Strang House

211 Yarrow Street And Macmaster Street, Invercargill

  • Strang House, Invercargill.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 7/03/2018.
  • Strang House, Invercargill.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 7/03/2018.
  • Strang House, Invercargill.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Chris Horwell. Date: 7/03/2018.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2515 Date Entered 19th April 2012 Date of Effect 19th April 2012


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lot 1 and Lot 2 DP 661 (RT SL115/204), Southland Land District and the building known as Strang House thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Invercargill City


Southland Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 1 and Lot 2 DP 661 (RT SL115/204), Southland Land District


Walking into 211 Yarrow Street, Invercargill, is to travel back to 1906 and enter into a world long gone; the domestic world of the prosperous and entrepreneurial coffee merchant.

James Strang purchased a substantial section on the corner of Yarrow and MacMaster Streets in August 1906. James was the eldest son of David Strang, owner and founder of David Strang, Coffee and Spice Works. Of innovative temperament, Strang designed and patented a number of coffee-related inventions, none more significant than his soluble coffee powder. Although, not internationally credited with the discovery, Strang was the first to produce and sell instant coffee.

To design his new family home, Strang hired architect Richard Marshall. Surprisingly unknown and underrated, Marshall was expert with painted interiors and is an architect of some significance. His designs epitomised traditional architectural elements both on the exterior and the interior, yet the exquisite detailing and substantial size of the house took it beyond the typical villa. The home was probably completed by the time James married Annie Uttley on 19 February 1907.

In June 1921 Strang purchased narrow strips of land adjacent to his property. An extension of approximately two metres was added to the western elevation of the house which saw the kitchen moved and a maid’s room and storage space added to the rear. Strang remained in the home until his death in 1959. Ten years later his widow sold the villa to Frank Baxter, a builder. Annie was wise in her choice of new owner for their cherished family home. Mr Baxter has spent the last 42 years preserving and restoring the villa to ensure its continued dignity.

Aesthetically and architecturally, the house is impressive with a restrained and elegant exterior and a detailed interior featuring Art Nouveau design. Even more impressive is the retention of original features. Its association with David Strang and his remarkable accomplishments lends the home a wider context. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Strang’s was a household name. Entering Strang House is to step back into early twentieth century wealth, style and domestic elegance.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The villa has historical value on two levels; firstly the context within which it sits. Jim Strang was the eldest son, and eventually the manger of David Strang’s Ltd. David Strang was not only a leading Invercargill manufacturer but an entrepreneur whose inventions and patents entitle him to a place on the world stage. It is internationally accepted that instant coffee was not invented until 1901.Yet Strang’s 1890 soluble coffee powder was something entirely new, appearing on the market in July 1889. From the 1890s James helped grow the business and by the early twentieth century the brand was a household name.

Strang House is also historically significant as a largely unmodified, substantial villa. It enables a rare insight into domestic standards and expectations. It illustrates, much like a museum piece, the features and decorations which were in vogue at the turn of the century.

Aesthetic Significance or Value:

Commanding a corner position in central Invercargill, in a grid of busy streets, small local shops and unprepossessing modern homes, Strang’s substantial white villa is striking in its bed of green lawns, original plantings, flower beds and ornamental fences. House, garden and setting form a distinct visual unit, arguably one of the most impressive in Invercargill township, as benefits the former home of one of its most important merchant families.

The aesthetic of the exterior is clean, restrained and elegant. The interior, while less restrained, is aesthetically impressive. An array of original features, including pressed metal Art Nouveau polychroming and gilding, adorn the house. Pressed metal ceilings, bay windows, impressive lead lighting, and elegant carved fireplace surrounds construct an interior which is visually stunning.

Architectural Significance or Value:

The architectural value of Strang House lies in the richness of a mostly unaltered interior and exterior. Designed by Scottish-born architect Richard Marshall, Strang House appears to be one of the best remaining examples of Marshall’s work. Relatively unknown and surprisingly underrated, Marshall’s talents appear to have been largely engaged in domestic dwellings. The results of his architectural skills have been preserved and restored by the owners. Other than the addition of an extension and two small conservatories, the exterior remains the same. On the interior Marshall’s layout remains largely intact, as well as a significant amount of Marshall’s original decorative elements. The lead lights, evident also in his other work, are restrained Art Nouveau and add a warmth and richness to the interior. Similarly, his use of pressed metal decorative elements lends an air of style and prosperity to the villa. The house is a rare unmodified picture of the talents of underrated architect Richard Marshall.

Social Significance or Value:

Strang House has social significance. The house through virtue of its size, ornamentation and location in central Invercargill reflects the lifestyle enjoyed by successful provincial middle class entrepreneurs. This is all the more valuable as so many of its original decorative features are intact.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

In terms of the wider national context, Strang’s substantial villa reflects the vast bulk of large villas constructed soon after the turn of the century which were a new urban development based on a style that had been popular with rich country landowners for some time. It also reflects the wealth of a new entrepreneurial business class who had started from meagre beginnings in a fledgling colonial setting and built a successful business on the back of a maturing nation.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

By the turn of the century ‘Strangs’ was a familiar name to New Zealanders. It is likely that the family company had become one of the largest wholesale businesses in coffee and spices in New Zealand. Even international honours had even been awarded.

Without doubt, however, Strang’s most important contribution to history was the invention of a process to create soluble coffee power - the drug of choice for so many New Zealanders. Although his contribution to the technological advancement of a good cup of coffee has not yet been recognised internationally, in New Zealand at least we should celebrate this unique contribution.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:

Entering through the front door of the Strang villa is to step back in time into early twentieth century architectural ideas of style and superior living standards. This is an unusual example of a villa that has been owned by only two families, both of which were focused on preserving the history of the home.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:

Invercargill was proud of its local coffee entrepreneur. When Strang’s soluble coffee powder was first announced, it was local media who responded positively their worthy townsman’s invention, based on nothing more than Strang’s character.

While the significance of Strang’s coffee business may now be lost to modern Invercargill townsfolk, the appeal of the Strang villa remains stronger than ever. Although a private home, wedding parties use the elegant villa with its charming veranda and pleasant surrounds as a backdrop to their wedding photographs. Community esteem has evolved for the house itself rather than just its association with the Strang family.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:

The design of Strang House is significant for its sheer size and as a representation of the talents of Richard Marshall, the architect. An architectural historian has noted that although unknown, Marshall had fine abilities as a designer architect; showing creative skills, imagination and artistic talent. His skill with domestic interiors is a significant contribution in historical terms.

Summary of Significance or Values

This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, and g.


It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Marshall, Richard

Richard Marshall was born on 17 April 1849. He was the son of Hugh Marshall, a builder of Musselburgh, Scotland. He trained in architecture at Edinburgh University gaining an M.A.A.E. He probably immigrated to New Zealand around 1884. Marshall’s first advertisement as an architect appeared in the Auckland Star on 8 December 1884, where he advertised for tenders for the construction of a villa. His offices were in Regent Street, Arch Hill.

By 21 January 1891, Marshall had moved to Christchurch. He advertised as an architect and building surveyor with offices at 158 Hereford Street. The Observer noted in 1893 that among ‘ex-Aucklanders who are thriving in Christchurch…[is] Mr R. Marshall, formerly connected with Auckland Caledonians, [who] is in business as an architect in the best part of the city, and is secretary of the Caledonian Society’.

Marshall married Margaret Lumsden in Christchurch on 28 April 1892. Margaret was from Invercargill.

In 1893, Marshall designed Brownlee Homestead in Havelock, now a registered Category I building. His wife’s Invercargill connections drew the couple southward. In January 1898, the Mataura Ensign noted that ‘Mr R. Marshall, a gentleman who has had considerable Home and colonial experience in his profession, announces that he has settled in Gore, and commenced business as an architect and building surveyor. No doubt Mr Marshall will secure a fair share of the patronage of those about to build’. Marshall won the contract to build the Gore Town Hall. Most of his tenders, however, were for domestic dwellings. In October 1900, Marshall announced his intention to move to Invercargill.

In 1905, Marshall represented Southland at the first meeting of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA). He was elected a Fellow of the Institute. Marshall continued his Invercargill practice until May 1914, when he retired due to ill health. Richard Marshall died in Invercargill on 6 November 1917.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

Maori History:

Ancient stories tell the origins of southern Maori, with the waka of Aoraki becoming Te Wai Pounamu (the South Island). Traditions tell of Maui arriving in his waka Maahunui, and pulling up the stone to be used as an anchor - Te Puka o Te Waka a Maui (Rakiura).

According to the Ngai Tahu important villages along the south coast included Te Wae Wae (Waiau), Wilson House Dr Report 7 Taunoa (Orepuki), Kawakaputaputa (Wakapatu), Oraka (Colac Bay), Aparima, Turangiteuaru, Awarua (Bluff), Te Whera, Toe Toe (mouth of the Mataura River) and Waikawa.

Mokamoka (also known as Mokemoke or Mokomoko) was a settlement at the Invercargill estuary sustained by the rich resources found there. Tauranga waka occur up and down the coast linking land and sea trails with mahinga kai resources. From the 1820s whaling boats were attracted to the southern waters, leading to changes in settlement patterns and resource use. 1853 saw the Murihiku purchase which left Maori south of the Pataki (excluding the Otakou Block) with only 4,630 acres, the start of a long quest by southern Maori for justice questioning the legality of the purchase as well as the inadequacy of the land reserved.


Invercargill Township was laid out by chief surveyor John Turnbull Thomson in 1856. The location was chosen for its centrality to both sea-based and land-based traffic, but the surrounding low lying swampy ground made the new settlement practically inaccessible. The development of the town, however, was given an enormous boost with the gold rushes of the early 1860s.

The land surrounding what would later become Yarrow and MacMaster Streets was probably leased by Alexander MacMaster, an early run holder, from the 1850s. When the MacMaster and Sylvan Bank Estate was surveyed in May 1878, the subdivision created Allotment 20, Section 1, Block I of the Invercargill Hundred. In 1905 Allotments 16, 18 & 20 were subdivided and Lot 2 was created at 211 Yarrow Street.

James Frew Strang:

James Frew Strang purchased Lot 2, Part Section 1, Block I in August 1906. James was born in 1880 to Mary Jane (nee Ramsay, c.1859-1950) and David Strang (c.1847-1916). Married in March 1877 at Invercargill, Mary Jane and David had eleven children. James was their second child and first son. This accident of birth order placed James on a lucrative career path in his father’s business.

Strang’s Coffee:

David Strang was born in 1847 in Glasgow and worked in a coffee warehouse before immigrating to New Zealand in 1863. Strang established a coffee factory, David Strang, Coffee and Spice Works, at 118 Esk Street in 1872. His business soon expanded and he relocated part of his business to new premises, establishing a warehouse in an old boarding house on the front of the site at 100 Esk Street. As soon as James left school his father employed him in the family business.

At first Strangs supplied their products locally but distribution later expanded nationally and to Fiji. Their coffee and spices won awards at exhibitions in Christchurch, Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. Local newspapers were won over and sang praises about the benefits of the drink: these colonies the consumption of coffee is less than that of tea... Why this should be so is not quite clear, since the first-named article is far less deleterious to the health than tea. Coffee has many qualities in its favour. It does not retard the action of the bowels... [it] allays the sensation of hunger; has an exhilarating and refreshing effect, and conspires to a diminution in the amount of wear and tear, or waste of the animal economy...

By 1890 David Strang had become ‘a name pretty familiar to New Zealanders. One sees the name in the most outlandish places. Near some shepherd’s hut, on some remote sheep run…Go where you may in New Zealand, and to whatever point of the compass, and ten chances to one you will come across a tin…In the North Island you will see Maori children in some remote whare, building houses with these coffee tins. This speaks volumes for the business which Mr Strang does. And as a matter of fact he does probably one of the largest wholesale businesses in coffee in the colony.’

A World First - Soluble Coffee Powder:

Strang’s coffee patented a number of coffee related inventions, nationally and internationally. These included ‘a coffee-roasting apparatus of novel design’ and ‘Strang’s Eclipse Hot Air Grain Dryer’. Most significant of all Strang’s patents was applied for on 28 January 1890, for an invention titled ‘Strang’s Patent Soluble Dry Coffee-powder’. The Otago Daily Times described the soluble powder:

Strang’s soluble coffee powder requires no boiling, but is made instantly with boiling water. Then, again, it can be made in a breakfast cup, and requires neither the use of pots nor the employment of experienced cooks...

The patent clearly described what we now know as instant coffee. Interestingly, it is internationally accepted that instant coffee was not invented until 1901. Just-add-hot water ‘instant’ coffee is widely believed to have been invented by Japanese American chemist Satori Kato of Chicago. Yet Strang’s 1890 soluble coffee powder was correctly described as ‘something entirely new in his line of business’ and appeared on the market in July 1889, twelve years before Kato’s invention.

Support for the invention was forthcoming from local media, initially based on nothing other than David Strang’s character:

Those who know our worthy townsman and the amount of intelligent study and research that he has thrown into what most people look on as a very simple process of manufacture, were well aware that he was no likely to spoil a good reputation by taking up a fad, and that if he was of the opinion that his discovery was a good on good it would be.

The Otago Daily Times sang the praises of the new powder itself:

The coffee powder too, is much more economical to use than any of the essences are, but it may be used in the same manner as ordinary coffee, with this important distinction - that is, a less quantity is required to reproduce the strength that is desired. It is, in fact one-third cheaper than extracts of essences, and is quite as convenient to use. None of its natural fragrance is destroyed, as is undeniably the case with the vast majority of extracts and essences.

The business continued to flourish and by 1906 James was in charge as the Manager. In 1912 the Strangs built new premises at 100 Esk Street in front of the original 1885 mill. The new premises were designed by Mr R. Marshall, architect of Invercargill, and the business operated on the site until 1966. David Strang died on 17 July 1916 and James officially assumed the governance of the Company. He remained in this role until his retirement.

Strang House:

James (or Jim as was known) attended Middle School and Southland Boys High School. He then entered his father’s business.

In August 1906 James purchased Lot 2 in Yarrow Street. The land was Part of Block I of the Invercargill Hundred, originally granted in April 1860. It was purchased in July 1883 by John Lyon McDonald who subdivided the area in 1902.

Strang bought the land at Yarrow Street presumably due to his impending marriage to Annie Priscilla Uttley (1881-1971), a saleswoman, the daughter of William and Sarah Uttley, of Dunedin. To design his new family home, Strang hired Richard Marshall, Architect and Surveyor.

Richard Marshall was born 17 April 1849, the son of Hugh Marshall, a builder of Musselburgh, Scotland. He trained in architecture at Edinburgh University gaining an M.A.A.E. He probably immigrated to New Zealand around 1884 given that Marshall’s first advertisement as an architect appeared in the Auckland Star on 8 December 1884, where he advertised for tenders for the construction of a villa. His offices were in Regent Street, Arch Hill. By 21 January 1891 he had moved to Christchurch, and was advertising as an architect and building surveyor with offices at 158 Hereford Street. The Observer noted in 1893 that among ‘ex-Aucklanders who are thriving in Christchurch...[was] Mr R. Marshall, formerly connected with Auckland Calendonians, [who] is in business as an architect in the best part of the city, and is secretary of the Caledonian Society’.

In Christchurch on 28 April 1892, aged 44, Marshall married Margaret Lumsden, eldest daughter of George Lumsden of Invercargill. A year later he designed Brownlee Homestead in Havelock, now a registered Category I building. His wife’s Invercargill connections must have drawn the couple southward, however, and in January 1898 the Mataura Ensign noted that ‘Mr R. Marshall, a gentleman who has had considerable Home and colonial experience in his profession, announces that he has settled in Gore, and commenced business as an architect and building surveyor. No doubt Mr Marshall will secure a fair share of the patronage of those about to build’. Marshall soon secured the contract to build the Gore Town Hall, although his advertisements most often related to tenders for domestic dwellings. In October 1900 Marshall announced his intention to move to Invercargill. In 1905 he represented Southland at the first meeting of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) and was elected a Fellow of the Institute. Marshall continued his Invercargill practice until May 1914, when he retired due to ill health. He died in Invercargill on 6 November 1917.

Family tradition has that construction began on the house in 1905, although Strang did not buy the site until August 1906. The land had been subdivided in 1905 to create Lots 1 and 2. Lot 2 was the large site (1112 square metres) and occupied the corner of Yarrow and MacMaster Streets.

In terms of architectural style it is well to remember what Robert Furneaux Jordan urges us to remember, that ‘all Victorians lived in the shadow of the idea that 'ornamented building' was a definition of architecture’. Jeremy Salmond points out that between 1860 and 1910 ‘there were few changes in the way wooden houses were put together in New Zealand’. Although more and more factory made materials became available, the basic building procedures remained the same. Houses were supported on piles set out in rows; bearers and joists were laid to form the grid on which floorboards would be laid once the roof was on. Outer wall frames were made on the ground and then propped into place; load-bearing interior walls were braced, but partitions that did not support the roof were often put up after the floor had been laid. The old board-and-batten construction died out and walls were generally weather boarded, by a method which involved a system of overlapping the boards. The particular appeal of the large villa lay partly in its generous scale, but also in the quality and variety of its ornamentation. At their grandest, villas had turrets and verandas. These large villas constructed soon after the turn of the century reflected the wealth of a new entrepreneurial business class who had started from meagre beginnings in a fledgling colonial setting and built a successful business on the back of a maturing nation.

Generally, the villa roof was a uniform height, this being determined by the width of the bay and the roof pitch - commonly 30 degrees. Common villa features included a steep roof, return verandas, detailed fret work, double hung sash windows, bay windows, four panel internal doors, board and batten ceilings, and pressed steel ceilings.

All this was dictated by the preferred architectural character of the house which, as the name implies, sought to emulate the style of the classical Roman villa (but with Gothic decorations). Veranda roofs were commonly straight, but a very popular alternative was the rolled edge or ‘bull-nosed’ verandah roof as illustrated by the Strang House. The size and complexity of moldings, doors and other features diminished progressively from the front to the back, and an archway half way down the hall marked the change from ‘public’ to ‘private’ within the house. Bathrooms were at the rear, very often at the end of the hallway, but the lavatory remained in a small shed at the rear of the property or in an outside wash-house.

Marshall’s design of Strang’s villa epitomised these traditional architectural elements both on the exterior and the interior. The weatherboard house was substantial, equivalent to two houses of the period. It boasted two bay windows connected by a wide bull-nosed veranda with exquisite fretwork. What was less common was the architect’s choice of concrete piles. Marshall also used concrete for Brownlee homestead, twelve years earlier, which was an innovative feature of the times. The current owner, a builder by trade, gives much of the credit for the house’s resilience to its concrete foundations.

The front door was set on the north elevation beside the bay window. The wide hall boasted a high wooden archway which separated public spaces from private. The ceiling featured Art Nouveau designs in pressed metal. Below the dado the wall was also lined with pressed metal and a raised Art Nouveau design. The recessed areas were painted green with the raised elements gilded with gold paint thus emerging from the background. Polychroming is a technique that can be employed to enliven an interior space and entails decoration in two or more distinct colours. This technique is ‘especially stunning when used to draw attention to raised elements, where the use of another colour adds to the contrast already created by the difference in depth’. It was an imposing introduction to the house.

The drawing room was first on the right. Leadlight windows ran atop the bay window and on the opposite wall sat a fine wooden fire mantelpiece including a fireplace with Art Nouveau detailing. Cream tiles were offset with two intricate ceramics of Edwardian women. The ceiling was pressed metal with Art Nouveau design and the border details were accentuated in various shades of green and terracotta.

Opposite the drawing room was the master bedroom. It featured one inbuilt wardrobe and a fireplace with green, teal and mustard tiles. The most visually impressive feature of the room was a tall, leadlight window, looking towards MacMaster Street, featuring simple Art Nouveau shapes and enabling soft colours to light the room in the morning as the sun rose in the east.

Further down the hallway on the left, behind the master bedroom, was the large dining room. It too featured an elegant bay window with leadlight glass, and looked to MacMaster Street. Set into the north wall was a fine fireplace with an elaborately carved wooden surround, red tiles and a copper fire place with Art Nouveau motifs. It echoed the drawing room’s fireplace, although the tiling was not as elaborate. The ceiling was also pressed metal and featured Art Nouveau detailing. One of the most noteworthy features of the room was a panelled door, with exquisite lead lighting, which led outside to the eastern elevation of the veranda. The woodworking on the doors in the formal areas featured the lost craftsman’s art of combing. Stain was applied to the door and then ‘combed’ to create an impressive wood grain effect.

Opposite the dining room was the second bedroom with tongue and groove ceiling and a window looking towards the west. It included two inbuilt wardrobes and a simple, tiled fireplace.

Underneath the fine wooden arch to the rear part of the hallway was the bathroom, kitchen and back bedroom. The bathroom was central, opposite the front door. It included a six foot cast iron bath and pink pressed metal wall coverings. Beside it a small passageway to the left led to the back bedroom which had one window and no fireplace.

To the right of the hall was a large kitchen, it included a fireplace on the north wall and entrances to a large narrow pantry and scullery to the rear. From the scullery was access to the back veranda.

Such a detailed description of the original state of the home is possible due to the availability of the original plan and, more remarkably, the villa’s largely unaltered interior and exterior. The exceptional value of Strang’s house lies in its rich originality, not only in layout but in fittings. Of particular note is the presence of the original polychroming and gilding, particularly in the hall where the green and gold pressed metal Art Nouveau raised motifs present a visually stunning display. Similar Art Nouveau detailing and polychromatic and gilded details are seen in Marshall’s Brownlee Homestead at Havelock. While Brownlee contains more of these decorative features, the echo may clearly be seen at Strang House.

Much of Strang House’s significance lies in its architectural detailing. Wayne Nelson, architectural historian, notes that Marshall ‘is indeed an unknown person… [but] this should not now preclude a more favourable examination of his ability as a designer architect. He was clearly very well versed in a tradition of painted interior which came into great favour in England in the eighteenth century. To find this tradition transplanted directly so late Victorian New Zealand in such an outstanding fashion is a find of some real significance in Art History terms’.

Strang’s extension:

James Strang married Annie Priscilla Uttley on 19 February 1907 at the Congregational Church, Great King Street, Dunedin North. The couple had four children Milo Thelma (1908-2005), David Uttley (1910-1991), Olwynne Ramsay (1914-2004) and Harvey Clement Uttley (1916-2002). The home James built for his new wife remained the family home until 1969.

In December 1914 Strang, together with John Watson, bought the neighbouring house on Lot 1, selling it again in October 1918. In June 1921 Strang purchased narrow strips of Lot 1 adjacent to the western and southern elevations of Lot 2. The rear addition became a vegetable patch. The narrow corridor of land to the west allowed for an extension to the house, which the current owner dates to the late 1930s. Around two meters were added to the western elevation of the original kitchen and the area was turned into a living room. The scullery was also extended and became the new kitchen. The original coal range was set into the rear southern wall. Behind this a maid’s room was created as well as extra storage.

James died in 1959, aged 79. David Strang Ltd remained trading nominally from 1967. The Company was finally dissolved in 1987.

Baxter family:

By 1969 only Olwyn and her mother Annie remained in the house. Maintenance had not been ongoing and the house was beginning to fall into disrepair. Strang’s house was quietly put up for sale and two property developers soon showed interest. They intended to demolish the villa and erect flats on the sizeable section. Frank Baxter, a young builder, had built houses in close proximity to Strang’s house. He had often admired the villa and spoke to a friend about it. The friend knew it was quietly for sale and put Baxter in touch with the Strang family. Annie and Olwyn were grateful that Baxter’s intentions were to restore the house to its original state rather than demolish it. They sold the house to Baxter in April 1969.

Frank Baxter recounts that his new wife did not want to live in the old villa given that it was dark and cold. Baxter promised to bring in the light and create a comfortable home for the family. He has spent the last 42 years doing just that. Skylights, double glazing, gib boarding, additional windows and ceiling creation aside, Mr Baxter has worked hard to retain the original features and ensure their longevity. For example, much time and money was spent on the wrought iron fretwork on the porch ensuring its continued preservation. Where changes to original features were necessary, Mr Baxter has added features which evoke the original. For example, contemporary panelling in the kitchen includes Mr Baxter’s copies of carvings seen on the fireplace surrounds. He embraced the art of lead lighting so as to mimic original windows in additions such as the conservatory. The new concrete fence which surrounds the rear of the property has plaster representations of the finials on top of the house, which he removed and copied to provide an exact replica.

In 1982 Mr Baxter demolished the garage Strang had erected in 1951 and built a new double garage at the rear of the house. In 1997 Mr Baxter also added a conservatory.

Strang House remains an elegant and dignified presence in central Invercargill. It is well loved by the community and by Strang descendants. Mr Baxter has met a number of Strang family members over the years as they visit the old family home, delighted to find it so well cherished. Mrs Baxter has an album of wedding photographs of bridal parties who have asked to use the villa as a backdrop. The house is admired and appreciated in the community as a cherished piece of Invercargill heritage. Perhaps less well known is its connection to the Strang family, and their pioneering coffee and spice business. The Strang family made a lasting local and national contribution through their landmark coffee company and through the furnishing of a refined and elegant villa, which through Frank Baxter’s outstanding efforts, enables us to walk back into the early twentieth century home of a wealthy coffee merchant.

Physical Description


Strang’s House sits on a large and prominent corner site in central Invercargill. A wrought iron fence, on a small concrete foundation, runs around the Yarrow Street and half of the MacMaster street elevation. A gate set near the corner of the two streets provides access to the grounds. The gate and fence are original. A high corrugated iron fence which enclosed the remaining MacMaster Street elevation at the rear of the property was replaced by Mr Baxter with a high concrete wall. The date ‘1905’ is set into the wall and plaster reliefs mimic the finials on top of the roof. Large wooden gates, providing access to the rear garage also mimic an earlier style.

The garden is large, well maintained and gracious. A tall tree dominates the garden facing Yarrow street which was planted soon after the house was built. Original winding concrete paths have been replaced but are in the same position. Even the wire trellis on the veranda for climbing plants dates to the building of the house. The original summerhouse, where Annie served her children play afternoon teas in china cups, remains hidden prettily under a cherry tree.


Outwardly the house shows quiet restraint for the home of a prosperous merchant. Although single-storied, its size is that of two houses. The north elevation facing Yarrow Street presents a bay window and a pleasant veranda, supported by posts with an ornamented iron capital and fretwork. The veranda, with a concrete pad, wraps around the house from the front door and drawing room bay window to the east elevation and the dining room bay window. The roof of the veranda is bull nosed.

The outstanding aspect of the east elevation is the veranda and bay window, with the summer house sitting opposite. A path leads beyond towards the rear of the house passed bedroom windows, the kitchen/living with its conservatory and what was once an outdoor toilet.

A large double garage and workshop was added to the rear of the property in the 1980s. Strang had added a garage to the property in the 1950s on the extreme south east of the property. This was removed and now provides extra space for the driveway. Through a gate beside the garage is access to the vegetable patch and three sheds, two of which are original.

Access to the west elevation is afforded from the Yarrow Street frontage of the property. Through a modern gate, the roughcast west elevation of the villa rises up on the left, a narrow garden sits to the right of the path, and an additional small conservatory lies straight ahead. This part of the house was an extension added in the 1920s or 1930s. It had brick walls, which Mr Baxter felt were out of character with the rest of the villa. He roughcast the exterior and painted it white.


Returning to the north elevation is the front door. It is panelled and surrounded by colourful leadlight windows. Through the doors is a hallway about 1.8 metres wide. The most impressive feature of the hall is the wall beneath the dado which is lined by the original pressed metal decoration. The polychrome design is Art Nouveau with gilded tulip like symbols rising from a background of green. The effect is aesthetically remarkable. To the left of the door is a built-in hall cupboard and shelf, which also dates to when the house was built.

The first door on the right leads to the lounge, what was once known as the drawing room. It is approximately 4.2 metres wide and 5.7 metres in length. The bay window has double hung sash windows and each window is topped by a small leadlight. The fireplace, also original, has a delicately carved wooden surround. The flower and leaf motifs were copied by Mr Baxter and used on wooden panelling in the kitchen. A copper canopy with an Art Nouveau design hoods the wrought iron fireplace. The hearth and surround hare tiled in cream with two feature green tiles of Edwardian women. The ceiling is pressed metal of intricate design and the borders are painted in various shades of green and terracotta. These were the original colours of the ceiling which Mr Baxter has carefully retained. Remarkably, the light fitting is also original and the light switch has an interesting push button function. The heavy four panelled door is beautifully handworked. Stain has been applied and ‘combed’ to create a very fine wood grain pattern. The room is large, light and airy and provides a perfect space for entertaining.

Across the hall is the master bedroom. It is an almost square room with dimensions of approximately 3.8 by 3.9 meters. The main feature of the bedroom is a leadlight window in the eastern elevation. Another window looks out onto the veranda on the northern elevation. The room also features an original fireplace with white wooden surrounds and green and mustard tiles. An inbuilt original wardrobe, with a finely carved ornamental top also features prominently in the room.

Further down the hall and to the left behind the master bedroom is the old dining room. It is a large room approximately 4.5 metres wide and 6 meters long, not including the bay window. It now functions as a work room and a large billiard table dominates the space. There is a bay window, echoing the lounge window, which overlooks MacMaster Street. The wooden surround of the fireplace also mimics that of the lounge. The canopy is also copper, although the tiles are red, rather than cream. The ceiling is pressed metal and the doors are combed in the same way as those in the lounge. An impressive feature is a single door which links to the southern end of the veranda. It includes a large leadlight window in tones of red and yellow.

Across the hall from the old dining room is the middle bedroom, 4.1 by 4.6 metres. It includes a white wooden mantelpiece, two original inbuilt wooden wardrobes and a tongue and groove ceiling, which is one of the few original ceilings besides the pressed metal ceilings in the formal areas.

Under the arch of the hallway to what was seen as the less formal area of the house, is a remarkable find. The pressed metal below the dado gives way to the original wallpaper. The pattern mimics the look of tongue and groove panelling with a carved dado. The wallpaper is slightly worn on the edges but in extraordinarily fine condition. Above the dado Mr Baxter has replaced the scrim with gib board, and then covered with unpainted anaglyptic wallpaper. The ceiling of the hallway behind the arch, which Mr Baxter described as ‘just paper’, has been replaced. Skylights have also been added to bring light into the dark rear part of the hall.

More original wall coverings are found in the bathroom which is at the end of the hall. It is approximately 2.3 metres wide. The space now holds a bath and toilet, neither of which is original. The sink, although not original, was installed by the Strang family. Mr Baxter created two bathroom cupboards by reusing the original kitchen cupboard doors when the kitchen was modernised. Two of the walls are covered in original pressed metal, which features raised vertical ridges and is a light pink tone. The effect looks like wallpaper, but to the touch is clearly metal. This space has been renovated to provide room for the toilet. A storage cupboard jutting into the bathroom from the hall was removed, as was the original six foot bath. The hall cupboard doors were an impressive original feature, however, so Mr Baxter retained them. They now open into a cupboard of numerous shelves of about 10cm depth.

Returning to the hall, to the east is the back bedroom. It was originally accessed by a small back corridor but Mr Baxter thought the corridor a waste of space. He removed the corridor’s southern wall to create a larger bedroom which is now approximately 3.5 metres by 3.6 metres. He also added another double hung window to the room, an exact copy of the existing one.

Opposite the existing door to the back bedroom is the living room, and former kitchen, on the western elevation of the villa. The living space is light and warm, with wooden panelling from the floor to almost the top of the doors. A functional fire place, tiled with small green tiles and a wooden mantle, sits in the centre of the north wall. In-built cupboards sit on either side of the fireplace. It is from this room that the 1920s/1930s extension to the villa is best seen. A large square opening toward the east leads into the second part of the room which was added as the extension. It has matching wood panelling and two large and impressive leadlight windows which dominate the space and draw the eye. A more recent addition is a small conservatory on the north elevation of the extension. Mr Baxter copied the wooden panelling to provide continuity in the conservatory, which lends warmth and light to the rest of the room.

The kitchen lies behind this room. Above the door is the original servant bell box. This room was originally the scullery and pantry but with the later Strang extension became the kitchen. It is a wooden kitchen, perhaps of 1970s origin, with trusses and beams across the ceiling. Wooden panelling lines the room to window height and Mr Baxter’s reproduction carvings are visible on some panels. To the side of the kitchen towards the east is a small but comfortable living area. A large window, which looks into the conservatory on the east elevation and beyond, makes this a light and warm space. Mr Baxter’s first effort at reproduction lead lighting is a feature of the aluminium conservatory.

From the rear of the kitchen is access to what was, after the Strang extension, a maid’s room. It has a small window and a wall of pantry shelves. It also includes a cupboard made from original kitchen doors and Mr Baxter’s reproduction carving. A door in the east wall leads to a large shower room. Another door leads to a small corridor, which Mr Baxter has enclosed, that once led to an outside toilet. The corridor leads into the large workshop/garage.

Both the exterior and interior of Strang’s House is remarkably original. Additions and modifications have been made sympathetically and in keeping with the original character of the house.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1906 -
House built

Extension built

1997 -
Consevatory added

Construction Details

Wood, concrete, iron and bricks

Completion Date

22nd March 2012

Report Written By

Susan Irvine

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Dun)

Archives New Zealand (Dunedin)

Ministry of Commerce, Commercial Affairs Division, Companies Office, Dunedin District Office ‘David Strang Limited [DN 147703]’,1913-1987, Defunct Company and Incorporated Society files, DAAA/9055/D6/ 48/d/5955/1969/73,S.D.1913/7

Invercargill City Council

Invercargill City Council

Property file '211 Yarrow Street'

Salmond, 1986

Jeremy Salmond, Old New Zealand Houses 1800-1940, Auckland, 1986, Reed Methuen

Shaw, 1997 (2003)

Peter Shaw, A History of New Zealand Architecture, Auckland, 1997

Thomson, 1998

Jane Thomson, (ed)., Southern People: A Dictionary of Otago Southland Biography, Dunedin: Longacre Press/Dunedin City Council, 1998.

Hall-Jones, 1946

F G Hall-Jones, Invercargill Pioneers. 1946

Gray 1999

Gray, John, 'WEA Building Invercargill (ex David Strang Ltd) : conservation report’, Dunedin: Oakley Gray Architects, 1999

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Southern Regional 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.