Italian Ambassador's House
36 Grant Road, Thorndon, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 2
Private/No Public Access
25th November 1982
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes the land described as Lot 2 DP 13724 (CT WN41D/407), Wellington Land District and the building known as the Italian Ambassador's House thereon.
Lot 2 DP 13724 (CT WN41D/407), Wellington Land District
The Italian Ambassador’s House, built in 1877, was designed by well-known architect Thomas Turnbull as his own house. The house stands on former Town Section 661, which was deeded to James Kelham in 1852, and also part of 662, which was deeded to George Lachlan in 1853. Thomas Turnbull purchased the land in 1877 and built the house for himself. In 1898 he sold it to George Tolhurst and it later passed to his daughter and son-in-law, A T Young. In 1915 the back half of the land with the house was sold to Oswald Beere and the land in front was subsequently subdivided. Over the years the house was divided into two flats and rented out, until 1961 when it was purchased by the Italian Government for its ambassador. The Italian Government subsequently purchased the surrounding blocks – No’s 38, 34 and 32A Grant Road.
The house is a two-storey double bay villa, Italianate in design. The detailing of the exterior consciously imitates in timber the stone archetypes of Renaissance origins (such as the quoins on the corners). The two prominent wings of the front façade project out under flying gables supported by long brackets at the corners. The ground floor bay windows feature shallow segmental arches. Italianate balustraded balconies sit over both bay windows at the first floor level, and are attached to a balcony in a similar style which covers the entrance veranda. There is another bay on the north façade.
Repairs were noted in a 1970 article and repiling was necessary in 1978. The parquet floor in the living room was said to be a ‘spectacular mosaic of foot lengths of alternating dark matai and light kauri, separated at their ends by diamonds of a middle colour Australian wood’. Further renovation and repairs were carried out between 2003 and 2007. In the downstairs reception rooms a faux terracotta floor and carpets were raised to reveal the matai and kauri floor. Upstairs consists of three bedrooms and a studio.
Thomas Turnbull (1824–1907) was an important architect in mid to late 19th century New Zealand. Among his most important buildings were the Willis Street churches of St Peter (1879) and St John (1885), the former National Mutual Building (1883–84), the General Assembly Library at Parliament (1899) and the former Bank of New Zealand Head Office (1901), all in Wellington and registered Category 1 historic places. The Italian Ambassador’s House has historic significance for its close association with Thomas Turnbull, which he designed and lived in for 21 years and also for its 50-year association with the Government of Italy. It has social significance as the residence of the Italian Ambassador and many functions have been hosted there over the years. It has architectural significance as a surviving example of Turnbull’s domestic design (none of the 19 buildings designed by Turnbull currently on the NZHPT Register are domestic buildings).
Thomas Turnbull (1824-1907) was born and educated in Scotland and trained under David Bryce, Her Majesty's Architect. He travelled to Melbourne in 1851 and after nine years there moved to San Francisco. He arrived in New Zealand in 1871 and soon established a thriving business. His son William, a distinguished architect in his own right, became a partner in the firm in 1891.
Turnbull was a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He was a pioneer in the design of buildings to withstand earthquakes and he was responsible for breaking down prejudice against the use of permanent materials for building construction. He specialised in masonry construction for commercial purposes but was also responsible for some fine houses.
Among his most important buildings were the Willis Street churches of St Peter (1879) and St John (1885), the former National Mutual Building (1883-84), the General Assembly Library (1899) and the former Bank of New Zealand Head Office (1901), all in Wellington.
2000 - 2009
Renovation and repairs carried out
3rd October 2012
Report Written By
David McGill, 9 Dec 1978. (‘Cityscapes’ article)
Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand
Cochran, Chris, ‘Turnbull, Thomas – Biography’ Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1 Sep 10. http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2t54/1
A fully referenced proposal summary report is available from the Central Region office of NZHPT.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.