Before we look at too many more images, I need to set the scene for you. Imagine being a young couple in Auckland trying to buy your first home, a place to call your own and raise a family… Imagine missing out on house after house, and being priced further and further out of the market, until you have no choice – two years into the search – but to look at one bedroom places… Then, in one of those one-bedroom searches, you come across this. This massive old hall, situated in one of Auckland’s city-fringe suburbs. A Masonic-style hall, built in 1907 on a patch of land that then cost £135. You tender for it, putting in your entire budget, plus a bit more. Then you get the call – the hall is yours.
This dual-heritage listed historic building is your new forever home, ready to be restored and transformed…
The moment I spotted Jessica Britten and Warren Durling’s @hallweneed Instagram feed, I wanted to share their FREAKING INSPIRING adventure with you. So, let’s take a look around the hall, and then ask Jess a few questions, shall we?
Eventually, there will be a rooftop terrace up there. Imagine the views on a summer eve…
Love that old Railway Lodge hand-painted sign – I hope they keep this.
Jess & Warren recently finished a re-paint of this facade. The colour is Dulux Mt Aspiring, if you’re wondering (with the soft grey of Manorburn around the windows)
You can see before and after pics on the @hallweneed Instagram
The International Order of Odd Fellows.
Insignias for the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalo, the final society who owned the hall
Little details make a home
Much to be done in the kitchen (although also, it’s sort of perfect just as it is)
This hand-crocheted Queen Elizabeth II is one of the pieces of ephemera Jess & Warren inherited
Warren and Jessica and the Ceremony Master throne.
OMG, guys, they have a throne.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to buy the hall?
When we stumbled upon the hall we had been looking to purchase our first home for sometime. Every week we would canvas new online property listings – focusing our search on 1 – 2 bedroom places that were as centrally located as we could afford. Ironically this is how we stumbled across the hall, since it technically only has one (very giant) room! We saw the listing and since it was near where we were renting, thought we would check it out for a laugh.
We did a lot of due diligence to gain an understanding of the heritage protection and how that might affect any work we would want to one day carry out. The heritage team at Auckland Council and Heritage New Zealand were both very helpful. We also did all of the usual things one does when looking to purchase – we had it inspected by a builder mate, and then went a step further and consulted with an architect, engineer, electrician, plumber and of course an insurer. We were under no disillusion that there wouldn’t be surprises and tough times along the way, but wanted to eliminate as much risk as possible – so far our research seems to have paid off.
Luckily for us it is residentially zoned with a sub-category listing of ‘assembly hall’ which meant we didn’t have to go through a change of use. This is something I would definitely caution people to look for if they’re considering buying a unique property.
It was a sale by tender, which I found terrifying but it was also good from the view that we had a very firm limit on what we could afford to offer so we just put our best foot forward. We did have to stretch our original budget, but in return we got 10 times more space and character that we could have imagined.
What do you know of the history of the hall?
Ah, to have been a fly on the wall… at almost 110 years old I’m sure the old girl has seen a lot! The property was purchased in 1907 for a cool £135 by the International Order of Odd Fellows, who built the hall shortly afterwards. The Odd Fellows were a society with English roots, set up to provide ordinary workers and their families support, financial and otherwise, at a time when there was no government welfare. When the New Zealand government introduced welfare in the 1930’s, IOOF membership declined and other fraternities rented the space, becoming something of a community hall. It was even where New Zealand’s first Labour Prime Minister, Michael Savage held many meetings. Eventually the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalo bought the building off the IOOF and it is the ‘buffs’ whom we purchased the hall from. Although we don’t know for certain, it seems these fraternities all shared similar characteristics… secret rituals, alcohol, and exclusively male.
What smaller details of the original hall have you kept?
The hall is so old that it’s a matter of establishing what is actually original and what has been added over the years. There are so many features which serve as little reminders of what the hall has been over the years….an old firehose which hangs in the entranceway, peep holes in the doors (for some type of secret ritual?!), the signage painted on the side of the building, the stunning original timber flooring.
We love the rich history, so we’re committed to keeping and restoring the details which make it unique.
What have you done in the renovation journey so far, and how long has it taken?
We moved in in February 2016 and spent the first 12 months adjusting to hall-life and making it comfortable to live in (there was no shower or kitchen when we took up residence). We’ve sanded back floors, ceilings, balustrades and walls, fixed leaks, replaced rotten joinery and holes in the floor, insulated, painted, upgraded drainage, electrical repairs… the list is long!
Now that’s an even longer list!! We’re now working with an architect to plan the long term vision for the hall. That way we can work more effectively (because who has the time, energy and resources to redo hard work!?).
What sort of timeframe or project structure are you trying to work to?
Our strategy for tackling renovation work has evolved somewhat since we moved in. At first we just did whatever was necessary to make life at the hall comfortable. Now our goal is to finish this master plan, then divide it into several manageable stages which we can tackle when we’re financially ready.
We’re hoping to start the first stage within the next year, and the last stage, whatever that will be, would ideally be finished within the next 10 years. That might seem like a long time, but we really want to do something spectacular and getting to transform a building like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity so we’re not going to rush the process.
What’s one aspect of the journey ahead that you’re particularly looking forward to?
Since the very first time we stepped foot in the hall we started talking about how incredible it would be to install skylights into the ceiling of the main room, and that’s still the thing that I’m most excited about!
We’ve also got big dreams of maybe one day putting a terrace on the roof (hello 10 year plan and serious saving), the views of the city are insane from up there so that would be pretty special.
What has been your best buy or find (other than the hall itself!)?
I love the set of Marcel Breuer Cesca Style Dining Chairs I found on Trademe.
What has been the biggest challenge of the journey so far?
Just learning to be patient. It’s easy to get excited by dreams and ideas for what we could do with the space, but nothing happens overnight. We need to take our time planning and saving so we can do it justice.
Tell us about couple of your favourite corners/little details of the hall?
The view driving down the street is something I will never tire of. The houses are all immaculately kept former dock workers cottages, so the hall sticks out like a sore thumb, but the whole street looks like it has been frozen in time and perfectly frames a view of Auckland city.
I also love watching the sunrise from our top floor window (currently our bedroom), you can see the sun rise up and saturate Rangitoto and the Sky Tower in a golden glow – SO insanely stunning.
Inside, it’s the scale of the hall that I adore… the room is enormous and the ceilings are super high so there’s lots of potential to play with mezzanines.
Join me in following Jess and Warren’s journey on Instagram.
Imagery by wedding and lifestyle photographer
Samantha Donaldson for The New