Early history of the site
The site lies within the southern part of the suburb of Epsom and is located on the lower western slopes of Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill), the former pa of the eighteenth-century Waiohua chief Kiwi Tamaki. Maungakiekie was part of the broader Auckland Isthmus taken over by Ngati Whatua in the early eighteenth century preceding colonisation and the founding of Auckland as capital in 1840.
Subdivided into farms as early as 1842, Epsom became renowned for its large country homes and later as a prestigious city suburb. The land on which the house at 6 Emerald Street was later built was part of an 1847 Crown Grant of approximately 22 hectares, taken up by James Williamson (1814-1888) who subsequently established a large mansion on his nearby estate at The Pah. Epsom farmer William Gardner (1829?-1899) bought the 22-hectare block in 1866, having leased it since 1859. In 1887 he subdivided the parcel into a number of large allotments, laying the basis for the creation of Claude, Crescent and Gardner Roads, and Emerald Street. Following Gardner's death, the Emerald Hill subdivision was created on part of the holding in 1904, and a Presbyterian Church erected there in 1906. Emerald Street appeared in contemporary street directories as New North Road, One Tree Hill.
One of four sections on the west side of the street was purchased in 1905 by accountant John James Ker (1857-1933). Ker had been born in Berwickshire, Scotland, the son of a Presbyterian Minister. Arriving in Auckland in 1882 he joined the Northern Steamship Company (NSC), founded the previous year as an amalgamation of several smaller concerns. The NSC ran freight and passenger services in the upper half of the North Island, and was instrumental in the development of the kauri gum, timber, farming and early tourism industries in the region, as well as providing important contact between otherwise isolated coastal communities. By the early twentieth century, the business was one of only two major independent shipping companies in New Zealand. Ker remained with the firm until retirement in 1920, at times fulfilling the role of acting manager as well as company secretary. He was also actively involved in the Gardner Road Presbyterian Church from 1905, initially as superintendent of the Sunday School, becoming an inaugural member of Session upon the establishment of an Epsom parish as a separate Presbyterian charge in 1908.
Ker was married with a young child at the time that a family home was commissioned for his newly-acquired land. Its site was located a short distance from the large public space at Cornwall Park, donated by Sir John Logan Campbell in 1901. The park, and a rapidly expanding transport network southward from Auckland, made southern Epsom an increasingly desirable suburb in which to live. Increased expectations in the early twentieth century of a re-ordered family as the basis of a decent society saw middle-class families reject cramped housing in older urban centres, in favour of the suburban villa on its own site, housing perceived as affording the degree of privacy necessary for moral growth and decency.
Construction of the house (circa 1905-6)
The Kers' residence appears to have been completed in 1906. It consisted of a single-storey timber villa of corner angle-bay type. Informed by an eclectic combination of Queen Anne Revival and other architectural influences, the building capitalised on a broad east-facing frontage and spacious north-facing grounds to exhibit its overall appearance to best advantage. Internally it featured a range of contemporary products - some particularly notable and ornate examples of their type - without disturbing the simplicity and unity of the overall design.
The handsome bay villa had a visually striking, steep, pyramid roof with secondary ridges, an overall effect enhanced by terracotta cresting tiles and tall, corbelled chimneys of brick. Three gables with shingled ends framed by barge boards with silhouette tracery, were linked by a return-verandah. Internally, the parlour enjoyed a diagonal outlook from the centre of the verandah, while the master bedroom and the dining room each had a generous bay window.
Architecturally, the building drew on the design of the traditional timber bay villa, combining it with newer English and American influences as part of an early twentieth century cultural eclecticism.
The bay villa form was the predominant house style in New Zealand from 1895 to 1910, its myriad designs having been shaped and adapted by speculative builders and the manufacturers of machine-made components. In keeping with beliefs that the home was a key indicator of social status, exterior decoration on villas became increasingly heavier in scale and more complex in its layering. Ornamental styles such as the British-originated Queen Anne Revival were adopted, with the latter particularly affecting the design of New Zealand villas after the turn of the century. Other common influences included the American Eastlake style popular in New Zealand between 1890 and 1910, which utilised carved brackets, perforated circular designs and rows of lathe-turned decoration. From circa 1900 eastern cultural influences including Moorish forms further enriched an already strong eclecticism.
These decorative features and products combined with the more complex house forms - especially the corner-angle bay villa - to produce the short-lived Edwardian villa style.
The Ker residence reflected these developments, adopting some of the Queen Anne Revival style's hallmark features such as a complex roof form, terracotta roof cladding and bulbous-topped chimneys. Its Marseilles tiles were a relatively new material to the colony having been introduced from Australia in circa 1901. The roof shape of Ker's villa represented the coexistence of two different forms, illustrating the ongoing evolution of villa design. The rear section was of a traditional centre-gutter design, a style virtually discarded after 1909 because of potential for internal gutter failure. The visually dominant pyramid section, a notable feature of Queen Anne style houses, was a circa 1900 reappearance of an earlier New Zealand form. Echoes of the colony's earliest homesteads were also evoked by verandahs sheltered under the low-sweeping main roof, a feature of the Edwardian villa style.
Eastern influences were evident in features such as the verandah's chinoiserie balustrade - an interlocking pattern of turned balusters and plain sticks of wood - which matched the spindle-work of the frieze.
Internally, the residence contained a parlour, large dining room and three bedrooms, and was planned around a central hall. The hall was divided into public and private realms by a grand arch supported by classical columns. The rooms of greatest social importance including the master bedroom were located at the front of the house, with less important rooms including the kitchen at the rear. Towards the west end of the hall, a passage ran at right angles to a porch on the north side of the house, separating the formal dining room from the service area. An unusual interior ornamental feature off the side porch was a cusped arch, possibly a Moorish influence.
A notable aspect of the building interior was its lavish use of ornamental pressed metal ceilings. These were found in the most prestigious and public rooms, in contrast with the timber board and batten ceilings in the secondary bedrooms and areas away from the public eye. Decorative pressed metal products had been manufactured in Australia since 1890 and became increasingly popular in New Zealand after 1900. Contemporary advertisements claimed that they belonged to a progressive age, with the potential to transform modern building construction. Ceilings of pressed metal were promoted as permanent, economical, decorative, fireproof, sanitary, and safe, the latter an important quality in the colony's earthquake-prone locality.
The dining room of the Ker residence, the largest and most formal space, incorporated a particularly ornate ceiling, parts of which loosely suggested possible Jacobean influences, or a chinoiserie pattern. Its fireplace was larger than the cast iron register grate of the parlour. Mantelpieces incorporated spindles, shelves and recesses, a particularly Edwardian trait.
The composition and detailing of the Ker villa raises the possibility of an architect's hand. A plain frieze around the exterior is a feature also found on the grand Epsom residence, Florence Court (1907) a work by architect Arthur Lewitt Ferneyhough (1872-1936). Although the 1906 Gardner Road Church attended by Ker was designed by architects Mitchell and Watt, Watt's death in 1907 saw Ferneyhough commissioned as architect of the Church Hall in 1909, the year Ker held the position of Session Clerk (1908-1909) for the Epsom parish. The builder of the house at Emerald Street is currently unknown.
Subsequent use and alterations (1909-2009)
Just three years after its construction, the Ker family sold to Emma Hale, the widow of a Papatoetoe farmer. At this time, a photograph of the house featured in the prestigious national weekly New Zealand Graphic as one of a group of 'striking villas and residences' that had been built for the wealthy in Epsom. A small part of the site was incorporated into an adjoining property in 1914. Four years later the residence was sold to the first of two farmer owners, although in the Great Depression it reverted to Hale (remarried) as mortgagee. A subsequent owner was school inspector Archibald Francis Burnett (1899-1982), who retained the property for 25 years from 1947. Burnett had taught at Maketu in the twenties, and Mount Eden and Okaihau in the thirties, a profession to which he was evidently devoted. Flowering cherry trees on the property may have been planted in the early years of Burnett's tenure or slightly before.
A builder became the first of ten consecutive owners over a three-decade period commencing in 1971. Alterations included the creation of an open plan kitchen area in the rear of the house, with French doors opening onto a new deck to the west. A door between the original dining room and the verandah may have been replaced at this time, but was later reinstated. Externally, a carport was added to an existing garage in 1973 and a swimming pool installed in the rear garden area in 1974, perhaps the year of construction of the pool house or cottage.
In 1983, the bathroom and kitchen area was again reconfigured. A new passage was constructed south from the hall to serve a new bathroom in a small lean-to addition, work which left the roof form of the building intact. A similar en-suite bathroom was added at the east end of the south elevation in 1992. In the main bedroom, a new chimneybreast was constructed of similar size to an original fireplace removed at an unknown date. Garaging was replaced by a new timber-clad structure.
In 1999 further interior alterations included construction of a bathroom within the north passage space, reincorporation of the 1993 passage into a dining room and family room and the creation of a new kitchen, work which saw the introduction of a further pair of fluted columns, and an oriel window.
The house remains in use as a private residence.
Ker House (Former) is located to the east of the Manukau Road and Green Lane West shopping centre in south Epsom. Epsom is an inner suburb of Auckland, lying to the south of the city centre. Emerald Street, a short suburban residential avenue, runs between Gardner and Claude Roads, immediately to the south of the Green Lane Hospital campus and a short distance to the west of the extensive pa at Maungakiekie, which is part of a large open space formed by Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill Domain. The latter contains numerous structures associated with John Logan Campbell - the 'Father of Auckland' - including Acacia Cottage (Record no. 525, Category I historic place), the John Logan Campbell Monument (Record no. 4478, Category I) and the One Tree Hill Obelisk (Record no. 4601, Category I historic place).
Other surviving components of the historical landscape in south Epsom include St Andrews Anglican Church (Record no. 116, Category I historic place), the nineteenth-century Costley Home for the Aged Poor and later buildings comprising part of the Green Lane Hospital on Green Lane Road West, and an Art Deco-style electricity substation at The Drive. Apart from the Ker House, other notable residences in the close vicinity include Arts and Crafts houses at 18 Gardner Road and 37 Claude Road.
The villa is located on a virtually level site on the lower western slopes of Maungakiekie within a well-established, treed suburb. The 1596 square metre plot on the west side of Emerald Street is of a slightly trapezoidal shape. Adjoining houses are predominantly of early twentieth-century era, while those on the east side of the street are of more mixed age.
Screened by a tall hedge, the villa with a well-articulated Queen Anne Style Marseilles-tiled roof and brick chimney is a distinctive feature in the street. Three sets of modern cast iron gates are flanked by contemporary tall concrete pillars. The hedge separates the centrally-located front gate from wider vehicle entrances at the north and south end of the frontage.
The timber-clad villa is situated towards the southeast corner of the site. A broad brick-edged asphalt path curves around the front yard, on the same alignment as an earlier concrete access. A central path runs through a lawn off the east side of the curve, to the front gate. The main vehicle access is to a modern timber garage located to the west towards the rear of the site and near the north boundary. A flowering cherry of considerable age grows in the front yard and, like the remnants of a similar specimen behind the garage, is a survivor from the earlier garden. The outdoor living area to the rear is occupied by lawn and a swimming pool with a timber-clad pool house or cottage. An elevated concrete patio wraps around the northwest corner of the house.
Main building: exterior
The dwelling is a single-storey, weatherboard Edwardian corner-angle bay villa of roughly rectangular design. The building's Marseilles tile roof retains the original form and has been identified as a good representative example of its era. Other than two small en-suite bathroom additions on the south elevation, and minor alterations on the west elevation, the exterior of the building appears little altered.
At the front of the house, shallow concrete front steps with wing walls curving out to a pair of rectangular plinths are an original feature. The return verandah around the northeast section of the house has a tongue and groove timber ceiling. The verandah balustrade has been removed, and the flooring timber appears to have been replaced relatively recently.
The key focal point of the façade is an angled bay (positioned on a diagonal axis to the tall pyramid roof) located equidistant between two bays which extend to different depths from the east and north elevation. Maintaining the symmetry of the composition, are two heavy panelled doors with coloured cast glass, one located at either end of the verandah.
Turned verandah posts have angled fretwork brackets incorporating circular motifs. The verandah frieze consists of turned reel pieces. Sash windows are flanked by applied columns with composite capitals and are clustered in bays. The three, shingled gable ends have barge boards with blind fretwork and four knobs on the inside arch. The varying scale of the fretwork in brackets which carry identical patterns of differing size - depending on their location on verandah, corner bay or sun hood - is a notable detail. Although the gable ends, bays and verandah are well-ornamented, the overall impression is of restraint and well-ordered, consistent design. The absence of decorative timber elements beyond the facade as defined by the three gabled bays is also notable.
The steep Marseilles-tiled pyramid roof form with sub-gables radiating off three corners has decorative terracotta cresting tiles. Curved terminal pieces are located at the ridge ends. A corbelled red brick chimney contributes to the pleasant aesthetic effect.
The corresponding rear 'triangle' of the building is a pleasingly simple composition notable for its roof consisting of two hip-roofed centre gutter sections that run at right-angles to the slightly taller pyramid section. The southernmost of the two hips extends over a former entrance porch or toilet. A plain frieze directly under the soffit runs around the entire exterior (including the ornately detailed front section) and is effectively the only form of decoration on the west and south elevations. A change in the angle of the lower roof section on the northwest corner echoes the form at the front of the house, raising the possibility that a verandah may have been filled in.
An arched opening immediately to the west of the north-facing bay shelters a tongue and groove timber-lined porch that gives access to the dining room and to the kitchen. Additions consist of a shallow oriel window with flat roof and Art Deco style glass (north elevation); and two sets of French doors, one within a bay, (west elevation). Two sash windows are located on the south elevation between the en-suite bathroom additions. The corners of the plain weatherboards are protected by scribers that have rounded edges.
Main building: interior
The dwelling contains four bedrooms, a combined formal dining room and lounge, a family living area and a kitchen. The bedrooms and the formal dining-lounge are arranged either side of the hall that terminates in an open-plan family room adjoining the kitchen. The interior retains the main elements of the original layout and represents a notable assemblage of intact decorative features representative of Edwardian domestic design. These include fireplaces; two ornate plaster hall arches; pressed metal ceilings of four different designs with associated components; timber joinery including six-panel doors, architraves, skirtings, board and batten ceilings; and a coloured cast glass door panel in each of two doors.
The front door is notable for incorporating a square, cast glass feature suggestive of a Chinese fret design (diagonals, triangles, rectangles) which is framed between two heavy horizontal panels of unequal depth. The hall has a timber floor and pressed metal ceiling, and is delineated into two spaces by an ornately-detailed plaster arch supported on fluted columns. Composite capitals incorporate a rope motif which is repeated on the arch and in the metal ceiling. Architraves in the hall have a roundel shape in the two upper corners, also a feature of architraves in some other locations.
Three of the four bedrooms are located off the south side of the hall. The master bedroom (east) has one of the four original pressed metal ceilings with pressed metal scotias, encasing brackets and ventilator rose. The large-scale loosely floral design of Art Nouveau style has contrasting border pieces to accommodate the chimney breast and bay window, and a highly ornate convex central ventilator rose. While coloured glass fanlights above the two exterior doors in the front portion of the house have survived, those above the bay window have been replaced throughout by clear textured glass. A modern gas fire, surround and hearth have been installed in a reconstructed chimney breast framed by an Edwardian-style timber mantelpiece that incorporates mirrors, panels, and spindles. The door and architrave to an en-suite addition reproduce the original joinery style.
The two bedrooms immediately to the west each have a single sash window, board and batten ceilings, and a metal centre rose located within a thick rolled collar. The west bedroom opens onto an en-suite addition. A blocked doorway in the room's southwest corner may date from 1983 when a south passage was created, work reversed in 1999.
The fourth bedroom (former front parlour) off the right side of the hall has a pressed metal ceiling of a geometrical design depicting stylised foliage. A cast iron fireplace with small grate and a patterned back flap is also part of the original building fabric. The mantelpiece is of similar style to that in the master bedroom.
The coffered pressed metal ceiling in the formal dining room and lounge area immediately to the west - the largest room in the house - is highly distinctive and suggests possible Jacobean influences. A heavily carved timber mantelpiece with depictions of fruit is also a notable feature. The hearth and fireplace are faced with modern, polished granite or a similar material. A door opening east onto the verandah has a similar glasswork design as the front door, and a coloured fanlight. A pair of doors opening into the side porch form a recent modification.
A modern bathroom (former passage) takes in part of an adjoining space to the west of the dining room. A fanlight located in the north wall indicates the location of the former door to the north porch.
The southern two thirds of the west portion of the house (the original bathroom, possibly the original kitchen and part of a northern room) accommodates a modern family room off the end of the hall. A chimneybreast, gas fire and mantelpiece have recently been added within the southern area. A pair of almost full-height fluted columns and pilasters (recently added) loosely suggest a boundary between the two conjoined living spaces. Ceilings are of a board and batten style and lintels suggest the location of former walls. The space is lit (south to north) by a pair of sash windows and a bay containing French doors.
French doors open off the west side of the north-facing kitchen. The kitchen appears to occupy a former hall and verandah space formerly located to the west of the north porch. An arch of foil or cusp design with a keystone motif and ornamentation worked in plaster appears to be an original feature.
The garage was not inspected.
The pool house was not inspected
1905 - 1906
Removal of bathroom off west end of hall, to create open plan kitchen and family room;
new bathroom, toilet and laundry area provided adjoining kitchen; bay window and French doors to west elevation
Enlarge kitchen area, construct south passage
Bathroom, south elevation
Kitchen and dining area reorganised; master bedroom chimneybreast reinstated
En-suite for master bedroom (south side); patio west elevation
Sun room (northwest) converted to kitchen and bay window added (north wall), dining room created in former kitchen space taking in south (1983) passage
gas fire with chimneybreast and mantelpiece created, two fluted columns added (interior rear)
Brick foundations, timber frame and cladding, Marseilles tile roof
23rd March 2010
Report Written By
Martin Hill, Restoring with Style, Wellington, 1985.
Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen
J Phillips & C Maclean, In Light of the Past, 1983
G.W.A Bush, (ed.), The History of Epsom, Auckland, 2006
Matthews, R.A., 100 years on Emerald Hill: A History of the Epsom Presbyterian Church, Auckland, 2006
Di Stewart, The New Zealand Villa Past and Present, Auckland, 1992
A fully referenced registration report is available from the NZHPT Northern Region Office
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.