A major restoration of Whanganui's Sarjeant House has started, with the aim of completing it to coincide with the reopening of the Sarjeant Gallery in Queens Park.

The process began with a chance encounter when Dave and Marina Moore walked past the Bell St heritage property while visiting Whanganui.

"We thought 'oh my god, we've got to save this house'," Dave Moore said.

"The house is currently, unfortunately, in a very poor state of repair. The heritage protected part, the frontage and the columns, is in a dire state."

The house retains many original features.
The house retains many original features.

The Moores bought the property, knowing exactly what they were taking on. They own Wellington-based building and restoration company Villa Services NZ Ltd and are now setting up a branch in Whanganui.

They aim to use Whanganui people and businesses as much as possible and have formed a small team to begin the Sarjeant House restoration.

The ornate staircase.
The ornate staircase.

"I've been amazed how keen people are to work on the property," Dave Moore said.

"People from Whanganui all know the house and a lot of people have stopped and thanked the boys since they started work. I have an experienced young fella leading the team and we've been training up the others.

"In our business, we are teaching people some skills. Some of them start off being labourers and they show a bit of enthusiasm and connection and start learning off the craftsmen who do the job."

Moore now has a team of six working on the project as well as a Whanganui-based regional manager for Villa Services.

"We are currently repairing and restoring the columns and arches and the exterior," Moore said.

"We only do high-end paint jobs so we'll strip the paint right back and give it a very solid paint job then do the renovation inside."

The columns at the front of the house present a particular challenge for the restoration.
The columns at the front of the house present a particular challenge for the restoration.

There are some particular challenges with restoring the columns which were built in the same way as wine barrels, using hoops.

"The trade of hooping is now non-existent in New Zealand and that's how the columns were made," Moore said.

"We've also discovered a bit of very serious rot but that's the nature of our business.

"The intention is to bring the house up to a modern state with full insulation, double glazing and solar panels on the roof.

"We genuinely have affection for villas and enjoy owning and restoring them. They were the original magnificent homes of New Zealand. We'll keep it as traditional as possible but with modern conveniences such as insulation.

"Our programme is to have it all completed, including the grounds, in time for the opening of the Sarjeant Gallery because it ties in with the gallery's history. Two years is a comfortable timeframe to do the job."

Inside the entrance hall.
Inside the entrance hall.

The Sarjeant Gallery redevelopment project is scheduled for completion in 2020/21.

Sarjeant House was built for Sarjeant Gallery benefactors Henry and Ellen Sarjeant.

According to the Whanganui Heritage Inventory, it is thought to have been built between 1893 and 1899. The design is by Ellen Sarjeant in the Italianate architectural style and is based on a sketch she made of a house at Lake Como, Italy. The Sarjeants named the house "The Loggia".