If you find yourself in the Dunedin area, then a visit to Olveston House Dunedin is a must. Built for David Theomin, this wealthy merchant’s house was gifted to the city on the death of his daughter Dorothy back in 1967 and is now a popular visitor attraction.
Olveston House Dunedin
The 35-room mansion, occupied by the family from 1906 to 1966, is built in the arts and crafts style. As is common with this style of architecture, local materials were used in its construction, like the rounded Moeraki pebbledash and North Otago limestone detailing that adds character to the exterior.
Many of the windows feature stained glass panels imported from England. The house is arranged over four floors, with both the servants’ quarters and family accommodation open to the public.
Inside, little has changed in the house since it became a museum, which retains the extensive collection of fine art and antique furniture that Theomin imported from around the world. Olveston’s rooms are packed with exotic treasures, including exquisite Japanese ramma panels with gilt-painted phoenix and peonies carved into the wood. Its collections will transport you to far-flung places; from an evocative painting of a Tangier orange seller to an enamelled Chinese urn, you’ll get an insight into the family’s taste and passion for art of all kinds.
David Theomin’s story is as interesting as that of his home. He initially came to New Zealand from Bristol, England, by way of Melbourne, Auckland and an ill-fated passage to Lyttelton which saw him shipwrecked in the Bay of Plenty. It didn’t put him off, and after going back to Australia to marry, he and his new wife settled in Dunedin shortly after their marriage in 1879. Seeing a gap in the market, he set up the Dresden Pianoforte Manufacturing & Agency Company, the name a nod to his father’s origins. Selling sheet music and musical instruments, the business thrived and he found himself in the enviable financial position of being able to afford a grand house. Theomin commissioned English architect Sir Ernest George and Olveston Historic Home was the impressive result.
As well as the house, visitors have the opportunity to wander the grounds of Olveston House Dunedin and have a closer look at the family’s car, a soft top 1921 Fiat 510 Tourer. At the time, this was a flash motor, with a top speed of sixty miles per hour and enough horsepower to make light work of Dunedin’s hills. If you’re into vintage cars, then you might opt to visit Olveston Historic Home in style with Classic Jaguar, travelling around Dunedin in a Jag or Daimler before taking a private tour of the house.
It isn’t possible to visit Olveston Historic Home independently, but you can join one of their guided one-hour group tours which take place six times a day. Some of these tours are themed; coming up in July 2015 are the Thursday Art Collector’s tours, whilst other popular tours have included the Edwardian cuisine tours for those wishing to have a nose through Mrs Theomin’s kitchen cupboards. It’s even possible to hire mallets for a game of croquet on the lawn and learn how to play from an expert instructor. Visits to the garden and gift shop are free.