for them to own and I think it’s going to add a whole new dimension to the accommodation market in Queenstown.

“People are shying away from heritage buildings because of the complications to do with earthquakes.”

New concrete foundations were put in place for earthquake-strengthening.

MacLachlan’s also had to work in closely with Heritage New Zealand, due to the building’s historic classification.

“Ted Sturt entered into a covenant with the [former] NZ Historic Places Trust so we were able to build two suites in the attic that overlook the lake.”

The original windows, now triple-glazed, cladding and roof were retained. McLachlan’s imported furniture and fittings come from all over the world.

They include wallpaper from Britain that was designed at the same period as the house.

The main lounge and dining room has been designed as a Victorian-style palm house in the former space between the house and the service wing.

McLachlan says they’ve also been fortunate to employ David ‘Bod’ Boden, of Boden Building.

The Queenstown builder, who used to restore old buildings in his native Britain, also worked on the Henry St home for the Fukutakes.

Boden, who’s employed about 10 carpenters as well as subcontractors, says it’s been “a very happy and pleasurable project to bring [Hulbert House] back to life”.

“There’s been some good craft go into it.

“Things that we were allowed to pull out have been remachined and brought back as different products.”

As a lodge, Hulbert House will be run by hotel management company Brook Serene.

The company also manages The George hotel and Hotel Montreal in Christchurch.

The general manager is Vicki Bretherton, who formerly managed Queenstown’s Millennium Hotel and Arrowtown’s Millbrook Resort.

She’s giving the guest rooms names associated with Hulbert House’s past.

One example is original owner Horatio Nelson Firth - the local receiver of gold revenue and court official who was later imprisoned for embezzlement.

A unique touch is that each room will have a commercial-grade coffee grinder with fresh beans.