When Gerry Westenberg and Jo Pannell first laid eyes on 12 Francis St, they recognised it straight away as having appeared in magazines and on TV shows.

"It's not a house you'd ever forget," says Jo.

The 1900s villa had previously been home to an eccentric, monarchy-loving Englishman who renovated it completely with the idea of having it as a unique, bed-and-breakfast establishment.

His style was flamboyant, resulting in a fascinating — if not perhaps a little polarising — effect, with quirky details evident throughout.


The magic begins at the front gate, inside which is a huge fountain, burbling away happily during the day — and lit up by night.

At some point, it's believed to have been home to a goldfish.

With aubergine weatherboards, a blue-and-gold front door and various royal references attached to the exterior walls, you know immediately that you're somewhere special and that's soon confirmed in the wide, bright hallway with its highly polished floors.

To each side of the door, there are generous bedrooms, one a romantic vision in vivid lolly pink, the other cool and sophisticated in green.

A further bedroom has a canopied ceiling, a dark-blue colour scheme and each of these three have their own bathrooms, which would have been perfect for the bed-and-breakfast guests who never arrived.

The previous owner/decorator is thought to have left Auckland abruptly before realising his boutique hotel dream. All the bedroom windows are framed by opulent, elegant drapes, which cost the earth at the time.

In the second half of the hallway there's a surprise in the form of a huge, bright mural featuring scenes from Alice in Wonderland and beside that is a smart new kitchen.

The main living space with vivid red walls is at the back of the house and opens via french doors to the decking and garden. The sunny master suite has a private bathroom, capacious walk-in wardrobe and its own set of french doors.

Though the property is in excellent order, after 20 years some of the decor needs updating but there's nothing major — unless you don't like shimmering goldinterior doors, in which case you'd definitely have some painting to do.

Gerry and Jo suggest that the home's layout and facilities make it ideal for use as Airbnb accommodation — especially as it's so centrally located.

A huge variety of shops and eateries are within easy walking distance and Francis St is not far from the Ponsonby Rd strip. Public transport is on-hand as is a supermarket and specialty food stores.

In the back yard are several well-established palm trees and while much of the area is paved, there's potential for somebody with green thumbs to make much more of this space.

Beside the detached double garage is a spa pool — ideal for a laid-back dip on starry nights.

For various reasons, Gerry and Jo never ended up living in the house themselves but after 18 years they're still very attached to it.

At one stage it was rented by Phil Kingsley-Jones, rugby legend Jonah Lomu's manager at the time. Apparently Jonah would often stay, choosing the pink bedroom as his base.

"The thought of the huge winger, lying in bed in that pretty room always makes me smile," says Jo.

The couple are selling the house because of changing circumstances but, every now and then, they look at it and have second thoughts. "There will never be anything else quite like it," they say.

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