Villas with expansive gardens are not that common in the inner city but the home where Maddalena and Ben Dobson grew up is one of them. "The garden seemed huge to us as children," is how Maddalena remembers it. "Big enough to build huts in, all the things children do. All our friends liked to play there as much as we did."
Perhaps in some ways, the 878sq m of land is a mixed blessing. Zoned 7b it can be subdivided for four new dwellings and so is of interest to a wide variety of buyers for this very reason. Ben and Maddalena of course would love it to remain as a family home, as it has been for them for 30 years, although perhaps improved to 21st-century standards.
What the new purchaser will acquire, as well as that wonderful garden, is a fine old villa. Built in 1910, it is on the cusp of villas becoming bungalows, but this one leans towards the villa in style. Two-storeyed, with a front porch on the street side and two rear verandas overlooking the garden, every room is large and square. Ceilings are the lofty 3.6m stud common to this period, and Ben and Maddalena's parents, the late Helen and Colin, painstakingly restored each one to its original board and batten construction.
The minuscule kitchen they inherited when they purchased the house in two flats in 1982 was extended into the bathroom next door and is now a mid-sized room with granite counter tops and a range of cupboards, and could be easily opened out to the huge dining room alongside it. This square dining room has a working open fireplace and access to the lower veranda through what looks like a cupboard. Ben and Maddalena remember playing out here in the sun, despite its height above the ground and its low balustrades. "I can't remember ever trying to climb them or anything silly," says Maddalena. "I just remember how sunny it was and how we could get to the dining room and kitchen through the cupboard. We never thought of playing in the big sitting room for some reason."
This big and slightly formal room (again with a working fireplace) overlooks the garden and opens onto the lower of the two rear verandas, but it is the smaller and more intimate front room where Ben and Maddalena spent their childhood TV hours. "This was our room," says Maddalena. "We spent goodness knows how much time in here."
A handsome, double staircase leads to the bedrooms, all of which are situated on the upper floor. All four are large enough to be considered as doubles although the smallest with its tall, thin sash window feels more like a single. All are high-ceilinged, with a wall of big windows letting in lots of sunlight. Maddalena had the one at the front and Ben the one alongside his parents' at the rear. The room that was his parents' has access on to the upper veranda and is the perfect place to relax with a cup of tea. The only bathroom is on this floor and has been nicely modernised.
Both siblings admit to mixed feelings about the future of their family home but, as Ben admits, time moves on as both of them are already living separate lives. "Perhaps we're being sentimental, but it's a wonderful old house, solid kauri and so much a piece of the local history that it would be sad to see it not be improved and lived in as a family home. But obviously what will be, will be."By Cate Foster