The Tāmaki isthmus, with its fertile soils and close proximity to both the Manukau and Waitematā harbours, has long been occupied by Māori. Butler House (Former) is situated on a ridge located a short distance from Ōhinerangi (Mt Hobson) to the north, Te Kōpuke (Mt St John) to the north-west and Maungakiekie (One Tree Hill) to the south-west. The maunga acted as sentinels and waypoints in the landscape; over time large settlements and extensive gardens and economic hubs appeared on their slopes. Pā sites on the maunga are a reflection of industry in Māori activity in the area particularly connected with Te Waiohua and then Ngāti Whātua. Following incursions by Ngā Puhi in the early 1820s the isthmus was temporarily abandoned. After Governor Fitzroy issued pre-emption waivers in 1844 allowing settlers to buy land directly from iwi, James Dilworth purchased a 152 acre farm, including part of Ōhinerangi (Mt Hobson) and the future site of Butler House from Waikato. He received the formal Crown grant for these lands in 1847.
James Dilworth and Dilworth Trust Estate
Originally from Ulster, Ireland, James Dilworth was an Auckland philanthropist, farmer and businessman who worked in banking before purchasing his farm. Upon his death in 1894, his will established the Dilworth Trust Board with the aim of founding a school to educate ‘disadvantaged boys’ from the Auckland Province and Ulster who were growing up in hardship. The purpose of the school was to provide these boys with education and support to become ‘good and useful members of society’. To raise funds for the establishment and running costs of the school the trustees set about creating income streams, including through subdividing, selling and leasing the estate’s land, and the school opened in 1906.
In 1928 the Dilworth Trust Estate subdivided part of the farm known as Farmer’s Hill, creating Otahuri Crescent and 31 residential sections. The subdivision fronted Great South Road at the southern edge of the wealthy suburb of Remuera, bordering Greenlane, and was the last part of the estate to be subdivided. Although the area was well connected to the rest of the city by tram and rail as well as roads, the trustees were hampered by the onset of the Great Depression from 1929 as they advertised the lots for lease. The worldwide Great Depression had a significant impact on New Zealand society – including occupants of Auckland’s more prosperous suburbs – and did not substantially lift until at least the mid-1930s. Some of the Otahuri subdivision lots were not leased and built on until after 1940.
Creation of Butler House
In 1930 Henry Butler purchased a 21 year Glasgow lease for the north-east facing corner lot in Otahuri Crescent at the top of the Farmer’s Hill ridge with plans to erect a house for himself and his new wife Esme Butler (nee Shrewsbury). Henry Butler, originally from Whanganui, was a recently qualified solicitor who went on to be a partner in the firm Butler White and Hanna, now Simpson and Grierson. Purchasing leasehold property can be seen as a strategy to facilitate obtaining the use of land in a well-to-do suburb at relatively low cost, which might be particularly desirable at a time of economic constraint.
Reflecting his status as a burgeoning middle-class professional, Butler commissioned the architectural partnership of Piper and Brooker to design his new marital home. Llewellyn Piper (1892-1975) and Ludlow Brooker (1901-1978) were both members of the New Zealand Institute of Architects who went on to have notable careers through the mid-twentieth century. Piper in particular became important in relation to forward-looking architecture and later in his career designed celebrated buildings of Modern design such as the Auckland Electric Power Board building, Newmarket, in 1946. Brooker went on to work as Chief Architect for the State Advances Corporation.
Having designed a number of residential homes in Remuera and adjoining well-to-do suburbs in varying styles, Piper and Brooker’s design for Butler House was significant for applying a late period Arts and Crafts style to a residence of relatively restrained proportions – which may, in part, be linked with economic constraints present at the time. As design historian Douglas Lloyd Jenkins has noted, the building ’illustrates the adaptability of the [Arts and Crafts] style to more modest circumstances and provides valuable proof that in Auckland, Arts and Crafts ideals were not solely expressed in large houses’. More particularly, Piper and Brooker’s design combined Arts and Crafts style with more modern, forward-looking architectural ideas including those emphasising external simplicity in appearance; the use of colour and texture to provide visual interest; and plan forms that provided more flexible possibilities in relation to the use of residential space.
At Butler House ideas about the design evolved between the initial conceptualisation, probably prior to February 1931, and construction before March 1932, with progressive features such as interior elements linked with open planning being introduced after initial plans were drawn up.
Centrally erected on its lot, the single-storey residence was primarily constructed from brick with a Marseille tile roof. Its form consisted of a ‘court plan’ incorporating a central body and with two asymmetric wings, reflecting progressive approaches to plan design that were coming into fashion. The projecting front bays of each wing and an off-centre entrance porch faced north, collectively defining a small, front entrance court facing Otahuri Crescent. In the 1930s, courts were considered to provide ‘an intimate outdoor place which belongs more to the house than to the garden’, and represented moves to more substantially integrate external and internal residential spaces. A small, plain timber garage with a tile roof was also constructed in the rear south-east corner of the lot.
The exterior decoration was restrained, particularly in comparison with grander two-storey examples of Arts and Crafts houses in Remuera and other nearby suburbs. Although the exterior detail was pared down it remained distinctive with prominent brick gables and a substantial brick chimney, and a contrasting timber lined porch with stucco and applied half timbering. The uninterrupted combination of red brick walls with the red roof tiles showed a chromatic interest and consistency in colour that indicated the influence of progressive architectural thought in Piper and Brooker’s design. The brickwork incorporated detailed corbels at the base of the gables and cantered window sills, and rectangular ventilators were placed in each gable. The front window on the larger, west bay was emphasised with a large copper sheet above the casement.
The interior similarly combined traditional Arts and Crafts features – particularly those linked with Tudor Revival style – with more innovative or forward-looking elements. Lloyd Jenkins has also noted the presence of a number of notable original features including some ‘very early examples of open planning’.
In its internal layout, public and private rooms essentially occupied separate wings connected by a lateral hallway. The west wing held the public facing living room and dining room, along with a small study. These public rooms and the hall were highly decorated, incorporating exposed wide timber beams on the ceilings, timber panelled wainscoting, and heraldry. Bi-fold doors, which were not shown on an early plan but were evidently added by the time of construction, connected the living and dining rooms allowing the rooms to form an open plan space when needed. A marble fireplace decorated with a Tudor arch motif was a prominent feature of the living room. This arch detail was extensively used throughout the house on all the doors as well as in the front entrance porch.
Private bedrooms and a sleeping porch were in the east wing with the kitchen and tiled bathroom situated between the wings toward the rear of the house. The kitchen shared a wall with the dining room and incorporated a serving hatch. The back porch was internally accessible from the kitchen and incorporated a laundry, additional toilet and fuel store. The bedrooms and hall contained built-in shelves and cupboards. The private spaces were more simply ornamented with thinner timber battens used for the ceilings instead of beams, while the sleeping porch was entirely lined with horizontal tongue and groove boards.
The decorative choices in the design – particularly the building exterior – reflect both the wider trend through the twentieth century towards reduced ornamentation but also the effect of the Great Depression on architectural design. Over this period, until after 1935, new house construction was uncommon and it is possible that the Butlers were not able to afford the costs associated with constructing a grander residence even considering the relative savings of purchasing leasehold rather than freehold property. The growing socio-economic unrest in the early 1930s may have also been a factor in the increasing occurrence of restrained exteriors as noted by Lloyd Jenkins, ‘with unemployed and hungry New Zealander’s rioting in city streets, a little domestic restraint was not only fashionable, it was wise’. Concealed from uninvited public view, the building interior retained greater ornamentation, including aristocratic symbols such as heraldic shields.
The enduring value of the building design was recognised five years after it was built when, in 1936, the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) included the place in the inaugural issue of its journal, Building Today. The design was identified in an article as one of a small number of recently constructed houses in Auckland that illustrated the importance of ‘simplicity of plan, of elevation and of outline’ in modern domestic architecture. Dwellings of artistic merit and ‘good taste’ were especially highlighted, including those such as Butler House which exhibited court plans – considered to have ‘delightful possibilities’ for artistic expression and which had ‘only recently come into vogue’. Aiming to promote the desirability of professional architectural input, the building’s creation by NZIA members was also emphasised.
The Butlers and their son John, born March 1932, resided in the house as it was built for over 35 years. After Esme and Henry’s deaths in 1965 and 1968 respectively, the lease was transferred to the Trustees, Executors and Agency Company of New Zealand Limited as John Butler was living overseas. The place was subsequently rented by Mrs Gearon for a number of years.
In 1979 the leasehold property was sold to Brian and Valerie Muir who moved into the house with their children. Brian Muir had been the Director of the Christchurch City Art Gallery and moved to Auckland to take the position of Curator of Applied Arts at Auckland War Memorial Museum while Valerie Muir worked as a teacher. The Muirs made small changes to the property such as adding French doors for external access on the east and west elevations, building a small deck overlooking the east end of the garden and adding a pool on the west side – collectively expanding connections between the exterior and interior started with the initial design in 1931. Internally the study and the laundry were combined to create a third bedroom. Brian Muir died in 1989 leaving Valerie Muir the sole leaseholder.
When the lease ended in 1991 the Dilworth Trust offered the option to purchase the freehold title, which Valerie Muir purchased and then created a cross lease. The division of the lot was to the immediate west of Butler House (Former) and incorporated the pre-existing garage and pool, the latter being removed for the construction of a second residence. Mrs Muir retained Butler House (Former) and relocated a two-car garage from Torbay to the south eastern corner of the lot in 1995.
In 2006, the kitchen was modernised and extended with a conservatory. The addition enclosed the remaining portion of the back porch and toilet which was converted into an ensuite for the third bedroom.
Retaining much of its initial form and layout, Butler House (Former) remains a private residence in 2020, nearly 90 years after it was built.
Butler House (Former) is located in the southern part of Greenlane, one of the ‘leafy suburbs’ of inner Auckland. Until the construction of a nearby motorway system in the 1960s, this part of Greenlane was considered part of Remuera. The place is prominently situated on a corner lot at a bend in Otahuri Crescent and, located close to the pavement, is highly visible from the street on two sides. It is one of a number of residences in the immediate block built in varying architectural styles during the 1930s, also including Spanish Mission and Art Deco in addition to Arts and Crafts. They also include the formally recognised Simpson House (1938) which was one of the first Modernist houses built in New Zealand. As noted by Lloyd Jenkins, these fully demonstrate ‘the scope of architectural development over the 1930s’, which was a period of considerable variety in New Zealand residential design.
To the immediate west of Butler House (Former) is a two-storey residence constructed in the early 1990s, which shares part of the original Butler House section. At its rear is the original garage built for the Butlers in 1931, now separated from the residence by a fence. The timber, weatherboard-clad garage retains its Marseille tile roof, although it has been modified through the replacement of the front garage door, addition of French doors on its north side, and removal of a back door and window on its east elevation. The latter window was re-used in a new garage, situated within the eastern part of the Butler House lot.
The Butler House (Former) site is a tapered rectangular shape in plan, with an uneven timber plank boundary fence on the street frontage and high wooden fences between on the shared south and west boundaries. The well-preserved brick residence is prominently located on the western side of the lot with a grassed garden on the eastern side. A square, timber garage is located in the south-east corner. The landscaping of the grounds includes a paved path around the residence and to the garage, plantings between the porch and east bay as well as around the boundary. Trees on the lot include a ginkgo, cherry and camellia.
Residence - Exterior
Butler House (Former) is a single-storey, brick building with a Marseille tile roof, which retains its visually distinctive court plan. It has two asymmetrical wings and a connecting central section that collectively define a small court outside its front entrance. The residence is generally as originally designed and built, with the exception of two later added timber components – a timber conservatory on its rear (south) elevation and a deck on the east side of the structure. The building maintains significant aspects of its initial appearance, including its overall simplicity of appearance with red brick walls and red tile roof, and its timber porch.
With regard to the roof, the projecting, larger west wing has a gable on the north (front) elevation and is hipped at its south (rear) end. The east wing has a gable on the north end and a hipped roof on the east end. This eastern end of the roof extends over the sleeping porch and changes angle before the end of the roof to maintain standing room in the interior. An additional smaller gable roof is located over the porch on the eastern side of the west wing.
The north elevation with its prominent gables is the most decorated part of the exterior. At the centre of each gable is a thin rectangular ventilator with wooden louvres. The gables do not have a barge board and the brick walls directly connect with the roof edge. Stepped brick corbels which mirror the pattern of the roof tiles are located at the bottom of each gable and at the north and south ends of the hipped roof over the sleeping porch. Behind each corbel is a deep soffit which continues around the rest of the projecting roofline.
The windows are generally casement and fanlight windows with single panes in the lower window and leadlight in the fan window. Exceptions are three leadlight casement windows on the north elevation between the wings, a plain casement windows around the sleeping porch, and a single casement bathroom window with frosted glass and a hood. Two of the casement and fan windows are relocated from elsewhere in the house - on the west elevation the dining room window was replaced by French doors and the window moved south to the new bedroom, and the plain bedroom window on the south elevation was replaced by the eastern window from the front bedroom when French doors were added. The bay window on the north end of the west wing projects from the house, and is further emphasised with a copper sheet above the window.
The front porch is approached up a set of brick steps and incorporates a Tudor arch over the entrance, a vertical board and batten west wall, tongue and groove lining on the ceiling and walls. The tongue and groove boards are vertical above the arch and open window space, and horizontal below the window space. There is a small bench beside the front door and the original doorbell is in situ.
The conservatory connects to the rear of the house beside the southern end of the west wing. It has a very low pitched roof, is clad with rusticated weatherboards, and has four two pane windows on the south side as well as two further windows on the east side, one on either side of the French doors. It connects to a low timber deck and steps. The deck on the east elevation is beside the northern part of the east wing and the sleeping porch.
Residence - Interior
The interior layout and ornamentation of the initial 1931 structure is largely intact. A central, lateral hallway accessed from the main entrance connects two wings – the west wing with the living rooms, and the east with the bedrooms – with the kitchen and bathroom between the wings to the rear of the hall. Notable features such as original bi-fold doors between the living and dining rooms, reflecting the early use of open planning, have been retained.
The hall features a hipped ceiling with exposed timber beams and plaster, and timber panelled wainscoting to eye level. The ceiling in the living room also uses an exposed timber with plaster pattern with larger beams, aligned east-west across the room, with thinner battens, aligned north-south. This pattern, using battens in both directions, is repeated in the dining room, bedrooms, and bathroom.
The living room also contains a timber and marble fireplace with built in shelves on either side. The fire surround incorporates a Tudor arch above the firebox. The Tudor arch is repeated on every original internal door, except a multi-paned glass door into the sunroom and a recent door into the ensuite. The doors from the hall into the living room and into dining room are also multi-pane glass doors and incorporate stained glass heraldry in each. The three bi-fold doors are located on the shared wall between the living room and dining room, orientated east to west, and swing on a central pivot attached to a track in the doorframe. Each door has Tudor arch detailing and the end door has a push plate. The living room also retains original light fittings on the walls. Throughout the house tongue and groove jarrah floorboards have been retained.
The rear bedroom, formerly the study and back porch, retains the original built in study bookcase which has been pushed back to the southern wall. This wall, which was the original back wall of the porch is still lined with horizontal tongue and grooved boards. The 2006 ensuite opens off this room though a retained external door.
The kitchen has been mostly modified with new cabinetry and a butchers block in the centre of the room. The bathroom retains the original bath, now with tiling around the walls and bath, and the toilet and sink arrangement. To create space for the linen closet at the front of the bathroom the entrance is stepped back from the hall.
The bedrooms in the east wing are separated by built in wardrobes and cupboards which also have Tudor arch detailing on the doors. The rooms have moulded architraves around the doors. In the front bedroom, the north facing window has built in shelves on either side. The rooms both open onto the sleeping porch which has a tongue and grooved timber lining.
Piper and Brooker – Architectural Partnership
New Zealand-born Llewelyn Stanley Piper began working as a draftsman in 1910 first in Dunedin and then in Wellington. He set up his first private practice in Auckland in 1919. Ludlow Ellison Brooker qualified as an architect in December 1924 and was employed by Piper as a draughtsman by 1926. Piper and Brooker went into partnership in 1928, operating until 1937. Primarily based in Auckland, they designed a number of houses in the city’s wealthier suburbs such as at Takapuna, Remuera and St Heliers. Designs recognised as notable included the distinguished Butler House (Former) in Greenlane (1931). As well as a small number of residences outside Auckland, the partnership also designed, refurbished and remodelled commercial premises, civic buildings and theatres. After 1937, Piper went on to become a significant New Zealand architect, particularly known for his designs of Modern Movement buildings such as the award winning Auckland Electric Power Board Building (1946) in Newmarket. Brooker went on to work for the State Advances Corporation (SAC) becoming their Chief Architect by 1960 when he designed the new SAC office block in Hamilton, then the tallest building in the city.
Library and washhouse combined to form third bedroom; French doors added to dining room and main bedroom replacing leadlight windows which were reused in the house; timber deck added on east elevation.
Garage relocated from Torbay to south east corner
timber conservatory constructed expanding kitchen; kitchen door moved and hall moulding rebuilt; dumbwaiter removed; back porch and toilet converted into ensuite with shower.
24th November 2020
Report Written By
Building Today, Vol.1, No.1, Oct-Dec 1936, pp. 24-27
No. 3316 Butler Residence
No. 3316 Butler Residence, Piper Collection, PI5 , Special Collections, University of Auckland Libraries and Learning Services.
The Heritage Studio Limited
The Heritage Studio Limited, ‘Historic Heritage Evaluation: Butler House (Former), 3 Otahuri Crescent, Remuera’, October 2018.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.
Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.
A fully referenced New Zealand Heritage List report is available on request from the Mid Northern Area Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.’.