For The Love Of A Dame

Sally Dawson and Chris Moreton never planned to take up country life.

The pair, both real estate agents, were happy in the city until a client purchased a four bay Victorian villa on a rear site in Greenlane, believed to have once belonged to Sir John Logan Campbell. The property was to be redeveloped into three dwellings, and Sally and Chris agreed the elegant homestead was too good to be demolished. 

Born in the UK, Chris was an antique importer and dealer for many years. “The love of Victorian heritage is in his genes,” says Sally. Still, he took her by surprise when he declared he had always wanted to move a house’.

So began a three-month search for a piece of land worthy of the grand old dame. The couple scanned the coast from Mangawhai Heads to Coromandel, eventually settling on a three acre plot on Takatu Ridge with views to the north stretching from Mount Tamahunga across Omaha to Little Barrier, and to the south over farmland to Kawau Bay and Moturekareka Island.

Back in Greenlane, the attic bedroom had to be craned off the top, and the house sliced into three to keep the ornate pressed tin ceilings intact. “It didn’t seem daunting at the time,” says Sally. Besides the couple had no intention of keeping the house. It was purely an investment. Or so they thought. 

But as they worked away, removing brick chimneys, lifting granite pavers and carefully chipping up the original decorative hearth tiles one-by-one, their attachment to the old girl grew. “We never had any hired help,” says Sally. “It was a true labour of love.”

The painstaking - and virtually seamless - reconstruction of the house took six miserably wet winter and spring months. With a fresh coat of white paint, a modern kitchen, and careful reinstatement of chandeliers, fire surrounds and pavers, the home became the perfect blank canvas for the couple’s extensive and eclectic collection of art and antiques. 

Treasures bought at auction over the years, like the crimson and gold antique brocade curtains that adorn the front bedroom and sitting room, made their way out of storage to be joined by new finds from a fortuitous ‘house lot’ sale on Auckland’s North Shore. The lot contained enough to fill much of the villa, including silk rugs, china cabinets, elegant furniture, and a collection of portraits of Maori chiefs, warriors and maidens. Sally’s favourite piece is a large tekoteko figure, standing guard in the hallway over visiting book-a-bach guests. 

With the rear deck and pergola completed in time for the couple’s wedding last year, the house - situated midway between a coffee in Matakana and an ice-cream at the OOB blueberry farm - turned out to be too good to leave.

The couple now split their time between Auckland and Villa Takatu. “It’s so tranquil here. We love watching the kingfishers and the plovers, or enjoying the sunset to the west,” says Sally. “And the tide is always good somewhere for fishing.”

Sally 021 725 590

Chris 021 335 021

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