Olveston Historic Home
This 1906 mansion less than a mile north of Dunedin’s city centre provides a spectacular window into the architectural growth of the city following periods of prosperity before the turn of the 20th century. Built for the Theomins, one of the most prosperous merchant families in Dunedin and notable patrons of the arts who were considerably involved with endowing Dunedin's Public Art Gallery, Olveston Historic Home in Dunedin is testament to the artistic bent of its patriarch, David Edward Theomin. In the ensuing years, the house’s collection of treasures – prized artwork, fine fabrics, furniture, exotic objects, and Oriental curios especially Japanese art – grew as the family made many trips abroad.
The Theomin Family
The Theomins - patriarch David, his wife Marie and their two children – were heavily involved in the community, had varied interests, were highly cultured, and were well-traveled. It was the couple’s travels to Europe, America and the Far East in 1902 that inspired them to build a fine home for themselves in what was then the most populous city in New Zealand. They had looked at a work of a Canadian before procuring for themselves the services of Sir Ernest George in the London partnership of Ernest George and Yeates.
From a historical perspective, Olveston Historic Home is a vivid time capsule of how a wealthy merchant family lived at the turn of the 20th century. Little has changed over the years, as the mansion has been preserved according to the wishes of Miss Dorothy Theomin who survived her parents and only sibling, Edward. She lived in Olveston House until shortly before her death in 1966, and as neither she nor her married but childless brother had heirs, the home was willed to the city of Dunedin instead. A year later, Olveston Historic Home was transformed into a historic house museum.
Olveston Historic Home – A House of Treasures
As part of the cityscape of Dunedin, Olveston Historic Home has more to contribute than just being an extant example of the prevailing building and design trends and architectural thought at the time the house was being built between 1904 and 1906. It is also a showroom of the modern conveniences made available to wealthy households during the early 20th century. By the time the house was finished in late 1906, it had central heating, a gas generator for electricity, heated towel rails and a shower in each bathroom, an internal telephone system, and service lift.
Olveston’s cache of prized items makes it unique among Dunedin’s historic houses. In the entrance hall, a set of Japanese weaponry is on display, while the dining room holds a Lantern Clock of wrought brass with rococo motifs. The billiards room contains an 18th century Chinese copper enamel urn while an Italian jewel casket can be found in the library. A copy of a Veronese painting and a pair of Japanese ramma panels hang in the Great Hall, with several pieces of paintings by 20th century Dunedin and New Zealand artists also on display.
Construction of Olveston House
Described as ‘an extremely interesting and very grand house’ by British architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner when he visited Olveston Historic Home in 1958, the house boasts of English oak joinery in its interiors, the work of the London firm Green and Abbott. The original wallpapers came from Buffalo, New York, and personally chosen by the Theomins in one of their travels to the United States.
The exterior walls of the house are built with brick and plaster and finished with local Moeraki gravel. North Otago limestone is also employed for quoins, crenellations and fine mullioned windows and creates a contrasting cream against Moeraki pebbles and Oamaru limestone.